- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Pentagon civilian employees were ordered in a memo to come up with data to rebut statements by retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf that military readiness dropped during President Clinton's watch.
The urgent Aug. 3 memo went to 17 workers in the Pentagon office concerned with personnel and readiness the day after the Desert Storm commander spoke to the Republican National Convention via satellite from a decommissioned battleship.
The memo asked them to assemble in a matter of hours data on quality of life issues and said the importance of the task was "high."
The memo has raised questions among some Defense Department workers as to whether the order injected presidential politics into what is supposed to be a nonpartisan office. The Pentagon denies the charge.
The memo explicitly mobilizes civilians to gather data that only supports one point of view the White House's and, by extension, that of Vice President Al Gore. The memo does not ask for any information that would support the criticisms made by Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush.
The order asks that data immediately be sent to Victor Vasquez, deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel, support, families and education.
The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, is titled, "Reclama [response] to Schwarzkopf/ Republican claim that military Qol [quality of life] is worse today."
The memo stated: "The front office has asked for information by COB [close of business] today to rebut Republican convention statements that the military's Qol is worse today than it was 10 years ago (or during the current administration's leadership watch.) Please send bullets to me for Mr. Vasquez to review by 1400 [2 p.m.]. Focus on achievements, funding figures, all Qol [quality of life] measures, per capita, etc. Thanks in advance for your timely reply."
A follow-up memo carries the notation "negative replies are required," which means Mr. Vasquez wanted to ensure that everyone saw the request and attempted to find data. If no data turned up, the employee was required to respond.
A Pentagon spokesman yesterday defended the memo. He said that during "this partisan atmosphere" the Pentagon has stayed out of the presidential debate. But it believed Gen. Schwarzkopf uttered errors in facts that had to be corrected.
Mr. Vasquez issued a statement to The Times:
"I felt that retired Gen. Schwarzkopf had it very wrong in several areas. I felt that our current DOD team civilian and uniformed military had accomplished much more than it was being given credit for. So to set the record straight, I asked my staff to gather specific, factual data to rebut. I would have done the same to correct the record no matter who was making these statements."
Some defense workers familiar with the memo said it seemed to be politically motivated because it only requested information supportive of Mr. Gore, the Democratic candidate.
"When an executive branch employee orders subordinates to gin up data to support one political candidate over another, this is unconscionable and beyond the pale," said a Pentagon employee, who asked not to be named. "[The memo writer] clearly forgot [his] salary is paid by our citizens, not by the Democratic Party."
Since Mr. Bush raised military preparedness as the campaign issue, the debate has permeated the Pentagon. The top brass fret over publicly discussing the issue, fearful they could offend Republicans or the White House depending on how they describe the problem.
The anonymous Pentagon official said that since the campaign began "I have seen similar efforts to spin the facts in such a way as to hide the truth. Instead of saying 'give us data to help the VP,' we are told to 'provide data to show that things are getting better over the last two years, which ignores the fact that things hit rock bottom four years ago; hence, the only way to go was up."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are scheduled to testify today before the Senate and House Armed Services committees. It was roughly two years ago that the chiefs of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy acknowledged before the same committees that combat readiness had slipped severely and asked for billions of dollars in new funds.
Military analysts blame the drop-off on the fact the defense budget came down sharply in the 1990s at the same time Mr. Clinton sent U.S. troops on a peacetime record number of peacekeeping and war missions.
Officers complain of old equipment, poor housing, scarce spare parts, lack of training time and difficulty retaining top personnel.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said yesterday the chiefs are free to speak their minds.
"The only instructions that I've given to the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to go up and tell the members of Congress what the facts are," Mr. Cohen said. "They are free to say exactly what they feel is necessary in order to protect the American people's national security interests."
He said that combined increases proposed by Mr. Clinton and Congress will boost defense spending by $180 billion the next five years.
"There are still things that need to be done," the defense secretary said. "I think the chiefs will testify that we have addressed some of the readiness concerns. We have addressed the issue of the procurement needs… . I think that they will indicate that more will have to be done in the future to address real property maintenance and infrastructure, and that we will need to address some of the shortfalls that they will identify."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide