Joint Forces Command, which relies on contractors, is tempting target for Gates

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A military command that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he plans to close is spending more than $500 million of its $704 million operating budget this year on contractor services, according to a spokesman for the command.

As part of his drive to save the Pentagon $100 billion over five years, Gates announced last week that he intends to shutter the Norfolk-based Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM. The move has caused political outrage in Virginia, where lawmakers have moved to protect jobs, many of them in the southeastern part of the state.

But JFCOM appears to be a tempting target for Gates, in part because it has relied so heavily on contractors. The defense secretary has said that, outside of war zones, he wants to reduce funding for contract employees by 10 percent annually over three years.

As noted last month by the Defense Business Board, a group of current and former defense officials and corporate executives that Gates has reviewing the defense budget, JFCOM now "has more contractors on its payroll than government military and civilian personnel." The board recommended that the command be closed.

Virginia's two U.S. senators and four senior congressmen asked Gates late last week to review his decision. In a letter to the defense secretary, they took issue with the Defense Business Board's assessment, saying the group "did not visit the command, request a briefing or any other information."

One of the lawmakers' main objections was that Gates's decision did not go through the process used to close down military bases -- a process that involves a long independent group inquiry and local interest and congressional participation.

"We urge you to conduct a more complete review of JFCOM's mission and activities without a predisposed intent to close the command," said the letter, signed by Democratic Sens. James Webb and Mark Warner, as well as Reps. Glenn Nye (D), J. Randy Forbes (R), Rob Wittman (R) and Robert C. Scott (D).

The core mission of JFCOM, established in 1999, is to coordinate training and military doctrine among the branches of the armed services. In his announcement, however, Gates argued that because "the U.S. military has largely embraced jointness as a matter of culture and practice," a separate command is not needed.

One of the command's current functions -- coordinating the deployment of conventional forces to combat commanders and Defense Department support agencies -- will be transferred to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. As for JFCOM's other activities, Gates said, they are being "reevaluated," with the expectation that other parts of the Defense Department will fill any gaps.

Over the past decade, the command has expanded its original role of developing joint doctrine and training to include all manner of activities: handling joint exercises to demonstrate new equipment and techniques, conducting studies about future military techniques, and even holding annual conferences with military and contract personnel.

Because many of the command's activities have become limited-length tasks requested by Pentagon officials or combatant commanders, it has increasingly turned to contractors over the years.

Last year, a $1 billion five-year contract was awarded jointly to four of the nation's largest defense contractors -- General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Science Applications International and Northrop Grumman. The four were to provide "engineering and technical services" to the Joint Experimentation Program and the Joint Futures Lab.

As part of its experimentation program, JFCOM has been conducting a $15 million contractor-supported multinational intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance exercise that demonstrates new industry-supplied equipment and military integration techniques. A year in development, the exercise uses U.S., British and Canadian troops at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to collect data, which specialists at JFCOM facilities then analyze. A command news release described it as excellent for testing equipment "warfighters need for their mission in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan."

Organizations with sizable JFCOM contracts have built facilities near the command's own 640,000-square-foot headquarters on the Norfolk Navy base. Meanwhile, annual conferences, sponsored in part by JFCOM, often bring together military personnel and contractors to discuss military needs and common interests.

In May, it participated in the three-day "Joint Warfighting Conference 2011," where "Command leaders will be on hand to engage with members of the Joint Force, Industry and conference participants to brief and discuss JFCOM," according to the conference Web site.

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