Defense Secretary Robert Gates is unlikely to issue certification for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before his retirement at the end of the month, triggering debate over whether his departure will mean an extended delay for lifting the military’s gay ban.
According to a report in Stars & Stripes, senior defense and military officials have said Gates is unlikely to certify repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before leaving office on June 30, which would leave the responsibility to his successor, CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Eileen Lainez, a Defense Department spokesperson, was unable to confirm whether or not Gates would certify repeal before retirement, but said the Pentagon remains on track to implement open service by mid-summer.
“The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will certify after careful consideration of the views of the secretaries of the military departments, the military service chiefs and the combatant commanders,” she said. “I don’t have information on whether this will occur before or after Secretary Gates departs.”
Under the repeal law signed in December, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” won’t be off the books until pass 60 days after the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for open service. Gates has said before issuing certification he wants the armed forces to receive training, which has been taking place since February.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the chances of Gates issuing certification before his departure are increasingly slim, but added there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to give the OK before his departure.
“Everything is in place, everything is set, everything is in line with the cautious approach that defense leaders and the administration have taken,” Nicholson said.
Some advocates have said the retirement of Gates before certification could lead to delays if Panetta wants to examine the issue further, but at least one LGBT advocate says certification could happen within weeks regardless of who’s at the helm at the Pentagon.
Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external Affairs at the Center for American Progress, said she expects certification will happen soon, even if Gates isn’t in the position of defense secretary.
“I think it will happen in the next several weeks,” Stachelberg said. “It would have been our hope to have done this under Secretary of Defense Gates, who was secretary of defense while the legislative effort went forward and the survey went forward, but that seems not the way it’s going to end up. But this will happen in a matter of a few weeks after Secretary Gates leaves and Secretary Panetta arrives.”
Nicholson predicted the period for certification would be sometime between Gates’ retirement on June 30 and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen’s retirement on Sept. 30.
“[I've been hearing] different things from different people — informed sources who expressed skepticism about it happening in the next few weeks,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said the Pentagon could face consequences in manpower if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” isn’t lifted because gay service members may decide not to re-enlist if they feel the process is being dragged out.
“People make career decisions every day, every month, based upon projections of how likely it’s going to be for the years to come,” Nicholson said. “If someone has to decide in July whether or not to enlist for another four years, and they expected certification to happen by June, and there’s no concrete information being put out on a timeline, they may opt to not re-enlist.”
Additionally, Nicholson said President Obama could face political pressure from supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal if delays in certification continue.
“I think the consequences accrue on the administration, the political side of the house, because there’s no reason left to give why certification has not happened,” Nicholson said. “There’s no longer any reasonable excuse for why it’s stretching out for this amount of time.”
According to Stars & Stripes, one step that remains on the path to implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an Army assessment on the progress of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal training. As the largest service with around 1.1 million soldiers, the Army is scheduled to be behind the other services in the progress made for repeal training.
Stars & Stripes reported that Army leaders said in a message to commanders that this assessment is due Friday. Those reports will help the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey compile final recommendations on repeal, which Gates and Mullen are set to review before issuing certification.
Stachelberg said the process and training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal could have moved faster, but maintained the process for training the armed forces isn’t lengthy “because there are problems.”
“It’s taking time because it’s being done in a thorough comprehensive way, and it’s a large force,” Stachelberg said. “[An end to this process] hasn’t happened as soon as some would like, ourselves included, but it isn’t because there are problems and obstacles and issues along the way. It’s because of the sheer size of the military.”