Murtha says Rumsfeld appointees frustrate oversight, cuts Pentagon agency budget
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) halved the budget of a Pentagon liaison office to the Congress in retaliation for what he sees as Defense Department foot-dragging on Congressional oversight. The Congressman's staff suggested leftovers from the tenure of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were at fault for the lapses in cooperation with Congress.
The Office of Legislative Affairs, which serves as a go-between for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Capitol Hill, is slated to lose $1.9 million.
"Mr. Murtha said that they have failed to answer Congressional questions in a timely matter," Matthew Mazonkey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democrat, said. The congressman chairs the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Legislative Affairs spokeswoman Tracy Scott referred RAW STORY to the Pentagon's press office. Pentagon spokesman Brian Maka, in turn, was reticent.
"The Office of Legislative Affairs performs a very important function as a liaison with Congress," Maka told RAW STORY Thursday afternoon. "It's inappropriate to talk about proposed legislation."
The Hill's Roxana Tiron reported Wednesday that in a markup of the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill, Murtha called the Pentagon 'uncooperative,' and singled out one particular office in explaining his punishment.
"Murtha Wednesday took issue with the office of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, David Chu, for failing to supply requested documents," she wrote in the paper. "But the Pentagon overall has been unresponsive to the committee...While several Pentagon offices have not cooperated with the committee, the cut in funding comes only to the Office of Legislative Affairs, the conduit between the Pentagon and Congress."
Murtha's spokesman added to that account, suggesting that Rumsfeld-era appointees were the problem.
"Secretary Chu is a Rumsfeld guy," Mazonkey said Friday morning. "The Congressman has repeatedly said that under Secretary Gates the Pentagon has become much more open, honest, and accessible."
While Murtha criticized Chu on Wednesday, the Office of Legislative Affairs itself has earned the ire of some congressmembers in recent months. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, Robert Wilkie, penned a memo that restricted which members of the Armed Services were allowed to testify before Congress, according to a May report in the Boston Globe.
"Robert L. Wilkie , a former Bush administration national security official who left the White House to become assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs last year, has outlined a half-dozen guidelines that prohibit most officers below the rank of colonel from appearing in hearings, restricting testimony to high-ranking officers and civilians appointed by President Bush," wrote Bryan Bender in the paper.
Using the memo's guidelines, Pentagon lawyers disrupted a close House Armed Services Committee hearing in April that was considering the performance of US-trained Iraqi Security Forces.
"Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress see the move as a blatant attempt to bog down investigations of the war," Bender added.
President George W. Bush appointed Wilkie to his post in June 2006, but his confirmation was held up due to a number of disputes between the Pentagon and Members of Congress over a variety of issues. He was not confirmed until September, months before Rumsfeld stepped down as Secretary of Defense.
The Pentagon's Maka would not comment on whether the Defense Department would seek to restore Legislative Affairs' budget with an amendment during debate on the appropriations bill.