New rule limiting length of DOD reports to Congress draws fire

A new Defense Department rule restricting the length of reports to Congress has raised some ire on Capitol Hill.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), at a Hill press conference held July 11, accused the White House of violating its own transparency policies and said he’s sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanding he rescind a policy limiting the reports to 10 pages.

“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 [and] a lack of transparency,” McKeon wrote, according to a report from The Hill.

George Little, Pentagon spokesperson, denied that DOD is trying to restrict information from Congress and stressed that a partnership between DOD and Congress is critical to national security. He also said the limit is subject to exceptions.

"Across the department, we continually strive to provide Congress with the information and analysis it needs to fulfill its vital oversight role, and to do so in the most readable and usable format possible. We also seek to do so in a cost effective manner," Little said in a released statement. "The department prepares and sends to Congress over 500 reports annually. Last summer, one component within the department issued written guidance on report length. 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."

The news of the cap came out during a closed DOD briefing on Chinese military power. McKeon compared last year’s 70-page DOD report on the issue to this year’s, which was 19 pages despite being the first missive to come out under the new limitation.

“I consider this report to be wholly inadequate and believe it minimizes the uncertainty and challenges posed by China’s military buildup,” McKeon wrote in the letter to Panetta, posted online by Politico.

He added that despite the abbreviated length, this year’s report still cost $85,000 to produce, which is $12,000 more than last year’s.

"It would appear the justification is not cost-savings, but rather an internal decision to limit the amount of information provided to Congress,” McKeon wrote, closing with a request for Panetta to respond within 24 hours.

He told reporters that “we cannot do our job if the department does not provide adequate information.”

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), one of four Republican subcommittee chairmen who also appeared at the press conference, echoed McKeon, saying that "information on the rise of China" is an example of a topic that should not be condensed into a few pages. “This is really insulting to our staff," he said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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