Senior Republicans on a House defense committee are seeking to delay the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the basis that Congress hasn’t had an adequate opportunity to review the regulatory changes resulting from the end of the policy — a request the Pentagon has rebuffed.
House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chair Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) write in a Sept. 12 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — which is set for Tuesday — should be placed on hold because information on the new policy hasn’t been sufficiently available to Congress and the public.
Panetta — along with President Obama and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen — certified the U.S. military was ready for open service on July 22, starting the 60-day period for when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be removed from the books.
McKeon and Wilson contend they have requested, but not obtained, copies of the revised regulations that will take effect upon the end of the military’s gay ban.
“This failure to meet the committee’s requests leads us to conclude that decisions on the policies and regulations to implement repeal are not complete and that your certification and those of the others were inaccurate,” the Republicans write.
Additionally, McKeon and Wilson decry what they say is the lack of public availability of the new regulations resulting from the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Republicans contend this lack of availability harms service members, including gay and lesbian troops.
“We find it unconscionable that the policies and regulations that provide the guidelines and procedures to be used by service members and their leaders to implement repeal, as well as to protect the interests of all service members, including gay and lesbian members, remain unpublished,” the Republicans write.
Finally, McKeon and Wilson also say the time isn’t now for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because certain regulatory changes needed for implementation will have to undergo a review and comment period before they can be effective and this period is not scheduled to begin until Tuesday.
“The need for review and comment before these regulations and policies can be effective directly contravenes the July 22 certifications,” the Republicans write. “The Department is not ready to implement the repeal because all the policies and regulations necessary for the transition are not yet final.”
Consequently, the Republicans urge Panetta to hold off on ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until after Tuesday and these issues are addressed.
“We believe it is essential that you take immediate action to delay the implementation of repeal until such time that the review and comment period is completed, that DOD has incorporated the changes suggested during that comment period, and that the appropriate regulations needed to implement repeal have been distributed to and are understood by the leaders and key personnel in the field,” McKeon and Wilson write.
But the Defense Department is disputing these assertions and says an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will take place as planned on Tuesday.
“The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will occur, in accordance with the law and after a rigorous certification process, on Sept. 20,” a Pentagon spokesperson said. “Senior Department of Defense officials have advised Congress of changes to regulations and policies associated with repeal. We take that obligation seriously.”
The spokesperson said top Defense Department officials, including the Pentagon’s general counsel, have already met with House Armed Services Committee staff and shared the proposed revisions to the regulations and new policies that will be issued.
Since legislation was signed in December to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” more than 2 million troops have participated in training to prepare for open service and what is expected in a post-repeal environment.
A senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the military service secretaries, service chiefs, and combatant commanders submitted their recommendations months ago, and none suggested repeal be postponed.
LGBT advocates were quick to condemn the Republican letter as a last-ditch attempt to stall the inevitable end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the GOP letter is “another example of the hardcore opposition attempting to delay or undo ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal.”
“I expect they will continue to look for openings to deny gay and lesbian service members the same rights and dignity as their straight counterparts,” Sarvis said.
Further, Sarvis said McKeon and Wilson are “simply wrong” in their assertion that new regulations haven’t been prepared within an appropriate manner.
“The statute only requires that the new regulations be prepared – not issued – before certification,” Sarvis said.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called the letter a “desperate move by extremist House members” to continue discrimination against gay service members.
“Wide majorities of Americans support allowing gay and lesbians to serve openly,” Solmonese said. “It is time to finally end this discriminatory law, and moves to stall will be seen by Americans for what they are – homophobic attempts to prevent the military from continuing down the path of full equality.”
NOTE: This article has been updated.