Inside the Pentagon
May 30, 2002
reposted with permission

House, Senate Bills Omit Proposed Changes To Readiness Reporting

Neither the Senate Armed Services Committee nor its counterpart panel in the House included provisions in their recent versions of the fiscal year 2003 defense authorization bill that would have eliminated the requirement for monthly and quarterly reports on military readiness, as the Pentagon had requested.

The Defense Department had proposed replacing the reports -- which are required by law -- with computer access to classified readiness data for selected lawmakers and their aides (Inside the Pentagon, April 4, p2).

Currently the Pentagon issues relatively short, unclassified paper summaries of its monthly and quarterly readiness reports to Congress, supported by classified annexes available only to those members and staffers with clearances who serve on defense oversight committees.

In an interview last month, a defense official echoed the Pentagon's official request for relief, saying the frequent reports were among many that tax civilian and military staffs. The Defense Department's senior civilian and military leaders periodically testify before congressional panels on important readiness issues, making the regular reports unnecessary, argued the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official also told ITP that access to raw data through a classified Internet link would actually increase the amount of information available to those on Capitol Hill who are interested in military readiness.

If Congress opted to continue receiving the reports, the official still urged that the documents be made available via a classified Internet portal, rather than on paper. Such a link to the Pentagon's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network -- better known in defense circles as SIPRNET -- has not yet been established on Capitol Hill.

But the proposal has drawn fire from critics, who say regular access to information about the readiness status of the armed forces should not be limited to those few on Capitol Hill who would be allowed clearance to classified data via SIPRNET.

"What's wrong with an unclassified summary?" asked one Senate staffer, also interviewed last month. The Pentagon's desire to stop issuing the public reports "makes one suspicious" that defense officials would prefer not to talk about readiness problems.

The staff aide argued instead that the Defense Department should "vastly improve the quality of what's in the classified information, and then issue unclassified summaries."

The Pentagon is in the process of creating a new system to assess readiness, which officials say is aimed at more realistically capturing how able each unit is to perform its assigned missions (ITP, April 4, p1).

Whether such limitations -- if ultimately embraced by Congress -- would have much effect is debatable, according to some officials. The readiness reports are not "read much on the Hill and no one notices," said one expert on the issue.

The defense official said that very few individuals beyond Capitol Hill appear to read the reports, either.

But the small size of the community interested in the unclassified reports does not call for limiting access to the data even more, argues Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

Defense oversight is not performed exclusively by Congress, he said in an interview last month. Rather, policy research organizations, advocacy groups and the defense trade press "will take the time to digest" the readiness data. "If they are cut out of the picture, the oversight process will suffer," Aftergood said.

Members of Congress "depend on somebody else to flag [issues] for them, and that won't happen if there's no outsiders authorized to look at the documents," said Aftergood.

Copyright 2002 Inside Washington Publishers