Webb to stall future Defense nominations over JFCOM

Virginia Democrat accuses Pentagon of slow response to requests for information on closure of Norfolk-based command.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., Tuesday said he will put a hold on all Pentagon and military nominations until he receives information from the Defense Department on its decision to shutter the Norfolk, Va.-based U.S. Joint Forces Command.

In a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Webb accused the Pentagon of foot-dragging in his weeks-old requests for information on staffing levels in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, major headquarters, and military departments.

"This failure to respond to a request for basic information that should be readily available is indicative of the lack of cooperation that has characterized the proposal to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command," Webb wrote.

The information, he added, is "highly relevant" to Congress' ability to assess the proposal to shut down the combatant command, known as JFCOM.

"The information I requested is not difficult to accumulate, and it is clearly within the congressional prerogative to ask for it," Webb said.

But Webb's threat to hold up nominations, coming just a week before the midterm elections, appears to be somewhat idle, as it will affect only future nominees. Before the current recess, the Senate approved all military nominations cleared by the Armed Services Committee, according to the committee. Two lingering civilian nominations have been held up by other senators.

A senior Democratic leadership aide asserted that Webb's move could have little impact. "We really don't have any defense [nominations] to speak of now, but suspect that there will be promotions and [it] will be interesting to see if this covers those or just high-level and civilian types," the aide said. Webb is not up for reelection this cycle, but JFCOM has become a hot-button issue for embattled Rep. Glenn Nye, D-Va., a House Armed Services Committee member whose district includes the command.

In August, the Pentagon announced it would close JFCOM as a central piece of its sweeping effort to streamline the department and trim unnecessary overhead costs. Members of the Virginia delegation have staunchly opposed closing the command, which employs more than 6,000 people, and have argued that the Pentagon did not consult them on the decision.

"We need to know the analytical matrix that was used to compare all the commands and the agencies if we're able to evaluate a major proposed organizational disestablishment of one," Webb said at a Sept. 28 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "We need to know if the department has conducted comparative analysis of other major commands."

During the hearing, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn stressed that the core disagreement with the Virginia delegation is over the plans to close the command - not the lack of information provided.

"This was not a business-case analysis, as some have described it," Lynn said. "This was a military decision."

JFCOM employs 1,533 Defense Department civilians, along with 1,491 military personnel and 3,300 contractors, according to the command. Only 688 people work at the command's headquarters, including 294 Pentagon civilians, but the vast majority of JFCOM personnel work in southern Virginia.

Webb is not the only lawmaker demanding more information from the Pentagon. On Oct. 13, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., told Gates that the panel would not back the department's efficiency initiative, which includes the JFCOM closure, until they get more information.

"The committee will be unable to support any request for legislation or funding resulting from the efficiency initiative until the committee's requests for information have been satisfied," Skelton wrote in a letter to Gates.

"The department will continue providing information to Sen. Webb and other members of the Virginia delegation on the secretary's efficiencies initiatives," a Defense spokeswoman said. "We look forward to working with the senator to ensure all DoD nominations are approved in a timely fashion."

Dan Friedman of National Journal and Robert Brodsky of Government Executive contributed to this report.

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