Pentagon Bars Press from Congressional Hearing Aboard Aircraft Carrier

Tugboats guide the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) from her dry dock at Norfolk Naval Shipyard to a nearby pier following a scheduled dock flooding. (U.S. Navy Photo)

A last-minute request from the Office of the Secretary of Defense kept the press out of a controversial congressional hearing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on Monday, according to a staffer with knowledge of planning.

The hearing, hosted by the House Armed Services Committee's seapower and projection forces and readiness subcommittees, was announced May 16, but had been in planning much longer, according to the congressional staffer, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the event freely.

The field hearing, aboard the Eisenhower in Norfolk, was billed as an opportunity to discuss the challenges facing the Navy with officers directly in charge of operational units and to get a cross-section of perspectives from communities across the fleet.

"At the very last minute, OSD decided they had an objection to media presence," the staffer said, adding that the Navy had been amenable to having media aboard the Eisenhower.

A spokesman for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's office did not immediately respond to emailed request for comment from Military.com.

In deference to the request, the staffer said, the event became a closed-press congressional delegation, or CODEL, enabling members of the two subcommittees to hear from the naval communities aboard the Eisenhower in a private setting, while a public hearing on Navy force structure and readiness was set for Thursday on Capitol Hill.

The change of plans came in the wake of criticism from a Virginia State delegate, Republican Scott Taylor, who accused the Seapower committee's chairman, Virginia Republican Randy Forbes, of using the troops aboard the war ship for a "photo op" to further his political ends. Taylor is running against Forbes for the congressional seat held by Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican who is not seeking reelection. The primary is June 14.

The original hearing plan had lawmakers hearing from Adm. Philip Davidson, head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Capt. Randy Stearns, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic; Capt. Scott Robertson, commander of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy; Capt. Greg McCrae, deputy of Submarine Squadron 6; and Capt. Paul Odenthal, commander of Naval Construction Group Two.

The staffer told Military.com that all the same officers spoke to the two subcommittees today. In addition, the four Navy captains will appear in the Thursday hearing, the staffer said. In addition, the person said, lawmakers had the opportunity to talk with the leaders of a helicopter squadron, observe the operations of a guided-missile destroyer, and more.

"What made this hearing unique was, instead of just the flag officers, we were going to talk to the captains who actually do [day-to-day operations," the staffer said. "This was kind of a unique time to get the operators' perspective. Because the media's not there, we chose to call this the listening session."

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, will be present for the Thursday hearing on Navy structure in support of the subcommittees' investigation into readiness concerns, the staffer said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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