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DoD Invokes LBJ - Wrong for Vietnam; Wrong for the Walter Reed Debacle

05/25/2010 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

The U.S. Navy continues to stoke the fires of failure at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland. The joint task force charged with overall responsibility for the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) at Bethesda and indeed military health care in the entire D.C. capital region still remains impotent and lacks authority to accomplish the mission. A disaster dwarfing the most recent Walter Reed scandal continues to fester and grow in the wings.

Now DoD steps in to "do nothing". Not giving the Joint Task Force BOTH authority and responsibility. Not designating Bethesda/Walter Reed a joint military base, but nothing. Long ago, President Lydon Banes Johnson said that he would not be the first US President to lose a war. While history notes how that went, the Department of Defense now invokes the exact same argument toward the looming Bethesda Naval Base/Walter Reed debacle. According to the Federal Times:

"Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, told a House subcommittee Wednesday that the department is "very focused on the end game" and is committed to meeting the Sept. 15, 2011, target to complete all BRAC-related projects.

"In the past four rounds of BRAC, we have never missed a deadline. I don't want to have that record blemished on my watch," Robyn told the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction, Veterans Affairs and related agencies."

If this isn't the "ghost of DoD past", nothing is. President Johnson anguished over the Vietnam War and the cost in blood and treasure. Thank goodness President Obama repeatedly states he would rather be a good one term president than worry about reelection; the result is healthcare legislation that is transforming America. However, Ms. Robyn "worrying" about her watch and reputation, says she won't be the first to not meet BRAC. Talk about setting mediocre goals and maybe achieving them. Her role is to serve the nation not herself. Ms. Robyn should focus on getting right the really important issues affecting the nation, national defense, the military and their families.

Ms. Robyn, visit Walter Reed and visit Bethesda alone. Walk the halls. Talk with patients. Apparently you confuse the mission with your "watch". This is not about you or the Secretary of Defense. This is about what is best for the nation, the Department of Defense, the soldiers and their families. Congress requested a simple report including the questions will you meet the BRAC deadline, at what cost and do you require more time.?

By every indication, Congress is eager to allow additional time to guarantee that the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is world-class and done right. The Department of Defense admits it will be neither world-class nor done right. For some strange reason, DoD decided to ignore Congressional concerns and to rush completion of BRAC construction. The result is locking in the near certainty of a debacle which will surpass the first Walter Reed scandal. Tim Kauffman reports in the 19 March 2010 Federal Times:

"Subcommittee Chairman Chet Edwards, D-Texas, questioned whether Defense was wasting money just to meet the congressional deadline. For instance, Defense is spending $53 million to erect temporary, modular office buildings at Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia to accommodate nearly 1,000 employees being relocated to the base until permanent construction is completed.

Robyn acknowledged that meeting the congressional deadline will come at a cost. "In some cases, that does mean spending a little bit more," she said.

However, Robyn said there are many benefits of setting and adhering to a firm deadline, such as giving affected communities the certainty they need to plan for BRAC-related moves and instilling in the department the discipline needed to make the tough decisions the changes require."

Interestingly, Ms. Robyn then begins to talk BRAC generalities veering away from the Walter Reed project toward claimed savings from BRAC in general. In fact, the cost overruns involved with the WRNMMC are many times higher than the BRAC estimate and are now well over a BILLION dollars. Perhaps this is why in this time of war, DoD decided to downplay medical care for the troops, cut their loses and declare victory.

One fact is very clear, next year when DoD declares victory and BRAC compliance - military care in the Washington DC area and the entire military will be nowhere near as capable as prior to BRAC. Worse this degradation in capability will be purchased at great cost.