McKeon says DOD report restriction is another sign of an ‘obstructionist’ White House

In a sternly worded letter sent Wednesday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, House Armed Services Committee chief Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) demanded the department rescind its new cap on congressional reports. 

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"Taken in context with the issuance of gag orders, the requirement for senior officials to sign non-disclosure agreements and the tardiness of responses to requests for information, this policy reeks of obstructionism [and] a lack of transparency," McKeon wrote. 

Defense lawmakers were informed of the new 15-page cap during a DOD briefing on the department's latest assessment of Chinese military power on Wednesday.  

That report, which was the first issued under the new policy, clocked in at 19 pages. 

Despite that oversight, a number of committee Republicans lined up to rail against the decision during a impromptu press conference called later that day. 

The page-limit policy will result in lawmakers receiving "vague generalities" on some of the most pressing national security issues facing Congress, rather than the in-depth information needed to seriously weigh such issues, according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

"If that is the standard, then we have a problem," he told reporters. 

Using the recent Chinese military assessment as an example, the group of GOP lawmakers noted that DOD only included a handful of paragraphs on Chinese cyber warfare capabilities and the country's military space programs. 

"We can do a lot better than this," Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said. 

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) added that by limiting the amount of information DOD provides to Congress, the level of debate on Capitol Hill will assuredly suffer. That could lead to rash or half-baked decision-making on critical defense issues, he said. 

In response, DOD Press Secretary George Little said the requirement was not intended to stymie the flow of information to lawmakers, but to help cut down on the report workload at the Pentagon. 

"Across the department, we continually strive to provide Congress with the information and analysis it needs to fulfill its vital oversight role, and to do so in the most readable and usable format possible.  We also seek to do so in a cost effective manner," Little said in a statement released Wednesday. 

"The guidance did not in any way seek to restrict information provided to Congress," he added. 

McKeon quickly dismissed Little's claims of cost effectiveness saying that with all the personnel and resources available at the Pentagon, department officials "obviously should be able to turn out a report." 

During the press conference, McKeon also took a direct shot at President Obama, saying Congress "should not be in this type of a position" under an administration that had promised to be one of the most transparent in history. 

That said, the California Republican admitted the back-and-forth between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill over information disclosure is not a new battle. Panetta and other top-level defense officials "have been very cooperative with us" in the past, he added. 

That said, McKeon noted that his committee's complaints over the new rule would not fall on deaf ears on the other side of the Potomac. However, the amount of attention House Republicans brought to the issue on Wednesday was not just the typical political shot across the White House's bow.

"Sometimes you have to fire a cannon to get people's attention," McKeon said.  

--Story was updated at 6:16pm to include comments from Pentagon Press Secretary George Little