November 22, 2010 at 11:04 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Pentagon sets early release for ‘Don’t Ask’ report

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called on Pentagon staff to make the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" study ready by Nov. 30. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Pentagon has announced its study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be complete a day earlier than previously scheduled following requests from U.S. senators and LGBT advocates to make the report available as soon as possible.

In a statement, Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates is “pushing all involved” with the Pentagon “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” working group to have the study ready for the public by Nov. 30.

“Frankly, December 1st was already an aggressive deadline by which to complete the report, incorporate the views of service secretaries and chiefs and for the Secretary to make a recommendation on the way ahead, but he has further compressed the timeline in order to support Congress’ wish to consider repeal before they adjourn,” Morrell added.

Morrell said Gates has instructed his staff to make the report available a day sooner “without cutting any corners” because the secretary wants members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to be able to “read and consider the complex, lengthy report before holding hearings with its authors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

A measure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is currently pending before U.S. Senate as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. LGBT advocates are urging Congress to pass the legislation during the lame duck session adjourning for the year.

Last week, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent the Pentagon a letter asking officials to make the report available prior to the Dec. 1 deadline. The Human Rights Campaign had also issued a statement calling on the Defense Department to make the report available “as soon as possible,” arguing that its release could prompt more senators to support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

In a joint statement, Lieberman and Collins thanked Gates for expediting the release of the report “so that Congress will have as much time as possible to review the findings and proceed with repeal this year.”

“Secretary Gates’ decision to release the report early as we requested and Secretary Gates’ leadership calling for repeal are two more reasons why we think Congress can and should repeal this discriminatory policy now,” the senators said.

Collins was among the senators who voted with the GOP to block consideration of the defense authorization bill when a previous attempt was made to bring the legislation to the Senate floor in September. She said she wanted a more open amendment process as part of consideration of the legislation.

During a congressional hearing last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also asked Army Gen. Carter Ham, a co-chair of the Pentagon working group, to make the study available as s0on as possible.

In a statement, Levin also said he’s “pleased” Gates has made the decision to release the report on an expedited basis and said he plans to make final plans soon for hearings on the study.

“I believe our hearings on the report will be a boost to the goal of passing a National Defense Authorization Act, including provisions related to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Levin said.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the earlier release of the report is beneficial because “time is going to be in very short supply” after lawmakers return from Thanksgiving recess.

Nicholson said he had been “begging” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to start the process for consideration of the defense authorization bill prior to Thanksgiving break to allow more time for consideration of the legislation. Lawmakers have now gone on break and aren’t set to return until Nov. 29.

“The report coming out on November 30th might make the difference between being able to hold hearings the first week of December versus the second week, which may be too late,” Nicholson added. “Hopefully Sen. Levin will now schedule a hearing for December 1st or December 2nd so that the process considering the full bill can get under way.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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