While the vacancy at the top of the Defense Department is the center of attention right now, other top positions at the Pentagon are staffed in an acting capacity. The current situation not only has implications for leadership at the Pentagon, but also how nominees are vetted for major roles. Melanie Sisson, senior fellow and director of the Stimson Center’s Defense Strategy & Planning Program, says that the current state of affairs doesn’t bode well for the confirmation process.
“I think it is a shame that we got to the point of having a nominee. I think Shanahan has done a fine and competent job in this role for a very long period of time. It is understandable that he wants to prevent further strain on his family,” Sisson said. “To get this far in the process and have to retrench does not bode well for the process generally. It is a shame that someone who has performed as well as he has, faces this at this particular time.”
The amount of ‘acting’ officials has big implications for the U.S. on the world stage, according to Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr (USA Ret.), director of the Center for National Defense at the Heritage Foundation, says that the Pentagon needs a dedicated advocate, but time is running out.
“Who is going to want to give up a career in some other industry to come in and be a cabinet level or lower level official for some period less than 18 months? Not very many people want that…” Spoehr said. “Secretary Shanahan [went] to Shangri-La, Mark Esper now heading off to NATO… Also the same kind of challenge, how does he convince his fellow ministers that he is actually representing the Department of Defense?”