Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is questioning why this year’s report on Chinese military power was shorter than previous year’s reports. (File photo / U.S. Navy)
Every year, the Pentagon is required by law to submit a report to Congress on Chinese military power.
During a July 11 briefing, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, noticed this year’s report was shorter than usual.
When he asked why, the Pentagon official briefing him said a new DoD policy requires that all reports to Congress be limited to 15 pages. Angered by the new policy, McKeon immediately fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and held a last-minute press briefing to express his frustrations to reporters.
“I consider the report to be wholly inadequate and believe it minimizes the uncertainty and the challenges posed by China’s military build-up,” McKeon wrote to Panetta.
The letter says the China report is 19 pages and cost the Pentagon $85,000 to prepare. The copy available online contains four chapters that run 19 pages, but stretches to 52 pages if you include the four appendixes and maps in the back.
Last year’s report cost $73,000 to prepare and ran 84 pages, with two appendixes.
Some of the items McKeon says are missing from the report appear to be included in the report’s appendixes.
For example, McKeon says the report contains little discussion of significant Chinese military technology developments, but there is an appendix titled “Size, Location and Capabilities of Chinese Military Forces” that includes a fairly detailed discussion of China’s military capabilities.
When asked whether the classified version of the report contained the information claimed to be missing, McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin said, “We don’t consider either the classified or unclassified versions to have met all the statutory requirements. Further, there is no reason some of these items would need to be in a classified annex.”
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman George Little said DoD prepares and sends more than 500 reports to Congress annually.
“Last summer, one component within [DoD] issued written guidance on report length,” he said. “That guidance indicated reports should not exceed 10 pages in length, except when the statutory requirements or specific circumstances dictate. The guidance did not in any way seek to restrict information provided to Congress.”
At a May 18 Pentagon press briefing, Pentagon policy official David Helvey acknowledged the China report was shorter than last year’s.
“We’ve streamlined and consolidated the report, in keeping with DOD-wide guidance for how we’re handling reports to Congress,” he said. “However, we continue to address the same range of questions and issues that’s requested by the Congress in the legislation.”
Because this year’s shorter report is more expensive than last year’s, McKeon believes the Pentagon’s new report policy has more to do with limiting the amount of information provided than it does cost-savings.
“Taken in context with the issuance of gag orders, the requirement for senior officials to sign non-disclosure agreements, and the tardiness of responses to requests for information, this policy reeks of obstructionism, a lack of transparency and is harmful to constitutionally mandated congressional oversight and national security,” McKeon writes.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates required Pentagon and military officials to sign non-disclosure agreements when participating in high-level budget and strategy discussions in an effort to reduce leaks.
In his letter, McKeon asks Panetta to rescind the policy immediately and requests a response to his concerns within 24 hours.
He also wants assurances from Panetta that he will issue new policy guidance that does not place an arbitrary page-limit on congressional reports.
“Secretary Panetta has made clear that a close partnership between the Department of Defense and Congress is essential for our national security,” Little said in his statement. “For that reason, the Department takes very seriously its responsibility to provide Congress with thorough, accurate and timely briefings and reports on the full range of matters.”