Defending USJFCOM

Published 10:56 pm Friday, November 19, 2010

Whatever the final determination regarding the fate of U.S Joint Forces Command, taxpayers have a right to a degree of confidence that the decisions made regarding the military infrastructure represented there were logical and well considered.

Unfortunately, neither Secretary of Defense Robert Gates nor the people he has sent to represent him in congressional hearings on the matter have done much since the surprise August announcement that JFCOM would be closed to give Americans confidence in the decision. Pentagon officials have stated that the closure would save money, but they’ve hedged when it comes to quantifying those savings; they’ve said the decision came about after extensive study, but they’ve been unwilling to share much information about what that study involved; they’ve said they’re confident that much of the work JFCOM does will be taken over by other commands, but their plan to reassign those duties has been veiled to the public.

Virginia’s congressional delegation has taken an understandably tough line against the plan to close JFCOM. The command’s more than 6,000 civilian and military employees represent about a tenth of the military presence in Hampton Roads, and the 2,200 or so who work out of the command’s Suffolk facilities have a massive direct and indirect effect on the city’s economy.

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But the objections of senators and congressmen representing Virginia and Hampton Roads go deeper than just the negative effects the closure might have on their constituents. For months, those representatives have rightly questioned the basis for the Pentagon’s decision. If it’s a good idea to close JFCOM, they say, then it should be a simple thing to show the evidence that led to the conclusion. And the fact that Pentagon officials have been so reticent about providing that information has not been encouraging.

Two of Virginia’s elected officials — Senator Jim Webb and Rep. J. Randy Forbes — have been especially dogged in their push for answers, and their tenacity has begun to pay off. Under the threat of having high-visibility military promotions held up in Senate committee, Secretary Gates this week finally responded to Webb’s request for some of the background data regarding the JFCOM decision. And Gates also has agreed to a long-sought, personal closed-door meeting with Virginia’s congressional delegation to talk about the plan.

The work by Webb, Forbes and some other Virginia representatives on Capitol Hill has been a great example of constituent service. Even more important, however, is the message it sends that Congress will not allow the defense of America to be shortchanged by political maneuvering.