Sen. Webb criticizes Pentagon for ‘stiff-arming’ Virginia delegation on JFCOM

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) accused senior Pentagon officials of “stiff-arming” him and the Virginia delegation on the decision to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM). 

Webb put Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn, in particular, on the hot seat during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. 

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Virginia houses JFCOM, and Webb has been trying to get information from the Pentagon on the data and rationale behind the decision to close the combatant command, which employs about 6,000 people in the Norfolk area. Webb said Tuesday he is looking for “basic data,” something the Pentagon can provide in “one day.” 

The tone of the hearing — focusing on a Pentagon-wide savings drive — foreshadowed the coming tug-of-war between the Pentagon and Congress over the decision to close JFCOM. Congress could pass legislation to stop or slow the closure, but the decision ultimately lies with President Obama. The president has not yet responded to the Pentagon’s recommendation. 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the decision on Aug. 9 as part of a sweeping Pentagon initiative to find $100 billion in savings over the next five years. Gates’s decision was not focused solely on JFCOM, but on cutting scores of senior military and contracting positions across the department. 

The closure of JFCOM has inflamed the Virginia delegation, which has been contesting the decision and trying to get answers from the Pentagon about the reasoning behind the announcement. 

Webb, who chairs the Senate Armed Services panel with jurisdiction over Pentagon personnel matters, did not hide his displeasure. He complained that Lynn only called him 15 minutes before Gates was to make the JFCOM closure announcement publicly. 

Webb asked Lynn — who at one time worked for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a member of the Armed Services panel — to put himself back in the shoes of a congressional staff member and consider the advice he would have given the late senator if he “had been stiffed with a 15-minute phone call when an announcement of this magnitude was made and then not provided information for a seven-week period when he tried to gain information.” 

“I think I know what the answer to that would have been,” Webb added. 

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, also rapped the high-level Pentagon officials, including Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, for causing “frustration” by not providing the Pentagon’s analysis and data with regards to JFCOM’s closure. 

Lynn defended the Pentagon’s decision as a “military decision,” not a “business case analysis.” He said that Gates has consulted with his closest military advisers on the rationale for JFCOM. In fact, he said, Gates spent several months reviewing proposals to eliminate several Pentagon organizations and held more than 30 meetings with senior Defense Department leaders. 

Lynn said that JFCOM focused on four central purposes: joint manning, joint training, joint doctrine and joint experimentation. Out of those, the Pentagon decided it needed to maintain its progress on joint training and doctrine to get all the military services to fight well together. The joint manning part, he said would be “better performed” at the Pentagon’s Joint Staff level. 

Therefore, the Pentagon leadership can no longer justify a four-star command with a budget of $1 billion, Lynn stressed. 

“The core issue here is, I think, a disagreement over the recommendation,” Lynn said during the hearing. “I know we disagree on that, but that is the central rationale.”

He added that Pentagon leaders are still in the process of determining what portion of the $1 billion they will be able to save and how much will be needed to continue maintaining the joint training, joint doctrine centers and facilities, some of which would stay in the Norfolk area.

Webb immediately countered by saying the decision cannot be a military one, but should be determined by the country’s civilian leaders. 

“There are no decisions of this magnitude that are military decisions, not in the United States,” he said. “There are military recommendations to the secretary of Defense, who then makes a recommendation to the president. Those are essentially civilian decisions.”

Webb on Tuesday officially introduced a provision that would require Gates to provide a detailed analysis and other assessments before the president would close any combatant command, not just JFCOM.

JFCOM is one of 10 combat commands, which include Central Command, European Command and Africa Command. JFCOM was previously the U.S. Atlantic Command. After the Soviet submarine threat diminished at the end of the Cold War, the command in 1999 was turned into a training, concepts and experimentation combatant command spanning all armed services.

Webb, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Virginia Reps. Glenn Nye (D), Robert “Bobby” Scott (D), Rob Wittman (R) and Randy Forbes (R) have urged Gates to conduct a review of JFCOM’s mission and activities without a predisposed intent to close the command. 

Wittman, who was among the Virginia officials who met with Lynn and Cartwright on Tuesday morning, described the meeting as “a bitter disappointment.” 

“Instead of meeting our expectations to gain a clearer understanding of the announcement to close Joint Forces Command and to cut the contractor workforce, the Defense Department failed to provide any substantive evidence that a thoughtful analysis of this decision took place,” Wittman said in a statement. “Instead, we were left with a disturbing impression that no objective, written analysis of its strategic impact exists, and that the ‘efficiency’ a closure would provide in the defense budget is ‘yet to be determined.’ ”

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has also been deeply involved in trying to avert a decision that could harm his state’s economy. McDonnell met with Pentagon officials on Tuesday morning. 


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