OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Congress, Pentagon clash over reports

The Topline: Does report-size matter? It certainly did on Wednesday in the latest fight between Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.

The battle over the length of Pentagon reports to Congress began Wednesday morning during a closed-door briefing on a Chinese military assessment after McKeon asked the Pentagon briefer why the report had shrunk to 19 pages.

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The briefer told McKeon of a Pentagon policy to keep reports to Congress below 15 pages (which apparently did not happen with this report). That prompted the chairman to fire off an angry letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and hold a quickly arranged press conference in his hearing room with four subcommittee chairmen to blast the policy.

“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.

Pentagon spokesman George Little responded with a statement that the guidance — issued last summer — “indicated reports should not exceed ten pages in length, except when the statutory requirements or specific circumstances dictate.”

“The guidance did not in any way seek to restrict information provided to Congress,” Little said.

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Putting aside the discrepancy over the number of max pages for Pentagon reports, the Pentagon’s statement is unlikely to appease McKeon. McKeon’s spokesman, Claude Chafin, responded to Little’s statement with a statement of his own: “For several years, the flow of information from the Pentagon to Committees of Jurisdiction has grown more and more restricted.

“In his letter, Chairman McKeon asked Secretary Panetta to revoke any guidance that sets arbitrary page limits and issue alternative guidance within 24 hours. He continues to await a response from Secretary Panetta that such alternative guidance has been issued.”

A Pentagon official told The Hill that DOD "will certainly be preparing a prompt response to Chairman McKeon's letter."

Mr. Smith goes to Africa: House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) will weigh in on the growing national security threats emerging in Africa on Thursday. Returning from a recent congressional delegation visit to the continent, Smith will provide his thoughts on what options the United States has in dealing with those issues during a speech at the American Security Project think tank.

During the trip, Smith was able to receive updates on the ongoing U.S. military support mission in Uganda, helping those forces hunt down rebel leader Joseph Kony. A number of U.S. special operations forces have been sent to the African nation to assist with the manhunt. In April, President Obama extended the deployment of those troops, which began last October.

With U.S. troops now out of Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, military leaders have refocused their attention to other parts of the globe. While the Asia-Pacific focus of this new strategy has grabbed most of the headlines, DOD is slowly funneling resources and personnel into Africa and South America. That shift was part of the administration's new national security roadmap unveiled in February.

Rohrabacher blasts State: Speaking of lawmaker-administration battles, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) is blasting the State Department for “blocking congressional meetings” with Afghan leaders. Rohrabacher said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that he wants State to stop preventing meetings between congressional CODELs and the National Front, the main opposition group in Afghanistan.

He writes that he was prevented from meeting with officials due to opposition from the State Department. Rohrabacher also was prevented from entering Afghanistan altogether when he was on a congressional trip earlier this year, after Afghan President Hamid Karzai blocked him from obtaining a visa. The snub led to a war of words between Rohrabacher and Karzai.

Mending Russian fences: U.S.-Russian relations have not been the best over the past few months, with the former Cold War foes at each other's throats over the growing crisis in Syria, Iran's nuclear program and missile defense issues. But both nations have had chance to mend some fences on Thursday — at least, on the military side of the house.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will hold an honor cordon for Chief of the Russian General Staff and First Deputy Defense Minister General of the Army Nikolay Y. Makarov at the Pentagon. The event will cap off the Russian military chief's three-day visit to Washington.

The majority of the trip was spent discussing the administration's proposed European missile shield. U.S. officials argue the shield is needed to protect against potential missile threats from Iran and elsewhere. Russia claims the American anti-missile assets headed for Europe could easily be used to take out targets in Russia.

Conrad joins Webb on Stolen Valor: Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) appears to be joining forces with Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) in an effort to fix the Stolen Valor Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court last month. Webb's bill, introduced in the Senate Wednesday, is one of two bills in Congress that would revise the act, intended to make it a crime to lie about military medals, so that the measure would pass the high court's muster. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) have a separate bill that makes it a crime to specifically benefit from lying about military honors, and the pair held a press conference calling for Congress to pass the new measure Tuesday.

Webb said in a statement Wednesday that Conrad had signed onto his bill as an original co-sponsor. The addition of Conrad could help Webb move his bill forward, as the retiring North Dakota Democrat was the sponsor of the original Stolen Valor Act that passed in 2006. 

State officials testify on defense cuts: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is headlining a House Armed Services hearing Thursday on cuts to the Air National Guard, in what appears to be the latest attempt in Congress to push back against cuts proposed by the Air Force. Branstad is testifying along with Lt. Gen. Christopher Miller, Air Force deputy chief for strategic plans and programs, and Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, adjutant general of Washington. Congress has blocked proposed cuts to the Air National Guard in the authorization and appropriations bills for 2013 that have been introduced thus far. The Air Force made the cuts as part of the Pentagon’s plan to trim its budgets $487 billion over the next decade.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Lawmaker: TSA violating military screening law

— CBO projects Pentagon budget will exceed BCA caps

— White House: Congress ‘short-sighted’ on biofuels

— Afghan training shift coincides with budget cuts

Pentagon’s No. 2 to testify on sequester


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