[EDITOR's NOTE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress and the American public that the Quadrennial Defense Review would answer many tough unanswered policy and acquisition issues. Now that the QDR has pretty much finished, Congress is beginning to question whether Gates has done what he said he would do -- give them definitive answers about many of those fundamental issues.
After all, Gates made an unprecedented number of tough acquisition decisions on April 6, having forbidden senior defense officials from discussing those changes before the budget was presented. Now Rep. Todd Akin, ranking member of the House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary warfare who hails from the Show Me state, accuses the senior Pentagon leadership of using the QDR "to evade any question they did not want to answer." And he calls for his colleagues to pass language ensuring that an independent National Defense Panel will offer "balance" to Gates' review.}
Read his commentary.
This spring, as our military leaders came before Congress for their annual budget and posture hearings, a refrain was repeated over and over and over: “We will look at that in the QDR.” The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) was the trump card that covered every possible unknown.
However, given the lack of analysis and planning that came with the 2010 budget, many of us in Congress are concerned that the QDR will simply be a gigantic rubber-stamp for President Obama, rather than a thoughtful analysis of the present and future defense needs of our country. Our country needs an honest review of the national security situation, not just a pre-determined justification for Obama’s recent and possible future defense cuts.
On Capitol Hill, the Department of Defense has used the QDR to evade any question they did not want to answer. In our House Armed Services Committee hearing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen, the two leaders of Department of Defense mentioned the QDR over thirty times.
In following hearings, the QDR refrain was repeatedly constantly by other senior DoD leaders. In addition, the QDR was used as an excuse to avoid submitting the five year defense plan and to postpone the submission of numerous reports and plans required by law. The QDR, according to law, is supposed to be a “comprehensive examination of the national defense strategy” and its components—not as a method of avoiding transparency and accountability to Congress.
Given the importance of the QDR, and the attitude with which DOD leadership seems to be approaching it, there are two parts of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act that I think we in Congress must maintain as we conference the bill. The first is language added by Congressman Forbes and myself that states that the QDR should not be limited or determined by budget pressure and makes it explicit in law that the QDR does not exempt the DOD from its legal obligation to submit a budget and supporting documentation to Congress.
A second, and more important, provision was inserted due to the leadership of Congressmen Ike Skelton (D) and Mac Thornberry (R). This provision requires the establishment of a bipartisan, independent group called the National Defense Panel to review the work of the QDR. I believe that the NDP could be one of the most important provisions of the bill, as it will provide Congress and the American public with an independent assessment to balance whatever product may come out of the QDR process. Whether the QDR produces a rubber-stamp justification for budget cuts or a true assessment of our national security situation, having the National Defense Panel produce an independent, bipartisan assessment will only enhance the debate and help keep our nation secure.
The Quadrennial Defense Review is an important part of our national security apparatus. Unfortunately, if the recent DoD budget process is any indication, we should not have high expectations for this QDR. In the present situation, an independent, bipartisan report on our national security situation is vital. I hope my colleagues in Congress agree that we should support the National Defense Panel.
We've contacted Akin's Democratic counterpart and will run any answering commentary the party in power wishes to offer. And if the Pentagon wants to answer Akin's critique, we'll give them the space as well.