In recent months, the Pentagon's big goal has been to block Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal to take decisions about sexual assault and other major crimes prosecutions out of the hands of military commanders and put them in the hands of trained legal experts. The strength of that idea has the military scrambling to accept other important-but-not-strong-enough improvements to the failed anti-sexual assault efforts that have prevailed until now—and exercising its incredible advantages in lobbying Congress:
Nearly every Democratic and GOP member of the Armed Services committees has a career military officer working as a fellow—whose salary is paid by the Pentagon—to help craft legislation, unravel the department’s labyrinth of offices and sub-offices and decipher acronyms.In addition to the military fellows and liaisons that appear to be stationed in every office, hallway, and bathroom of the Capitol and congressional office buildings, it's not exactly hard for top officers to get meetings with lawmakers. And in all of this, members of Congress are all too eager to do what the military wants, even when, as in this case, there is no way to argue that the military's efforts are anything but a failure:
“Imagine if we had bankers serving as fellows for the Financial Services Committee. Would we do that?” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has been pushing the military for years on sexual assault.
Plus there are Capitol Hill liaisons, members of the military who regularly meet with key Hill staff to make the Pentagon’s case on a variety of issues.
“They’re managing the day to days of it, I dare say if they’re not supportive of something, the likelihood is we’re going to have problems with it,” said [Republican Sen. Richard] Burr, a member of West Point’s Board of Visitors. [...]The military is in essence demanding that it get the right to continue to fail to prevent and prosecute sexual assault against members of the military. It succeeded in the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is taking the fight to the full Senate as Gillibrand continues to press for the change that's needed, and it will doubtlessly prevail in the Republican-controlled House. Expertise at a profession is important. But when you're failing to stop something that you claim you now, finally, understand is really truly a problem, and your failure is allowing high levels of sexual assault to continue, it is the rankest arrogance to demand that the problem remain in your hands. That's the military's position, and it would be a failure of Congress' oversight role to allow it to prevail.
Chris Jehn, assistant secretary of defense for Force Management and Personnel under President George H.W. Bush, said too often lawmakers “defer to the judgment of senior military on so many issues and in my judgment the respect goes beyond the respect they ought to be given.”