In an exchange that may come back to haunt the Pentagon, Sen. Jim Webb pressed Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn today to give him and the Senate Armed Services Committee data to justify the proposed closure of Joint Forces Command.
Noting that Lynn had been a staff member to Sen. Ted Kennedy, Webb asked him to think how he would have responded if his boss had, as happened to Webb, gotten a call from the deputy defense secretary about a major base closing just 15 minutes before it was publicly announced.
Lynn tried to brush Webb aside, saying: "I appreciate that you do not feel we have shared as much information as you would like, but I think the core issue here is a disagreement over the recommendation." Pressed, Lynn said he had "met with some members of the Virginia delegation this morning" and is setting up a channel for the delegation can share information with the Pentagon about JFCOM. But Webb made it clear that did not satisfy him since it had been seven weeks since he and other Virginians had asked for information justifying the decision to shutter the command.
One observer at the hearing said it seemed pretty clear that the Pentagon did not have detailed data to back up its decision and was stalling for time.
Speaking in response to questions about savings and operational improvements gained from the 2005 BRAC, Lynn also told the SASC that the Pentagon may well have to "reexamine the path that we're on," appearing to raise the possibility that some of the BRAC decisions may be overruled or amended. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz recently said the 12 joint air force bases created by the BRAC are a failure that have not produced the cost savings the Defense Department expected.
The other major issue raised during the hearing is one that will loom larger next year. Complex weapon systems may be the poster children of where cost savings can be found in the Pentagon budget, but the real money lies in service contracts, which have grown substantially over the last decade and actually comprise roughly 50 percent of the money spent on acquisition, some $200 billion a year.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has created a task force to figure out how to save money here but the results won’t be in until the end of the year, at the earliest.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a former auditor and a true bulldog on the idea of accountability and efficiencies, pointed to service contracts as an area where there is "a lack of competition without a good reason for lack of competitio0n." She said those contracts are where the department can find "real, real money" to save.
McCaskill also repeated her call for the firing of the special inspector general in Afghanistan, saying he is “not up the job.