Decision to close JFCOM spurs strong reactions

Decision to close JFCOM spurs strong reactions

When Secretary Gates announced the dismantling of Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) as one of his savings initiatives, he and other senior DoD leaders and many defense analysts figured there would be some pushback from Virginia’s congressional delegation.  And they were not disappointed.  After all, JFCOM is located in Norfolk, Virginia, and employs almost 6,000 federal workers and contractors.  Secretary Gates justified his decision in terms of the department’s need to cut unnecessary overhead in order to free up funding to support force structure and modernization requirements.  He acknowledged the continued importance of joint training doctrine, but said that the success of “jointness” in the services had negated the need for the command.  Gates pointed out that in the current funding environment, the department could not afford JFCOM’s extra layer of bureaucracy and $240 million annual budget.  Previously, the Defense Business Board had recommended closing JFCOM, citing similar reasoning.  Since the announcement, Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn and other senior DoD leaders have made numerous public statements and testified before Congress on the need to close JFCOM to reduce program redundancies and the cost of contractors.  Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chair of the JCS, testified before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that DoD knew when it created JFCOM that it was adding another organizational layer.  But, the thought at that time was that the benefits of advancing jointness exceeded the costs of the move.  Now, Carter said, the Services accept “jointness” as the preferred method of operating and the Joint Chiefs agree that DoD can reduce costs by closing JFCOM without degrading capabilities.  However, Virginia’s Governor and congressional delegation, concerned about the loss of jobs, are not convinced that closing JFCOM is a sound business decision.  Governor McDonnell (R-VA) criticized the department for making the decision outside the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.  Members of Congress from the Norfolk area highlighted the successes of JFCOM over the years and charged that the closure decision was without merit and not recommend in the department’s Quadrennial Defense Review.  Sen. James Webb initially said he would examine the justification for the decision and later requested the Pentagon to provide a full cost-benefit analysis and other information on comparative headquarters staff sizes.  However, when Webb was not satisfied with DoD's response he put a hold on DoD civilian and general and flag officer nominations and asked Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold a hearing.  At that hearing, Deputy Secretary Lynn said that the decision to close JFCOM was not the result of a business case analysis, but a military decision.  After consulting with senior military leaders, he said the Secretary determined that the command could be closed because it was duplicative and too costly to continue.  Lynn said that the Joint Chiefs supported the decision.  However, he did agree to set up a channel of communication between the Pentagon and Virginia’s Governor and the congressional delegation to discuss the decision and provide relevant information.  The next step in this drama will likely occur when the full Senate takes up the FY2011 Defense Authorization Bill when Congress returns after the November election.  Sen. Webb has filed an amendment to that bill requiring DOD to provide detailed analyses and an impact statement before closing any unified combatant command.

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