Source: Turf warrior Murtha moved to defund national security reform group
In the defense bill going through the Senate right now, Congress completely defunded the Project on National Security Reform, an organization working to reform America’s dysfunctional national security infrastructure, according to its president. The organization, which has ties to National Security Advisor Jim Jones, got $4 million dollars in the defense bill last year and ...
In the defense bill going through the Senate right now, Congress completely defunded the Project on National Security Reform, an organization working to reform America’s dysfunctional national security infrastructure, according to its president.
The organization, which has ties to National Security Advisor Jim Jones, got $4 million dollars in the defense bill last year and had $2 million in the Senate’s version of the bill this year. But when the doors opened after the behind-the-scenes House-Senate conference on the issue, PNSR ended up with zero.
President and CEO Jim Locher informed his staff of the tragic situation PNSR now finds itself in by email Thursday.
“I regret to inform you that despite our best efforts, the Senate was unable to overcome opposition in the House, and Congress has not funded PNSR in the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Bill,” Locher wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Cable.
Locher said he would support staffers who now could be forced to find new jobs and he said PNSR will keep the lights on to work on near-term projects.
“This will make PNSR’s task more difficult over the next several months, but as I’ve mentioned before, PNSR will carry on,” Locher said. “National security reform must happen.”
In an interview earlier this month, Locher told The Cable PNSR was already cutting back as it waited for the defense bill funds to come through, and he spoke about efforts to seek funding directly from agencies like the State Department and Defense Department. He also said PNSR was looking for support from think tanks, corporations, foundations, academic institutions — you name it.
So what was Locher talking about when he said the House opposed funding PNSR? The Cable asked Matthew Mazonkey, spokesman for House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairman John Murtha, D-PA.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss programs included in the classified annex,” Mazonkey said. OK, so the fact that the money was in the “black” part of the budget means that Murtha’s office “can’t” explain what happened?
Luckily, a source close to the issue wrote in to let us know what went down. This is one person’s take, impossible to confirm because the committee won’t comment. But if true, it shines a light into how national security funding decisions get made. And guess what? It has a lot more to do with personalities and politics than a consideration of national security needs.
The source tells the story of a senior Democratic lawmaker protecting his turf, who may have helped a GOP staffer zero out the account for the program. According to the source, Murtha, who is in charge of writing the bill, feared that PNSR might make recommendations that would alter his ultra-powerful subcommittee’s jurisdiction.
Importantly, Murtha took the PNSR portfolio away from his staffer Chris White, who was said to have been a huge champion of PNSR funding in years past, the source said. Murtha allegedly told White that PNSR’s recommendation to create “select committees on national security” had better not impinge on the power of his defense approps panel (PNSR never thought it would). White was also told not to be involved with PNSR funding in any way after being taken off the case, according to the source.
But the real opposition came from committee minority staffer Jennifer Miller, the source said. Miller and White banged heads on a number of issues and some believe that the relatively small amount of PNSR funding got caught up in their personal disputes. White had warned PNSR that the House funding was risky and told the group to focus on the Senate, which they did. But after he was taken off the case, House opposition strengthened.
“Whoever the new majority staffer was didn’t know PNSR, wasn’t terribly interested in it and was no match for Ms. Miller, who was vicious on this issue,” the source said.
Both Murtha and Miller refused to meet with Locher, the source said, although Locher did get a meeting in the office of Bill Young, the ranking Republican on Murtha’s committee. At that meeting, Locher was allegedly told he would get $1.6 million, or 80 percent of the Senate’s number. That didn’t happen.
In the conference, Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Kit Bond was hugely supportive, the source said. Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein were also helpful, but ultimately unsuccessful.
“[Kentucky Republican Congressman] Geoff Davis, a big PNSR supporter, did what he could to rally support on the House side,” the source said. “But I guess in the end no one was willing or able to fall on their sword for PNSR.”
You can read PNSR’s latest and perhaps last report on the dysfunction state of the U.S. national security bureaucracy here.
Reached by The Cable, Locher was stoic. “Our mission is of the utmost value to the American people, and we vow to carry on,” he said.
(And by the way, Congress has been having a lot of trouble passing the defense bill, which is caught up in health-care politics, despite this rather pointed letter from Gates imploring Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to do so today.)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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