Webb Will Block Defense Nominees Over Data Request

Posted October 25, 2010 at 5:54pm

Updated: 7:17 p.m.

Sen. Jim Webb took the rare step Monday of announcing that he would hold up Defense Department nominees after the Pentagon failed to respond to an information request he made about five weeks ago.

The Virginia Democrat has been angry over the department’s decision this year to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is based in Norfolk, Va. In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Webb noted his repeated requests for information about current and historical staff levels at the department. Those unanswered requests have prompted his blanket hold on civilian nominees and flag and general officer nominees “until such time as my request for information is satisfied,” Webb wrote.

“This failure to respond to a request for basic information that should be readily available is indicative of the lack of cooperation that has characterized the proposal to close” JFCOM, Webb wrote.

Webb, a former Marine who served as secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, wrote that he requested information concerning Defense Department staff levels from the Congressional Research Service about two months ago, then followed up about five weeks ago with a direct request to the Pentagon’s legislative affairs office for a historical comparison of staff levels. He also wrote that Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn agreed during an Armed Services Committee hearing last month to provide answers in a timely manner. None of those queries has received a response, Webb wrote.

“The information I requested is not difficult to accumulate, and it is clearly within the congressional prerogative to ask for it,” he wrote. “Such data is highly relevant to our ability to reach our own conclusions in the fulfillment of our constitutional responsibility to assess a proposal that has significant ramifications not only in Virginia but throughout the country and also overseas.”

It was not immediately clear which pending nominations will be affected by Webb’s hold.

The Defense Department pledged to provide Webb and other members of Virginia’s Congressional delegation with answers to their questions concerning JFCOM and Gates’ other budget proposals. “We look forward to working with the Senator to ensure all DoD nominations are approved in a timely fashion,” said Capt. Darryn James, a Pentagon spokesman.