- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

The Defense Department has scaled back its women's advisory committee, dismissing all Clinton-appointed members, cutting support staff and steering the panel to deal with readiness issues, not women in combat, The Washington Times has learned.
In what a senior official calls the "reconstitution" of the 34-member Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), the Pentagon is also restricting the panel's base visits and reducing its two annual meetings.
David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said yesterday in an interview he wants more control over the issues DACOWITS undertakes. He is moving DACOWITS from a "free form charter" to an agenda set by his office. At the top of his list is recruiting and retaining highly qualified women, maintaining their "well-being" and finding ways to help military families.
"We want to be in a position of charging members with helping us with advice on those specific questions," said Mr. Chu, the military's top personnel official. He said the committee will remain free to express views on any topic. "It doesn't mean they will always say things we're pleased with."
The creation of a new-style DACOWITS comes amid persistent complaints from pro-military and conservative women's groups that DACOWITS during the Clinton years focused on a feminist agenda. The panel repeatedly pressed for creation of more combat assignments for women, despite the military command's consistent contention that such changes would impair combat readiness.
Mr. Chu said that as far as he is concerned, Congress settled the combat issue in the early 1990s, when it approved women on most combat ships and aircraft but drew the line at ground combat.
"I don't anticipate that being a really high-priority question to ask this group," he said. "Our whole philosophy is we want to target these people on what is most important to us."
The changes, in the form of a new charter, were approved Monday by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The Pentagon is evaluating a pool of candidates for membership on the committee.
Mr. Chu said the Pentagon is reviewing all of its boards, commissions and advisory committees, with an eye toward cutting costs. The revamping comes a week after the Pentagon, for the first time in DACOWITS' 51-year history, declined to automatically renew its authorizing charter, which in effect abolished the old committee.
In making changes, the Pentagon:
Fired 22 Clinton holdovers. The defense secretary will appoint a new committee, not to exceed 35 civilian members. Three-year terms for 12 Clinton other appointees had expired in December. Officials did not rule out reappointing former Clinton members. For new members, the Pentagon will seek those who have served in the military or come from military families. The old board was made up predominantly of women, many of them academics and lawyers. Most had never served in the military. There is "no predetermined ratio" of men and women for the new DACOWITS, an official said.
Created a new charter. It changed the committee's duties from advising the secretary on "the full range of matters," to a more restrictive phrase of "specified matters." The emphasis will be on advising the secretary on ways to improve retention and recruitment of "highly qualified professional women in the services."
Abolished a staff of more than 30 service representatives. Critics had complained that these officers pushed the committee to recommend creating more combat jobs for women. The panel will retain a staff of six liaison officers.
Ended the practice of DACOWITS holding two large conferences each year, at which testimony was given in a series of hearings. Instead, the panel will hold two smaller "business meetings." Total annual operating budgets are cut from $673,485 to $520,000.
Terminated the previous procedure whereby DACOWITS members independently picked the U.S. military facilities to visit and traveled at their own expense. The Pentagon now will choose each installation, in the United States and abroad, based on issues it wants the committee to examine.
Charles Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, said, "We won't have this large annual pilgrimage to an overseas base that not only overwhelmed the services and the visited installations and the support environments, but also was probably less focused than we would hope it to be."
Mr. Abell, an Army combat veteran of Vietnam, said members will be free to ask "tough" questions. "The activities of that committee will be focused, and that focus will originate here in our office," he said. "I don't mean to indicate that this is somehow limiting the independence and the ability of the committee members to see what they see and report what they see."
After Congress and the Clinton administration set the rules for women in combat, DACOWITS repeatedly urged that the line be moved closer to battle. The committee wanted the Navy to redesign the Virginia-class attack submarine under development to accommodate women, even though the Navy said this would hurt combat readiness.
It also recommended that female aviators be assigned to pilot Special Operations helicopters, such as the MH-47 Chinooks that take commandos onto the battlefield to fight al Qaeda fighters south of Gardez, in Afghanistan.


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