Austin Addresses Lack of Confirmed Senior DOD Leaders

Senior Pentagon leaders would “like to see more” nominations and confirmations for top Defense Department civilian positions as several key spots remain vacant, but Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III played down concerns regarding the impact of the slow pace of picks.

“This is something … all of my leadership [team] remains focused on each and every day, and we continue to work with the White House to make sure that we have quality and qualified applicants to fill these seats,” Austin said during a July 21 briefing.

Last week, President Joe Biden’s nomination to be the DOD’s head of acquisition, Michael Brown, withdrew his nomination amid an investigation into hiring practices at the Defense Innovation Unit. Several other positions in the Pentagon, including chief information officer, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, the executive director of international cooperation, the assistant secretary of defense for readiness, and the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, among others, are being held by temporary officials pending the confirmation of nominees.

Within the Air Force, the nomination of Frank Kendall to be service Secretary is still held up in the Senate, and the nomination of Gina Ortiz Jones to be undersecretary is awaiting a vote. The Air Force’s top acquisition job is also awaiting a formal nomination.

About six months into the Biden administration, Austin said six senior positions have been confirmed, 10 are waiting for a vote, and five more are in committee in the Senate.

On the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, which Brown had been nominated for, Austin said he is working with the White House on submitting a new nominee.

“I’m concerned about the A and S position, … and absolutely, we’ll make another nomination, provide another name … for the White House to consider,” Austin said. “But that’s an ongoing process, and, again, when we do get that person, it will be the best person available, and I consider that job to be very, very important.”