A previously undisclosed plan by the Pentagon to allow at least one senior defense official to remain involved in a major internal review of missions and weapons -- even after he leaves the Defense Department later this year -- drew a complaint yesterday from the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The plan involves Douglas J. Feith, the Pentagon's undersecretary for policy, who has played a leading role in coordinating the review but has announced his intention to depart this summer.
The review, held every four years, sets the framework for many of the Pentagon's decisions on force size and weapons purchases. Just getting underway, it has been organized around six main panels, each headed by a civilian official and a senior military officer.
While not citing Feith by name, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) yesterday took the occasion of a hearing on the nomination of Gordon R. England as the next deputy secretary of defense to raise a public objection.
Levin began by noting that "former Department of Defense officials apparently are going to be given a role inside" the Pentagon process, formally known as the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
"I just wanted to let you know that I find that troubling that former officials would be playing a role internally with those panels," Levin told England. "And I would only ask that you look at that and get back to this committee as to whether or not you think it is appropriate."
Levin's comment drew a quick rebuttal from Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the committee chairman, who said he had discussed the matter with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and found no problem with it.
"I seem to have a view that's different than yours," Warner said. Given "the breadth and scope" of the review, he added, the involvement of "talent beyond what had been in previous" reviews "might strengthen" it.
Not ready to let the matter go, Levin responded that his concern is not with seeking "outside recommendations" from people. "It's that outside people formerly with the department would participate on the internal panels reviewing the QDR, which is a very significant difference" from past practice, the senator said.
At the heart of Levin's objection, according to another official familiar with the senator's thinking, is the appropriateness of having former officials still in position to influence the final shape of the QDR report.
The Pentagon plan came to the attention of committee staff members during a briefing on the QDR process by defense officials several weeks ago. The briefers reportedly raised the possibility that not only Feith but also Wolfowitz would continue to work on the QDR.
Wolfowitz, who has been co-chairing the QDR with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is about to leave the Pentagon to become president of the World Bank.
Several defense officials familiar with the issue yesterday denied any plan to keep Wolfowitz involved, saying such a move would not be practical given the demands of his new job. But they acknowledged there has been discussion of Feith continuing to contribute to the QDR, since by the time he is scheduled to leave in July, he will have become deeply involved in the process as co-chairman of the panel on "roles, missions and organization."
Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, defended what he described as the intention to involve a number of people outside the Defense Department in the QDR, including additional government agencies, "allies and partners in the war on terror, and others who may be able to offer perspective and expertise."
At the same time, he said, the "final document" to emerge from the QDR would be "a product" of the Department of Defense, "prepared by DoD officials."