Department of Defense says JFCOM no longer needed

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Print this page Jessica Sabbath

The Department of Defense believes the U.S. Joint Forces Command no longer justifies a $1 billion-a-year expense, Department Defense Deputy Secretary William Lynn told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

But the Virginia delegation received little more information on the department’s plan to close the Norfolk command, even after Virginia’s delegation held a long-sought breakfast meeting with Lynn Tuesday morning.

At the Senate hearing, Lynn said Defense Secretary Robert Gates made his recommendation on JFCOM’s closure after 30 meetings with combatant commanders and senior military officers.

Lynn said Gates’ concluded that JFCOM’s role “no longer justifies a four-star military command with a $1 billion budget.” JFCOM, which employs more than 5,000 military and civilian personnel, was created to help train the military’s branches to fight together.

Department officials decided that the command’s joint training and joint doctrine provisions were still needed, but could be handled without the need of a separate command. Some of these roles could possibly be put elsewhere in Norfolk, Lynn concluded.

Still, the defense department has not made public further details on that decision — or its announcement that it would cut contracting spending by 30 percent.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., asked Lynn whether closure of the command justified the savings that would be created. Lynn was unable to pinpoint a financial figure on how much would be saved.

The most heated exchange of the meeting came from Sen. Jim Webb, who lambasted defense officials for withholding information.

“Any proposal 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. “We heard today that the Pentagon spent several months reviewing proposals…we did not have access. We didn’t have an opportunity to provide input.”

Webb said he was informed of Gates’ recommend to close JFCOM 15 minutes before it was publicly announced. He said that since that time, the department has ignored requests from the Virginia delegation for an official analysis on why the command should be closed.

“We need to get our questions answered,” Webb said. “We deserve to have a full understanding of the department’s analysis.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he supported the recommendation to close the command, but did not elaborate.

The closure of JFCOM is a part of the department’s efforts to save $100 billion in overhead costs and put that toward war fighting and modernizing the military. Part of the recommendations include cutting defense spending on government contracting, which could be a hit to the Northern Virginia economy, which has a high percentage of defense contractors.

Later Tuesday, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Sen. Mark Warner and U.S. Reps. Frank Wolf, R-10th, Rob Wittman, R-1st, and Randy Forbes, R-4th, echoed their concerns in a telephone conference.  The delegation met with Lynn over breakfast to discuss the department’s recommendations. McDonnell has been seeking a meeting with Gates since mid-August.

“It was a frank and direct discussion with us about our strong opposition to the secretary’s decision and the abhorrent lack of transparency and information provided to congressional and state officials,” McDonnell said. “I would say that the information that came forward was not particularly compelling and not particularly more illuminating.”

The delegation asked Lynn for the opportunity to meet directly with Gates, to hold a series of public hearings in Fairfax and Norfolk on the recommendations and for detailed information behind the decision. The delegation is also seeking a delay in an official decison on the plans. They left with only a promise of a direct meeting with Gates.

President Barack Obama has not made an official decision on Gates’ recommendation. The U.S.  House of Representatives Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday.

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