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Webb assails Pentagon on closure

By Ben Pershing and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; B8

Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) turned up the heat on the Pentagon on Tuesday over the proposed closure of the Joint Forces Command, using a Senate hearing to accuse the Defense Department of stonewalling.

The proposed closure of JFCOM, based in Virginia's Hampton Roads area, has become a major economic concern for that region and the entire state. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) was also in Washington on Tuesday to press the issue, as he and Virginia's congressional delegation have been working together across party lines to oppose the move.

The closure is part of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's ambitious plan to make the Pentagon's budget more efficient in anticipation of possible future cutbacks. The state's members of Congress have written repeatedly to the Pentagon demanding to know how scrapping JFCOM would save money in the long term without jeopardizing national security.

At Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Webb accused Pentagon officials of deliberately withholding information from the state delegation, both before the decision was made and after the delegation demanded justification for it.

"I believe in another sport it's called 'stiff-arming,' " said Webb, who complained that he received a phone call informing him of Gates's decision only 15 minutes before it was publicly announced. Webb added that the decision stemmed from a series of meetings to which "we did not have access, we did not have the chance to provide input."

Webb said that the Pentagon's failure to provide much of the "basic data" that he and his colleagues requested "has led me to conclude that there is no comprehensive analysis" to back up the decision. He said the situation raises "the larger question about how serious DOD really is about lasting reform on a larger scale."

Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said the Pentagon would cooperate with lawmakers' requests for information.

"I'll look into those questions and get you the data as soon as we can," he said.

Armed Services Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) backed Webb up, saying that although Gates has a "legitimate objective" in sight, "it appears there was inadequate analysis and inadequate openness in the procedure which preceded his August announcement."

Gates has at least one ally on the panel. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the committee's ranking Republican, said he would "strongly support" the JFCOM closure. McCain will become chairman of the Armed Services Committee if Republicans manage to capture the Senate in November.

JFCOM employs more than 3,000 military and civilian federal personnel and an additional 3,000 contractors, with a total annual budget of close to $1 billion, according to the Pentagon. The command is designed to encourage the military services to work together, and Defense officials contended Tuesday that the organization can be closed because it has achieved much of what it set out to do.

Lynn said that the Pentagon "is committed to working with the affected communities" to ease the effect of the closures and that the decision to close JFCOM came after about 30 meetings on the subject.

"The conclusion at the end of those meetings was that those purposes" for which the command was established "no longer justified a four-star military command with a billion-dollar budget," Lynn said.

Although Gates has recommended that JFCOM be closed, Lynn confirmed that President Obama "has not yet made a decision."

Lynn told Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) that there was no final estimate yet of the cost savings the closure would yield, but he said, "We think we will be able to save a substantial portion of that billion dollars."

Lynn told Webb that "this was not a business-case analysis, as some have described it. This was a military decision."

Webb responded, "There are no decisions of this magnitude that are military decisions." He said that such decisions must be made by civilian officials such as Gates and, ultimately, Obama.

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the same subject with the same witnesses Wednesday morning. Rep. Glenn Nye (D), who is a committee member and represents much of the Hampton Roads area, has been accused by his Republican campaign opponent of not doing enough to fight the closure.

Earlier Tuesday, McDonnell and members of the congressional delegation held a breakfast meeting at the Pentagon with Lynn and Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to express concerns about the closure.

In an afternoon conference call for reporters, McDonnell said the group had requested that the Defense Department delay a final decision until next year, when a new Congress takes office. McDonnell also asked that public hearings on the proposal be held in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and repeated a request for a face-to-face meeting with Gates to discuss the issue.

McDonnell said he was promised a meeting soon with Gates, but Pentagon officials did not agree to either a delay or to public meetings.

"There was just absolutely no transparency, no prior consultation. . . . This was just completely out of the blue," McDonnell said.

McDonnell was joined on the conference call by three Republican members of Congress and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D), who stressed the bipartisan opposition to the proposed closure. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R) threatened that Congress might soon issue subpoenas to compel the Defense Department to release more information about the recommendations.

"It doesn't pass the smell test that you have 30 meetings at the Pentagon and there wasn't any documentation produced prior to the August 9 decision," Warner said. "We want to see that documentation, and we think every tool of Congress ought to be used to make certain we get that information."

Ben.Pershing@wpost.com heldermanr@washpost.com

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