Making Gates’ DADT ‘Working Group’ Work

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

During yesterday’s DADT hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he will ask the Defense Department for recommendations in the next 45 days on how the law could be more humanely implemented and announced the formation of a “high level working group” to “immediately begin a review of the issues associated with properly implementing a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.” The “working group” would “examine all aspects of this question and produce its finding and recommendations in the form of an implementation plan by the end of this calender year“:

1. The working group will reach out to the force to “understand their views and attitudes about the impacts of repeal.”

2. “Undertake a thorough examination of all the changes to the departments’ regulations and policies that have to be made. These include potential revisions to policies on benefits, base housing, fraternization and misconduct, separations and discharges, and many others.”

3. “Examine the potential impacts of a change in the law on military effectiveness, including how a change might affect unit cohesion, recruiting and retention, and other issues crucial to the performance of the force.”

While several studies have found that repealing the law would not undermine military effectiveness, the military has never performed a comprehensive review of the nuts and bolts involved in fully integrating the ranks. As Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, writes “It is true that the services will need time to make the transition work. Some regulations will need to be revised, some written, then issued. Training will have to be scheduled over a period of several months to inform and educate troops about the new policy, just as education and training were needed when the military ended segregation in the ranks. Leadership from senior enlisted and the officers corps will be key to a successful transition.”

“But a smooth and responsible change need not take years,” he concludes. Studying the implantation challenges makes sense but Congress should ensure that the study does not delay the repeal. During the hearing Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) proposed writing into repeal legislation “the period of time you suggest you need [to review the policy]…while legislating that at the end of that time we would have finality. In other words, a complete end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'” Sarvis suggests that Congress could first repeal DADT and “write a provision in the legislation giving the Pentagon another six to nine months for the transition.”

Whatever it does, Congress should not outsource repeal to a ‘working group’ or sit on its hands until the review process is complete. “The 16-year-old policy is a creature of Congress. Thus, it is Congress that must permanently right this wrong” and it should do so before the end of the year. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) has signaled that Congress will institute a moratorium on discharges while the military is studying the policy but it could probably do more. Congress can require the working group to produce bimonthly progress reports and set firm deadlines for completing the reivew. After all, if there is no road map to repeal, there is nothing stopping reluctant military leaders from driving off track.