By Daniel C. Vock, Stateline Staff Writer
Just days before he and other governors are scheduled to meet with Pentagon brass, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad attacked the Defense Department Thursday (July 12) for failing to work with governors on plans to drastically cut the size of the Air National Guard.
“This last year was a disaster,” Branstad told a U.S. House subcommittee in Washington. The governor said he first learned of plans to cut equipment and personnel from the Air Guard when he read the newspapers.
The Iowa Republican is one of two co-chairs of the Governors Council, a body created by President Obama two years ago to “strengthen further the partnership between the federal government and state governments” on National Guard issues. But Branstad says the governors were essentially cut out of the process this year and he fears the same issues will come up again next year.
The Pentagon originally proposed eliminating 5,100 Air National Guard positions. Nearly every state would have experienced cuts under the plan. Branstad says governors and their adjutant generals who oversee the units met with Pentagon officials several times and even developed an alternative plan to meet the same budget goals. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rejected those proposals in April. Forty-nine governors opposed the Pentagon’s plan, and, eventually Congress blocked it for a year.
One reason Branstad worries governors will be surprised by the Pentagon’s budget proposal again is that the Air Force required employees at the National Guard Bureau, the agency that is supposed to help the Pentagon work with states, to sign “non-disclosure agreements” about the Pentagon’s budget process.
That requirement, Branstad said, “creates an unnecessarily restrictive process that fails to adequately include critical information from the states.”
“We wholeheartedly agree with you,” U.S. Representative Randy Forbes, the Virginia Republican who led the hearing, told Branstad. “These gag orders have just got to stop coming out of the Pentagon, because it serves no purpose.”
The National Guard Bureau did not return a call for comment.
Budget pressures could get even worse for the military next year, because Congress made military cuts part of its debt ceiling package last year. If federal lawmakers do not find a way to cut spending, the Pentagon’s budget will automatically be cut.
“I think it would exacerbate the situation,” Branstad told Stateline. “I’m real concerned about defense taking a disproportionate reduction in the budget.”
When it came to this year’s Air Guard cuts, Branstad had a sympathetic audience at the hearing. U.S. Representative Tim Griffin, an Arkansas Republican, says the state’s members of Congress could not get any facts or analysis that justified moving aircraft from an Arkansas base.
“We have met with everybody there is to meet with, pretty much, except the president,” Griffin said. “You would think decisions like this, involving … billions and billions of dollars would involve at least a memo.”
The budget dispute is just the latest episode of tension between governors and the Pentagon over the Guard that started to build with the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on Guard forces to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Historically, the Pentagon … looked at the National Guard as the step-sister,” Branstad said, but recently that has started to change. Congress made the head of the National Guard a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Obama created the Governors Council to stress the importance of the Guard.
“All of this is good,” Branstad said. “But we need to see in reality a following through of what the intentions were, with the Guard as full partners.”