A key House panel will not support any changes needed to enact the Pentagon's $100 billion efficiency initiative until it gets more information about the recommended closing of Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, its chairman says.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, spelled out his position in an Oct. 7 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The committee released the letter on Wednesday.
The committee held a testy hearing last month, grilling Defense Department officials on the rationale to close JFCOM, a command that teaches different branches of the military to fight together and is directly responsible for 5,600 jobs in Hampton Roads.
Several members openly expressed their frustration at the lack of detail the Pentagon provided.
The committee wanted to see the projected cost savings from closing JFCOM, whether any alternatives to closing were considered and how JFCOM's mission would be continued.
Later, most committee members signed a letter urging Skelton to issue a subpoena to Gates, compelling him to appear as an expert witness before the committee.
Skelton's letter takes a different tack. It requests, but does not compel, Gates to provide "any analysis to justify the decision to disestablish the U.S. Joint Forces Command" and two other Defense agencies.
It also notes that the committee received a copy of a memo on the subject of the Joint Forces Command Disestablishment Working Group. It does not describe the memo's contents, but Skelton said the panel received it from outside sources on the day of the hearing.
"Needless to say, the committee is deeply disappointed that it had to obtain this document from sources outside the Department," his letter states.
Skelton concludes by reminding Gates that several elements of his efficiency initiative announced in August will require changes to the law, funding approval and "the creation of or modification of legal authorities."
He said "the committee will be unable to support any request for legislation or funding resulting from the efficiency initiative until the committee's request for information have been satisfied."
Three congressmen from Hampton Roads sit on the panel: Rep. Glenn Nye, D-Norfolk, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake.
"What this letter shows us is that we have powerful allies in Congress in pushing back against the Secretary of Defense," said Nye. "This certainly moves the ball forward in our favor."
He said the committee's stance effectively moves the JFCOM debate into the 2012 budget process, which was the intent of the Hampton Roads delegation.
Wittman added: "This letter sends a strong message that Congress will not fund or provide any legislative authority to implement the closure of JFCOM until the pre-decisional analysis is provided to the Committee."
Forbes, who has been one of the Pentagon's harshest critics, was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
The initiative, which Gates announced in August, aims to save $100 billion and channel the money into other military needs that are deemed more critical.
In the case of JFCOM, Gates said the command has outlived its usefulness because the military has largely embraced joint operations as a matter of routine.
He has said that elements of JFCOM would likely be retained, but neither he nor his deputies have provided specifics.
Gates also wants to slash spending on outside defense contractors by 30 percent over three years, which would likely hit Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, lawmakers have said.
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