Webb accuses Pentagon of 'stiff-arming' Virginia on JFCOM closure
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) turned up the heat on the Pentagon Tuesday over the proposed closure of the Joint Forces Command, using a Senate hearing to amplify his complaints about the move and accuse the Defense Department of stonewalling.
The proposed closure of JFCOM, which is based in the Hampton Roads area, has become a major economic concern for that region and a tense political issue for the entire state. Virginia's congressional delegation has been working together across party lines to protest the move, with the help of Gov. Robert McDonnell (R).
The closure is part of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' ambitious plan to make the Pentagon's budget more efficient in anticipation of possible future cutbacks. The state's members of Congress have written repeatedly to the Pentagon demanding to know how scrapping JFCOM would save money in the long term without jeopardizing national security.
At Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Webb accused Pentagon officials of deliberately withholding information from the state delegation, both before the decision was made and after the delegation demanded justification for it.
"I believe in another sport it's called 'stiff-arming,'" Webb said, complaining that he only got a phone call informing him of Gates' decision 15 minutes before it was publicly announced. And, Webb added, the decision itself stemmed from a series of meetings to which "we did not have access, we did not have the chance to provide input."
Webb said that the Pentagon's failure to provide much of the "basic data" he and his colleagues have requested "has led me to conclude that there is no comprehensive analysis" to back up the decision. He said it raises "the larger question about how serious DOD really is about lasting reform on a larger scale."
Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, the witness who bore the brunt of Webb's ire, said his department would cooperate with lawmakers' requests for information.
"I'll look into those questions and get you the data as soon as we can," he said.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) backed Webb up, saying that while Gates has a "legitimate objective" in sight, "it appears there was inadequate analysis and inadequate openness in the procedure which proceeded his August announcement."
Gates has at least one ally on the panel.
"I strongly support that proposal," Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the committee's top Republican, said of the JFCOM plan.
That stance could become even more important in 2011, as McCain will become chairman of the Armed Services Committee if Republicans manage to capture the Senate in November.
Lynn said Gates had concluded that JFCOM and a handful of other offices and organizations "no longer effectively satisfy the purpose for which they were created," and that many of their functions "can be managed effectively elsewhere"
Lynn added that the Pentagon "is committed to working with the effected communities" to ease the stress of the closures.
Under questioning from Levin, Lynn said the decision to close JFCOM came after roughly 30 meetings on the subject.
"The conclusion at the end of those meetings was that those purposes" for which the command was established "no longer justified a four-star military command with a billion-dollar budget," Lynn said.
Though Gates has recommended JFCOM be closed, Lynn confirmed that President Obama "has not yet made a decision."
Lynn's prepared testimony said JFCOM employs more than 3,000 people and an additional 3,000 contractors, with a total annual budget of close to $1 billion. The command is much larger than it was in 2000, "without any significant expansion of its mission or responsibilities."
Lynn told Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) that there was no final estimate yet of the cost savings the closure would yield, but "we think we will be able to save a substantial portion of that billion dollars."
For all the talk of money, Lynn told Webb that "this was not a business-case analysis, as some have described it. This was a military decision."
"There are no decisions of this magnitude that are military decisions," Webb responded, saying that questions like this must be made by civilian officials like Gates and, ultimately, Obama.
The audience at Tuesday's hearing included aides to McDonnell, and Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson. (JFCOM's Suffolk campus employs roughly 2,200 people.)
Lynn said he would work on arranging a meeting between Virginia's congressional delegation, McDonnell and Gates. McDonnell said Tuesday on WTOP's monthly Ask the Governor program that he had been trying to get a meeting with Gates on the JFCOM issue and was disappointed that it hadn't happened yet.
The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the same subject with the same witnesses Wednesday morning. Rep. Glenn Nye (D), a member of that panel who represents much of the Hampton Roads area, has been accused by his Republican campaign opponent of not doing enough to fight the closure.
| September 28, 2010; 12:28 PM ET
Categories: Ben Pershing, Glenn Nye, James Webb, Robert F. McDonnell
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