Rep. Skelton warns Pentagon it must justify JFCOM closure

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday said the Pentagon must provide Congress with the necessary information to justify its cost-savings recommendations.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) warned his panel will not back the Pentagon’s drive to become more efficient unless lawmakers receive the necessary documents that justify the closure of the U.S. Joint Forces Command. 

“The committee will be unable to support any request for legislation or funding resulting from the efficiency initiative until the committee’s requests for information have been satisfied,” Skelton said in the letter.

He said a number of the recommendations in the efficiency initiative would require changes to statute, the “creation of modification of legal authorities” and funding. All would require congressional approval.

Skelton’s letter to Gates comes on the heels of tense congressional hearings over the defense chief’s decision to close Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), headquartered in Norfolk, Va. Lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon for not providing Congress the data and analysis to back the closure decision.

About 37 members of the House Armed Services Committee have asked Skelton and Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.), the panel’s top Republican, to require Gates to testify before the committee and, if necessary, to subpoena him.

In his letter to Gates, Skelton does not make any mention of a possible subpoena, but he makes his displeasure with the Pentagon over the JFCOM matter very clear. He said that the committee was “deeply disappointed” when it had to resort to a source outside the Pentagon to obtain a copy of a memo to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of cost assessment and program evaluation on the subject of the Joint Forces Command Disestablishment Working Group.

The Virginia delegation has been inflamed by the decision to close the command in their state, which employs about 6,000 people.

Moreover, they have accused the Pentagon of “stonewalling” them because, after weeks of requests, officials did not provide the data and analysis in support of closing the command. Now lawmakers from other states have joined the Virginians, fearing that their states may eventually be hit with military closures without receiving the necessary explanation from the Pentagon.

Gates has initiated a sweeping department-wide effort to find $100 billion in savings over the next five years. The money would go toward top priorities such as helping the troops deployed in two wars and the modernization of weapons systems.

As part of an effort to save additional money and make the department more efficient, Gates on Aug. 9 said he would seek to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command and cut scores of senior military and contracting positions across the department.