DoD struggles to explain JFCOM closing

Wednesday - 9/29/2010, 7:06am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

Click below to hear the report

Download mp3

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) on JFCOM

Click below to hear part of the testimony at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing

Download mp3

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Lawmakers are putting their support behind most of the Defense Department efficiency initiatives. The key word here, however, is "most."

The Pentagon's decision to close Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., remains its biggest hot spot in its effort to save $100 billion over the next three years.

Defense Deputy Secretary William Lynn tried to explain the department's rationale for its plans to reduce spending on contractors, consolidate offices where it has determined there is duplication and freeze current staff levels for specific positions.

"The effort not just about budget, it is also about operational agility," Lynn said during the first of three hearings this week on DoD's efficiency initiatives. "We need to ensure that the department is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. The secretary has directed us to take a hard look at how the department is organized, staffed and operated. How we can flatten and streamline the organization, reduce executive and flag officer billets and the staff officer apparatus that supports them, shed overlapping commands and organizations and reduce the role and the cost of support contractors."

But Lynn was unable to convince all the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee of their reasoning to close JFCOM.

"The core issue here is a disagreement over the recommendation," he said. "This was not a business case analysis as some has described it. This was a military decision. The secretary consulted with his closest military advisors on the rationale for the Joint Forces Command."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates held about 30 meetings with combatant commanders, senior military officials and other DoD experts over the last few months. Gates concluded that JFCOM was no longer needed as many of its functions were duplicative.

Lynn said Gates decided that DoD could no longer justify a four-start command with a $1 billion budget.

"There are four central purposes in the unified command plan having to do with joint manning, joint training, joint doctrine and joint experimentation," Lynn said. "On the joint manning area, the conclusion is it was duplicative, it was not a value added function and that function was better performed at the joint staff. At the joint training and joint doctrine, those are purposes that continue and we need to maintain our progress on that, but we have made sufficient progress in that area, but we no longer need the billion dollar expense and the continued leadership of a four-star military command in that area."

Lynn added that DoD will review the implementation of that decision to determine how much money DoD can save, and how much still is needed to maintain the joint training and joint doctrine facilities.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) was the most outspoken of the committee members against DoD's decision.

Webb said he is more unhappy with how DoD went about telling him and the committee about their decision than the decision to close JFCOM itself.

He said Lynn called him 15 minutes before the public found out about DoD's plans.

"Any proposal relating major changes affecting unified combatant commands should be guided by a clear process, a sound analytical basis and compliance with applicable laws in a way everyone can understand it," Webb said. "This is not a parochial issue. It is an issue that will become more important to everyone on this committee as Secretary Gates and others follow through on their stated intention to consolidate other military bases and installations. The present lack of transparency and consultation stands in stark contrast to how these decisions traditionally are made."

Webb said the committee didn't have access or an opportunity to provide input.

"This is not the way to conduct a review that has enormous implications to our defense and to community interests," he said. "I believe in another sport it's called stiff-arming."

Webb introduced an amendment to the DoD authorization bill that would require the Defense secretary to provide Congress with information before closing any combatant command, not just JFCOM. Webb also is renewing his call to President Obama to withhold any action before Congress has full and complete information from DoD on their decision.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) also were slow to express support. Both senior senators say they will withhold their decision until they receive more information on how DoD decided to close JFCOM.

"We need a detailed accounting of the functions performed by the organizations that the Secretary proposes to consolidate or eliminate," Levin said. "For those functions that will no longer be performed, we need to understand why they are no longer needed. For those functions that are still needed, we need to understand who will perform them. We need to understand what will be transferred, what resources will be eliminated and what the real savings are likely to be."