Lawmakers fuming over Pentagon guidance limiting reports to 10 pages

Republican Rep. Buck McKeon and other members of the House Armed Services Committee are furious over what they are calling an "arbitrary" decision by the Pentagon to limit reports to Congress to as few as 10 pages.

McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the committee, on Wednesday cited the most recent military report on China, which totaled just 15 pages of written content on China's military -- in addition to 29 pages of graphs, appendices and title pages.

McKeon said he learned of the report-length policy after asking a Pentagon briefer why the China study was so short, considering last year's report was 80 pages. The briefer told him it was the new policy. Speaking to reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday, McKeon called the shortened reports "outrageous." He's sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta looking for answers.

During the press conference Wednesday, McKeon was asked why he didn't simply wait for an explanation, or call the defense secretary personally before publicly denouncing the reports. "Sometimes you have to fire a cannon to get people's attention," McKeon said.

Panetta has yet to formally respond to the letter, but the Pentagon did issue a statement Wednesday defending the policy. Though McKeon initially described the change as a 15-page policy, Pentagon spokesman George Little said the department actually advises a report length of 10 pages.

"Across the department, we continually strive to provide Congress with the information and analysis it needs to fulfill its vital oversight role, and to do so in the most readable and usable format possible. We also seek to do so in a cost effective manner," he said. "The department prepares and sends to Congress over 500 reports annually. Last summer, one component within the department issued written guidance on report length. That guidance indicated reports should not exceed 10 pages in length, except when the statutory requirements or specific circumstances dictate. The guidance did not in any way seek to restrict information provided to Congress."

The policy allows for wiggle room. Reports are allowed to go longer, a senior defense official said, pointing to the semi-annual Afghanistan report as an example. The official stressed that the memo came about because leadership was recognizing that some of the Pentagon's most widely read and powerful reports tended to be shorter in length.

It was Panetta's predecessor, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was best known for despising reports. He thought that they were too costly and that people weren't reading them. During his tenure, he mandated that going forward every report the Defense Department prints needs to include the cost it took to produce it.

Nevertheless, members of the House Armed Services Committee don't agree that reports need to be so short.

"How in the heck can you condense into 15 pages all the information that needs to be there about the rise of China and what that means to our military?" asked Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, also a committee member, said: "That kind of arbitrary limit to me is rather demeaning of our oversight role."

In an email to Fox News, McKeon's office said three sections of the 2012 China report that are required by law were missing and that it failed to mention major developments over the past year such as the test flight of China's stealth jet, the J-22, and the maiden voyage of its first major aircraft carrier.

As for Gates' cost disclosure policy, it helped demonstrate that shorter doesn't necessarily mean less expensive. According to the public figures, the 2012 China military power report to Congress cost the government $85,000 to produce, nearly $12,000 more than the year before.