The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee called on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to reverse a Pentagon policy that the lawmaker said limits reports to Congress to 15 pages and amounts to an “outrageous” encroachment on congressional oversight.
Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican, said committee members learned of the policy today when they received a shorter-than-expected annual report on China’s military might. When McKeon complained to Pentagon aides who provided a classified briefing to accompany the report, he said they told him of the department’s short-report directive.
The policy “reeks of obstructionism, a lack of transparency, and is harmful to constitutionally mandated congressional oversight and national security,” McKeon wrote today in a letter to Panetta that he and fellow Republicans presented at a news conference. “Mr. Secretary, this policy must be rescinded immediately.”
Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement that Panetta seeks a “close partnership” with Congress, and that the Defense Department works to fulfill its requirement to inform lawmakers on issues in cost-effective way and in “the most readable and usable format possible.”
Little said “one component” within the Pentagon issued written guidance last summer that reports not exceed 10 pages unless legal requirements or some other circumstances made a longer report necessary.
“The guidance did not in any way seek to restrict information provided to Congress,” Little said.
The Republicans said the restriction only adds to their view that the Obama administration is withholding too much information on defense strategy and the impact of looming defense cuts.
“That kind of arbitrary limit to me is rather demeaning of our oversight role,” said Representative Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican.
If the Defense Department’s goal is to curb verbosity, that proved difficult on the first try: The China report submitted today was 19 pages, exceeding the limit.
As for saving money, McKeon said the 19-page report cost the Pentagon $85,000 to prepare, $12,000 more than a 69-page report on the same topic last year.