One of the Democratic talking points from would-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and would-be Majority Leader John Murtha is that the GOP-led Congress hasn’t been conducting oversight of the Pentagon. House Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Duncam Hunter has fired back:
Honorable Ike Skelton
U.S. House of Representatives
2206 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Thank you for your letter about Committee oversight. As you know, the established Committee Oversight Agenda for the 109th Congress focuses our oversight efforts on threats to national security, especially as they affect the armed forces. During the war on terror, we have, of necessity, targeted our resources on initiatives that address emerging threats to our country and provide the most valuable and immediate benefits to brave American warfighters in combat. I am proud of the Committee’s bipartisan efforts-together, we have made important strides toward addressing the most urgent challenges we face.
- During the 109th Congress, we have conducted 62 full Committee hearings which have focused on issues as pressing and varied as the conduct of the war on terrorism in both Afghanistan and Iraq to the evolving nuclear threats posed by North Korea and Iran.
- Committee oversight of detainee operations, for example, has also been extensive, including 11 full committee hearings and numerous other briefings and Congressional fact-finding delegations.
- We have judiciously addressed, in public and closed sessions, legislative options for trying terrorists.
- Over the last two years, we have held 19 hearings and briefings dealing with force protection issues, from vehicle armor and measures such as jammers to counter improvised explosive devices (IED) to body armor and combat helmets.
As with almost every issue, however, our engagement goes far beyond public hearings.
- For example, when U.S. Central Command needed more vehicle armor to protect our combat troops, members of the Committee staff went directly to manufacturers, who agreed to accelerate the manufacturing process. Along with their cooperation, Congressionally-earmarked funds accelerated the armor program and some 7,000 Humvee kits reached the field in less than 6 months.
- When IEDs emerged as the deadliest battlefield threat, we earmarked funding and again took the case directly to suppliers, who embraced the wartime need to shift from commercial to military production. The result: 8,000 jammers were delivered to the Defense Department in just 70 days.
- Committee staff members also devote considerable time to ensuring that the nation’s counter-IED effort is accountable and on track. This, in particular, is a new hands-on focus for this Committee, and it is making important inroads into solving one of our most pressing challenges.
- When the Pentagon’s peacetime acquisition process was too cumbersome in war, this Committee pushed to give the Defense Secretary a limited Rapid Acquisition Authority to streamline the process in special cases. Thanks to our oversight and subsequent legislative efforts, the Secretary can now approve emergency contracts that get processed in days, as opposed to months, when combat equipment deficiencies are costing soldiers’ lives.
- At Congress’s urging-specifically this Committee’s urging-Secretary Rumsfeld has used this special authority to push the mass production and fielding of those handheld jammers to help counter the threat of roadside bombs. More recently, he used it again to field a backpack version of a counter-IED jammer.
The results this Committee has achieved on a consistent, bipartisan basis reflect directly not only on the quality and commitment of our Committee and staff but also on the way we function day to day. Each subcommittee pursues its own oversight, allowing us to better focus oversight efforts.
In that context, a review of the measures in the annual defense authorization bill resulting from subcommittee oversight shows unequivocally how those efforts have reshaped the Department of Defense. To cite more examples, significant bipartisan reforms have been undertaken in military justice, pay and benefits, health care, and the role of the reserve components.
In an effort to improve our oversight, this Committee has shown the willingness to adapt new approaches beyond the limits of more formal constraints. For example, with active bipartisan participation of Members across the Committee, we began the Committee Defense Review-the most extensive, comprehensive review of Department of Defense issues undertaken by the House Armed Services Committee in our many years together in the Congress. That review and its recommendations await the approval of Committee Members and demonstrate once more the commitment this Committee has to effective oversight.
I welcome and value your pledge to put forth your time and commitment as we move forward in pursuing the best oversight we can provide, which is what the American people expect and deserve. Given this Committee’s demonstrated commitment to our troops, I know we can continue to provide important and timely support to America’s brave military men and women.
With best wishes,