- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

The Pentagon yesterday decided not to renew the authorizing charter of its 50-year-old women's advisory committee.

Instead, senior Defense Department officials are writing new marching orders for the panel that pro-military groups hope will shift it away from a feminist agenda.

It marked the first time the Pentagon did not rubber-stamp renewal of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, or DACOWITS, a group that has pushed putting women closer to combat roles despite the military's objections.

Conservative activists, some of whom want the committee abolished, said the non-renewal was a positive sign that President Bush's defense team was looking at combat readiness and quality-of-life issues as DACOWITS' true mission.

But a DACOWITS supporter in Congress said the fact that the Pentagon plans to write a new charter means that some type of women's advocacy group will survive. The staffer said one option being discussed is to reinvent the panel under a new name, but that no decision has been made.

The Pentagon plans to announce a new charter next week.

Defense officials declined to say whether the committee will get a new name and whether the membership of 33 on the panel will be changed, either in numbers or qualifications.

Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and has led a drive among conservative women to abolish DACOWITS, called the nonrenewal "good news." She praised the Bush administration for its decision but said the key issue now is how the new charter will prescribe the committee's duties.

"As in all the military issues, this defense team is taking warfare seriously," Mrs. Donnelly said. "It's a marked departure from the Clinton administration that used the military for purposes of social engineering."

No Pentagon officials would talk on the record yesterday about the charter decision. Draft copies were shrouded in secrecy. An official, who asked not to be named, said, "We are developing a new charter that we believe will enhance the role and the effectiveness of the committee while broadening its focus. … The charter as it existed is not being renewed and we are developing a new charter."

The decision essentially leaves the committee and its staff in limbo at least for a week. The panel is planning its annual spring conference, at which military officials typically testify about various women's issues. It is out of these conferences, along with field trips, that DACOWITS develops recommendations to present to the secretary of defense.

The panel is currently made up entirely of Clinton appointees. About a third of the members turn over each year and serve three-year terms. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has not named the Bush administration's first group of members while the charter review is under way.

Mr. Rumsfeld's point man on the issue is Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

He has been pressed by pro-military groups to abolish DACOWITS, while women advocates have pressed to maintain it. Defense sources said groups made phone calls to the Pentagon yesterday as DACOWITS' current two-year charter approached termination at midnight.

Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican and a former Air Force officer, held a meeting with Mr. Wolfowitz on Wednesday to urge him to renew the charter. She told him she would fight any move to abolish the committee or dilute its mandate.

"The committee serves in an advisory capacity and is very important to women serving in the military," Mrs. Wilson said. "As a veteran myself, I know that women in the military need opportunities to express concerns without fear of reprisal from their chain of command. I know that Dr. Wolfowitz values the service of women in the military. The advisory committee provides information to senior leadership that they would not get through the regular chain of command."

Indeed, supporters say DACOWITS has been at the forefront of positive change for women, who make up about 15 percent of the 1.37 million active duty armed forces. The committee helped push two major policy shifts in 1994 that allowed women to serve on most Navy combat ships and pilot combat aircraft. Eight years later, women routinely flew bombing missions over Afghanistan without much media attention.

What rankles conservative groups the most has been the Clinton-appointed committee's yearly request to put women closer to combat, despite repeated refusals from the military on the grounds of maintaining combat readiness. Critics say even liberal Democrat lawmakers on Capitol Hill have not pushed for such changes.

The committee wants women who are in the services to be assigned to submarines and some artillery units. The military opposes both recommendations.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide