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House Panel Displeased With Human Terrain System

Next year’s defense bill pretty much demolishes the Obama administration’s jury-rigged plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay by exporting detainees to an Illinois prison. But that’s not all the joy it brings into the world: It also picks a fight with Defense Secretary Robert Gates by [overspending on a second engine for the F-35 and the Virginia-class submarine](http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/05/congress-to-gates-screw-you-again/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+WiredDangerRoom+(Blog+-+Danger+Room)), practically daring President Obama to veto the bill. (Or, at least, daring Democratic lawmakers on the House floor next week to strip that stuff out of the bill.) The bill also expresses displeasure with a controversial Army program to understand the local cultures of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan that U.S. soldiers need to interact with in order to fulfill their missions.

That’s the Human Terrain System, a hybrid anthropology and intelligence program. Danger Room pretty much owns the story for chronicling its exploits, its successes and its failures, so I’ll refer you to this post today about HTS’s role in Afghanistan. But the House Armed Services Committee isn’t convinced that HTS adds value to the war effort. Its summary of the bill includes this shot across the program’s bow:

While the Committee remains supportive of the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) to leverage social science expertise to support operational commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is increasingly concerned that the Army has not paid sufficient attention to addressing certain concerns. The Committee encourages the Department to continue to develop a broad range of opportunities that leverage the important contributions that can be offered by social science expertise to support key missions such as irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, and stability and reconstruction operations. The bill limits the obligation of funding for HTS until the Army submits a required assessment of the program, provides revalidation of all existing operations requirements, and certifies Department?level guidelines for the use of social scientists.

A spokesman for the part of the Army housing HTS declined to comment on “ongoing budget negotiations in Congress.” But my understanding is this is a matter of the Defense Department not delivering a report it needs to give the committee explaining the value of the program. If that report is forthcoming, as I understand it is, then the program shouldn’t experience any interruption in funding.

Meanwhile, Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security finds at least one valuable proposal in the defense bill.

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