WASHINGTON — The Pentagon appears ready to add a new phrase to those time-honored cliches of “the check is in the mail” and “I’m from the government and here to help.”
The Pentagon’s contribution: variations of “we will get that to you.”
Ask Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Jack Reed, among others in the upper chamber. Ask House members Reuben Gallegos, Veronica Escobar or the chairs of various House committees and subcommittees.
Or if it matters, ask the Pentagon press corps.
For example, Gallegos has been seeking clarity for months on the ambush of U.S. troops in Niger, which occurred in October 2017. He has asked almost every Pentagon official who has testified before the House Armed Services Committee, of which he is a member, for answers and given a variation of “we will get that to you soon” each time.
In March Gallegos (D-Ariz.) told three top Pentagon officials that “It has been (almost) two years and I think we will have to take extraordinary measures” to get the full information.
The response from Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger: “All the reports will be ready as soon as the final decision by the Secretary of Defense is made.”
Gallegos is still waiting.
That perhaps is not the most glaring example. Arguably, that occurred in mid-March when Reed asked Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was asked for a list of military construction projects that could have their funding shifted to help pay for President Donald Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Shanahan promised to send Reed the list by the end of that day, a Thursday. He did not. Nor did he send the list Friday, nor over the weekend. It did arrive sometime the following Monday.
He later pledged to Congress to inform them of what specific projects and areas are atop the more precise list for border wall money reprogramming by May 10.
That information still has not yet arrived on Capitol Hill.
More recently Reed was also the point person asking Shanahan why the Pentagon failed to inform the respective House and Senate committees about the early May surge in U.S. military elements to the Persian Gulf to counter perceived Iranian threats.
Shanahan told Reed that he was having a busy Friday when the deployment was ordered and then was occupied with other things over the weekend, thus delaying any notification.
Again this month, before the House Armed Services Committee, Escobar (D-Tex.) asked when the Pentagon was going to send Congress two reports required on the deployment of active forces to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Those reports are part of the legal language being used to justify the active-force deployment and were to be filed on Feb. 1 and May 1 of this year.
“Why has the (Pentagon) not submitted the reports (required) to the law it is citing?,” she asked the panel of Adm. Craig Faller, commander, U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Terrance O’Shaughnessy, commander, U.S. Northern Command, Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, and, again Wheelbarger.
No one knew the answer. When Escobar asked when it could be done, Rapuano volunteered “as fast as I can make it happen.”
Well, not yet.
For Pentagon reporters, it is almost a year since a formal on-camera briefing in the Pentagon press room has occurred. Shanahan sometimes chats with reporters outside the Pentagon while waiting for a dignitary to arrive and takes questions, or takes questions inside the meeting room before the talks with that individual begin.
Usual responses of Shanahan are along the lines of “later” or “tomorrow,” which do not materialize. Some days the media gets a double promise, such as this one to close one such exchange: “Let me just do this (greeting), but I’ll get back to you on that, all right?” followed by “We’re going to keep you up to date.”
Perhaps at some point.