Last month the Washington Post reported that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates required senior defense officials throughout the department to sign non-disclosure on defense budget deliberations.
Today Congressman Randy Forbes (VA-04) along with other House Armed Services Subcommittee Ranking Members sent a letter to Secretary Gates calling this policy a “gag order” that prevents transparency in the defense budget process. From the letter:
I understand that you recently asked senior officials in the Department to sign a Non-disclosure Agreements as it relates to the President’s FY20 Budget proposal. While I fully understand that some of these discussion must be kept confidential, I am concerned that 1) this agreement is not strictly limited to predecisional discussions, and 2) that Congress may be excluded from oversight and engagement due to the restrictions put in place by this agreement.
Specifically, the Agreement states that, budget-related information restricted includes “[information,] predecisional or otherwise, concerning the Administration’s deliberation of the nature and amounts of the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2010, and any supplemental budget request submitted during the current fiscal year.” Can I expect a candid answer from a senior military official when I ask them about the process used to establish priorities, either now, or after the President’s detailed Budget is released to the public? Members of Congress candid answers from senior military officers that are not suppressed or censored – either directly, or implicitly via a culture of regulations that muzzles their independent professional judgment.
The Congress, and the Nation as a whole, can ill-afford our Nation’s senior military leadership to be forced to equivocate or be pedantic in so far as their professional opinion is concerned, particularly as it relates to risk calculation and threat analysis associated with the priorities of the Department of Defense and the allocation of taxpayer dollars.