Congressional aides have been complaining for several weeks that they are having trouble reacting to Defense Secretary Robert Gates' budget proposals because they can't get data or analysis from the Pentagon with which to counter Gates.
It's clearly ticked off some of their bosses, as evidenced by a letter released this afternoon, citing concerns about Gates' "gag order" forbidding officials from discussing the budget or any of its details.
A group of 11 House lawmakers told Gates they are "concerned that 1) this agreement is not strictly limited to predecisional discussions, and 2) that Congress may be excluded from oversight and engagement due to the restrictions put in place by this agreement.” According to the accompanying press release, the members said "the new restrictions will severely and unnecessarily limit Congress in its Constitutional duties."
While reporters have always chafed against the Alice in Wonderland Pentagon policy that officials are barred from discussing anything labeled "pre-decisional," lawmakers have had a much easier time getting data and analysis from Pentagon supporters, people who want to ensure their program's own survival and Pentagon officials eager to curry favor with the Hill for whatever purpose. But Gates has succeeded in cutting of that information flow for the first time in the 12 years I've covered defense.
Rep. Randy Forbes, lead author of the letter, said that Gates "is essentially preventing Members of Congress from asking the questions necessary to ensure our soldiers are equipped to do their jobs, and is prohibiting media and public awareness on important defense issues."
Forbes, top GOP member of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee, noted that the Army recently refused to testify before Congress about the Future Combat System, saying any discussions would involve budget decisions and senior Army officials couldn't discuss them because they had signed Gates' non-disclosure agreements.
Forbes stuck a stick in the administration's side, noting that the gag order and classification of Navy readiness reports "are direct contradictions to an Administration that has prided itself on transparency. Especially in these economic times when every defense dollar should be used on the most important priorities, the budget process should be as transparent as possible."
Of course, Gates probably smiled as he read Forbes’ letter, hearing from the Hill that his restrictions are having exactly the kind of effect he hoped they would.