- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

The Pentagon is debating whether to extend the life of its long-running women's advisory committee as pro-military groups urge Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to let it die.
The charter for the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) expires today. Throughout its 50-year history, the group received rubber-stamp, two-year extensions.
But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is being pressed by conservatives to abolish the panel. He has been holding meetings at the Pentagon on whether to extend the group's charter or perhaps redefine it.
Conservatives believed they were on their way to winning the battle. But yesterday, Mr. Wolfowitz met with a Republican congresswoman who warned him of a stiff fight if he does not renew the charter.
"To the best of my knowledge, no decision has been made yet," Jim Turner, a Pentagon spokesman, said late yesterday afternoon.
A number of pro-military groups have criticized DACOWITS as a tool of the feminist left, instead of an advocate for the well-being of the troops.
"If the Bush administration does the wrong thing and continues the Bill Clinton military agenda, that would be a huge disappointment of those military voters who made all the difference in the election," said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and is a former committee member.
Adopting the committee's agenda, she said, "would hurt the war effort by taking political correctness to extremes. With a serious war going on, Secretary Rumsfeld should not retain an extreme feminist committee pushing a radical agenda that has nowhere to go but over the edge. If the committee's charter is allowed to lapse a sigh of relief will be heard at all military bases and on all the ships at sea."
But liberal women's groups, and many females in uniform, back DACOWITS as a channel through which to convey their needs up the chain of command all the way to the secretary of defense.
Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican and a former Air Force officer, met yesterday with Mr. Wolfowitz to make that case.
"I told him that I believe the charter for DACOWITS should be renewed," Mrs. Wilson said, adding, "if this is discontinued, I will oppose him strenuously. Women are still a minority in the service. They need to have a voice that is outside the chain of command." She said she will also protest if the charter is in any way scaled back.
Now in its 50th year, DACOWITS' 33 members are mostly women, a large share of them academics. Members typically serve three-year terms.
All current members were appointed by the Clinton administration. Mr. Rumsfeld has not made new appointments during the ongoing review. The Pentagon is also studying the necessity of other advisory committees.
During the Clinton era, the committee persistently pushed the Pentagon to open up more combat jobs to women, even though the services repeatedly said no. Women won the right in 1994 to serve on combat ships and pilot combat aircraft. But the Clinton administration kept them out of ground combat, largely due to the issue of upper-body strength.
Since then, DACOWITS has pressed the Navy to open submarines to female sailors and urged the Army to let female soldiers serve in some artillery units. The Navy and Army oppose the moves.
These positions have spurred pro-military groups to charge that the committee is more concerned with careerism than with what is best for combat readiness.
Some of the groups staged a press conference last month to urge nonrenewal of the charter.
"Radical feminist groups push for full integration of women into combat roles, for gender integration basic training, for quotas that establish equal outcomes, not equal opportunity," said Nancy M. Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's Forum.
Mrs. Wilson said she made the point to Mr. Wolfowitz that the makeup of DACOWITS will change under the leadership of President Bush.
"The character of the committee over the last eight years reflected the previous administration but that does not mean this advisory committee should be disbanded. Far from it," said the congresswoman, Air Force academy graduate and "pro-defense Republican" who served on DACOWITS during the first Bush presidency.
She gave two examples of how the committee has helped. It made sure women's hygiene products were available at base stores, after young women service members were too embarrassed to raise the issue and instead had articles mailed from home.
Mrs. Wilson also said DACOWITS helped correct a problem in which female pilots who gave birth took longer to gain access back into the cockpit than women who took other types of medical leave.
She said Mr. Wolfowitz "did give me some reassurance he understands the importance of women in the military. He has to listen to a lot of opinions."
Mr. Wolfowitz addressed current and former DACOWITS members at a 50th anniversary party in April.
"I look forward to the advice that will come from your conference here this week," he told the celebrants.
He called the committee's work "practical and sensible advice that cuts to the heart of issues as it considers the overall good of the armed forces."

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