Washington (CNN) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pushing back against liberal criticism that he trying to slow walk the repeal of the military’s "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Rather, Gates told CNN the change needs to be done in a way that does not disrupt the armed services.
The Defense Department is currently conducting an internal review of the policy, which will eventually lead to allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military. Late last month, Gates sent a letter to a leading Democrat on Capitol Hill where he urged Congress not to get out in front on the Pentagon on this issue.
"I know there's some that are suspicious out there that this is some kind of effort to slow roll this process," Gates says in an interview set to air Monday on CNN's John King, USA. "But as I said in that testimony, I've led several huge public institutions and I've led change in every one of them and there's a smart way to do change, and there's a stupid way to do change. This one has to be done smart.
"And I think it's only fair as we get ready to make this change that we give our force the opportunity to tell us how they feel about it, for us to find out their concerns, for us to identify the challenges we're going to face if Congress does change the law, and how we will go about doing that, and how we will mitigate negative consequences by what we hear from the force. And so I've said this is not about whether, but about how, and that continues to be our position."
Legislating a change to the policy before the military's review was done "would send a very negative signal to men and women in uniform that their views on this and how it should be done, don't matter," Gates added.
Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, recently called on President Obama asking for "immediate action" on the planned policy change. In the open letter to the president, Dean expressed concern that the Defense Department could, "indefinitely delay the possibility of moving forward with the repeal of DADT until the Pentagon completes a review of the policy."
Obama called for a repeal of the policy during his first State of the Union address in January. Although Obama and Gates favor eliminating the policy, the change can only be made legislatively by congressional action.
Updated: 4:30 p.m.
– CNN's Adam Levine and Charles Riley contributed to this report.