Over the past couple of years, I have spoken out against the growing trend of secrecy at the Department of Defense that has resulted in blatant disregard for providing information to Congress - the very body tasked with oversight to raise and support our national defense. Throughout the course of those years, this issue has grown to become a concern among Members of Congress on the House Armed Services Committee and throughout the nation over the lack of information and analysis being provided from the Pentagon on defense issues that have an enormous impact on our national security.
I want to share with you an update on the recent actions Members of Congress outside of the Virginia delegation have taken to respond to the lack of analysis provided on the decision to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).
Just this week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) sent a letter to Secretary Gates saying that the Armed Services Committee, which I sit on, will not approve any money or pass legislation related to the dismantling of JFCOM until it receives all of the documents and information we have requested from the Department of Defense.
In his letter to Secretary Gates, Chairman Skelton said “Previous recommendations of this magnitude included significant documentation to support decisions made by the Secretary of Defense. However, notably absent from the package provided to the committee was any analysis justifying the decision to disestablish U.S. Joint Forces Command....the Department also has not provided the committee with information about the existence and availability of such guidance and analysis."
Chairman Skelton went on to say, "Furthermore, over the course of the hearing, it became clear that much of the information the committee requested is still being formulated."
A number of the elements of the Administration's so-called efficiency initiative to close JFCOM will require changes to statute, modification or creation of legal authorities, and funding. Chairman Skelton has said that the Committee will be unable to support any request for funding for the efficiency initiative until our requests for information have been satisfied.
You can read the full letter here.
Additionally, earlier this month two of my colleagues, Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), sent letters to Secretary Gates expressing their own concerns over the lack of analysis provided on the decision to close JFCOM.
In his letter to Secretary Gates, Congressman Joe Wilson stated “Due to the potential impact of the initiatives, it is imperative that decisions of this magnitude be made with the proper oversight, and with rigorous analysis and careful weighing of options. It is my opinion, as well as the opinion of many of my colleagues, that the decision-making process leading to the Efficiency Initiatives was lacking this analysis and made without full consideration of the costs to national security and our defense structure.”
A copy of Congressman Wilson’s letter is available here.
Congressman Thornberry sent a separate letter to Secretary Gates expressing his concern over the lack of details over what will become of JFCOM’s mission.
"I am especially concerned about what will become of [JFCOM's] mission to prepare our military to meet emerging threats to our security," Congressman Thornberry said in the letter to Secretary Gates. He went on to say that “the critical mission of anticipating and preparing our military for emerging disruptive shifts in the character of warfare - the mission that was the inspiration for creating Joint Forces Command - risks becoming an orphan unless it is accorded high priority by you.”
A copy of Congressman Thornberry’s letter is available here.
While I believe we can go even further than these actions, Chairman Skelton’s commitment to deny funding requests until the committee has received the information is an important step in pushing back against the tapestry of silence this Administration is weaving throughout the Pentagon. It is a type of secrecy that is unprecedented and it is clear that there is growing consensus that Congress will not stand for it.