A co-chair of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” working group has said he doesn’t think an upcoming report on implementing repeal will be complete before the Dec. 1 deadline — despite requests from lawmakers and LGBT advocates to make the study available earlier.
Army Gen. Carter Ham, one of two co-chairs leading the Defense Department working group, made the remarks during his confirmation hearing on Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The four-star general has been nominated to become commander of U.S. Africa Command.
During the hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted Ham said prior to his testimony he wasn’t authorized to discuss the content of the report at this time. The committee chair reiterated his commitment to hold hearings and hear testimony from Ham shortly after the working group provides the report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Still, Levin said he had questions about the timing of the report and asked whether the Pentagon working group, which Ham co-chairs along with Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, would be finished with its study before the Dec. 1 deadline.
Ham replied that he thinks “it will take until the first of December” for the Pentagon working group to complete its work because those crafting the report are still awaiting input from the military service secretaries and service chiefs.
“The key factor remaining for us in the review group is to receive the review and comment by the service chiefs and service secretaries, which is ongoing,” Ham said. “We anticipate their comments soon, Mr. Johnson and I will review those comments, make final adjustments to the report, which is currently in draft form and then deliver to the secretary of defense on 1 December.”
Asked by Levin whether the group could make “every effort” to make the report available before Dec. 1, Ham replied, “Yes sir, in consultation with the secretary’s office.”
On Monday, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a letter to the Pentagon asking for the release of the report ”as soon as possible.” The Human Rights Campaign issued a similar statement on the report last week and argued that an early release of the report could influence fence-sitting senators who have yet to endorse “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
Also during the hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a strong opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and critic of the Pentagon report, asked questions suggesting the survey that was conducted as part of the working group’s efforts was biased in favor of repeal.
Over the summer, the Pentagon sent out 400,000 surveys to active duty service members to solicit their views on serving alongside openly gay troops in the U.S. military. According to a recent media report in the Washington Post, the survey found that more than 70 percent of respondents think the effect of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be positive, mixed or nonexistent.
McCain asked whether 400,000 surveys were indeed sent out, which Ham confirmed, and then asked how many responses were received. Ham said the Pentagon group received a little more than 115,000 responses.
“Like 25 percent?” McCain continued, suggesting that the response rate was too low to consider the data valid.
But Ham corrected the Arizona senator and said the received responses made up 28 percent of the surveys sent out.
McCain also asked questions about the wording of the survey and suggested bias in favor of repeal was present here as well.
“Isn’t it true that the survey said in a preamble — said DOD is considering changes to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that quote ‘would allow gay and lesbian service members to serve in the military without risk of separation because of their sexual orientation,’” McCain said. “Is that true?”
Ham confirmed that this wording was indeed part of the preamble for the survey.
The content of recent media reports about the upcoming report was also discussed during the hearing. Lieberman asked whether the information revealed by the leaks was “just one part” of what the Pentagon group intended to do and inquired about other information that would emerge.
Ham responded by outlining the terms of reference for the report and said there were “two tasks.” One was to assess the impact of repeal on concerns such as battle effectiveness and recruitment, and the other was to develop a plan to implement an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The general noted the working group obtained information from service members through surveys, focus groups, an online inbox and town hall meetings. To obtain to views of gay service memebers currently in the armed forces without outing them under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Ham said the working group established a “confidential conversation mechanism” through a third-party company.
“All in all, senator, we believe this is probably, as far as I could tell, the most comprehensive assessment of a personnel policy matter that the Department of Defense has conducted,” Ham concluded.
Lieberman said he agrees that the report is “very comprehensive” and “should inform the decision that Congress makes in voting.”
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who in May opposed a repeal amendment in committee, also praised the report during the hearing and emphasized it should guide congressional action on the issue.
“I think it’s important, if I may, to quote from what Sen. Lieberman just said,” Webb said. “He said this study ‘should inform the decision that the Congress makes in voting.’ We tend to forget that in our political haste here. This is a very important study for us, not simply to receive, but to examine and to discuss.”
A former Navy secretary, Webb noted he spent five years at the Pentagon and said he “can’t remember a study on this type of issue that has been done with this sort of care.”
“Not even having seen it or knowing the results, but I know the preparation that went into it,” Webb said. “So it’s going to be a very important study for us to look at and examine.”