- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

Pro-military people generally praised the Pentagon's decision this week to scale back its women's advisory committee, but some members of Congress do not like the changes.

The Pentagon earlier this week moved to limit its 34-member Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). It dismissed the remaining 22 Clinton-appointed members, rewrote its charter to focus on readiness issues, restricted base visits and cut back on support staff.

Pentagon officials said expanding combat roles for women, a major goal of the old membership, is not a Pentagon priority and would not likely be submitted to the panel as an issue that needs to be studied.

Officials said they want DACOWITS, once Bush appointees are in place, to focus on retention and recruitment of highly qualified women, and not focus on women in combat, as the old panel did.

Some pro-military and conservative women's groups were pleased with the Pentagon's decision.

"The fact that the new DACOWITS will be directed at military readiness and away from social engineering makes all the difference," said Nancy Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's Forum. "Only from that position could DACOWITS be of value to the armed forces. As for women, putting the interests of military readiness and national defense back in first place is what servicewomen need most."

But Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and has lobbied the Pentagon to abolish DACOWITS, said she is "very disappointed."

"I give them credit for good intentions," she said yesterday, after meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "But a close look at the new charter could prove problematic. … There is no need for a committee focusing on women alone.

"I did not see it as a clean break," she said, noting that the new charter approved this week was backdated to Feb. 28, the day the old charter was allowed to expire. "It was not the clean slate I had hoped for. I do not feel convinced having Republican members will make a difference as long as the agenda is substantially the same."

Mr. Chu said in an interview on Tuesday he wants a "reconstituted" DACOWITS to focus on issues suggested by himself and other personnel officials. Charter language was changed from the committee advising the defense secretary "on a full range of matters," to the phrase, "advising on specified matters."

Under new procedures, Mr. Chu and others will pick the bases, here and abroad, that members may visit. Previously, members chose the visited facilities. The committee also loses a support staff of 30 military representatives. Of 34 DACOWITS members, the Pentagon dimissed the 22 remaining Clinton holdovers. Three-year terms for the other 12 had expired. The Pentagon will now appoint a whole new committee that will likely number fewer than 30.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican and House Armed Services Committee member, called the demise of the old panel "an honorable death."

He said the committee should "maximize the contributions women make to our military without pursuing an overt feminist agenda, which DACOWITS had come to do."

DACOWITS' backers, however, are not pleased with the decision.

"Women are a vital part of our nation's defense," said Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican, a former Air Force officer and once a DACOWITS member.

"They have served for years with honor and have each brought their own skills and expertise to the military," she said. "I know that the Pentagon also values the women who have chosen to serve their country and that is why I am surprised that they have targeted this committee.

"I have not received an official copy of the charter and so I cannot fully comment on it," she added. "I am aware, however, of changes that have been made that I do not believe best serve women or, in the long term, the Department of Defense. Based on what I've seen, I fear that the committee will be a shadow of what it once was. This is unfair to our servicewomen and unwise for the Department of Defense."

In recent years, DACOWITS became a prime target of conservatives. They complained that long after Congress drew the line on where women may and may not serve in combat, the committee continued to press the branches for more open slots in artillery, special operations and submarines.

Committee supporters say the panel provides an important avenue for women personnel to convey to the secretary of defense their needs and aspirations. Officials say that role will not change.

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