The Pentagon’s war on paper

Al Kamen
Columnist July 11, 2012

Bob Gates is no longer the secretary of defense, but the Pentagon’s war on compiling congressionally mandated reports that the Defense Department says are time-consuming — and largely unread — seems to go on.

Gates, Loop Fans may recall, began issuing little price-tag stickers spelling out what it costs the Pentagon to prepare these studies.

A new salvo was fired Wednesday morning when a Pentagon official told House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) the department’s policy is that no report to Congress can be longer than 15 pages, no matter what.

McKeon returned fire in a letter a few hours later to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, demanding that he rescind the policy.

A 19-page Pentagon report on China’s military, which triggered the day’s skirmishing, was late and “wholly inadequate,” McKeon wrote, and the new policy, along with other department actions, “reeks of obstructionism.”

Besides, McKeon noted, “this year’s 19-page report evidently cost [the Defense Department] $85,000 to prepare, nearly $12,000 more than last year’s 70-page report.” Not exactly saving taxpayers any money.

A spokesman issued a statement saying the department takes “very seriously its responsibility to provide Congress with thorough, accurate and timely briefings and reports on the full range of matters.”

The statement said the Pentagon always tries 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.” Hmm.

The Defense Department sends Congress more than 500 reports a year, the statement said, and one Pentagon “component” said reports shouldn’t be longer than 10 pages — not 15 — except under certain circumstances. “The guidance did not in any way seek to restrict information provided to Congress.”

Doesn’t look like a white flag there.

And, indeed, not good enough for McKeon.

A spokesman for the chairman responded that McKeon had “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.”

Maybe they could just make the font really small?

Divorce? Try FEMA.

Forget Martha Stewart Weddings or the Knot. There’s a new and surprising wedding-planning resource: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s blog, which typically deals with far drier fare, this week featured a guide to wedding-day planning. “Being in the throes of wedding season, many of us here at CDC realized that planning for a wedding isn’t that much different from planning for a disaster,” the entry states. Good point — combine crazy cousins, an open bar, unfortunate bridesmaid dresses and the chicken dance, and you could very well be looking at a total train wreck.

The helpful blog post instructs brides and others involved in planning the big day to gather the usual CDC-approved emergency preparedness kit (flashlight, first-aid kit, three days’ supply of food, etc.) as well as a few wedding-specific extras: “safety pins, makeup for touchups, maybe a few sedatives.”

Sedatives? For slipping into the nervous bride’s champagne? Or for calming a hysterical mother-in-law?

In addition to suggesting learning the emergency evacuation strategies and routes for the wedding venue, the CDC counsels having some softer stuff on hand, too, in case Bridezilla rears her ugly head. “When dealing with an emotional bride, try to remember your loved one is probably stressed out and will soon return to her caring self after the wedding is over,” the post advises. “Be supportive and have some bottled water from your emergency kit and a box of chocolate on hand.”

The CDC wouldn’t comment on the blog post. But it seems the folks there enjoy a little humor with their emergency-prepping — remember last year’s tongue-in-cheek advice on how to survive a zombie apocalypse ?

Lost and found

There’s more to being a Hill staffer than writing snazzy memos or crafting clever talking points. Sometimes a Hill staffer’s most difficult task is the most basic. Like, say, physically locating one’s boss.

Playing “Where’s Waldo?” with peripatetic lawmakers is sometimes part of the job. And Moira Bagley, communications director for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), may have pioneered a new lawmaker-locating strategy. “Has anyone seen my boss? I seem to have lost him,” she tweeted midday on Wednesday.

We hear that the wily, wayward Paul was finally located among the crush of senators and reporters teeming around the Senate chamber — long before his face ended up on a milk carton.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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