Army Secretary Mark Esper arrives at the Pentagon for his first day as then-acting defense secretary on June 24, 2019. Now that he's been formally nominated to be the next defense secretary and has resumed his duties as Army secretary, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is the Defense Department's acting chief. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando.
The White House on July 15 formally nominated Army Secretary Mark Esper to be the Trump administration’s second Senate-confirmed defense secretary.
The nomination, which was sent to the Senate around 3 p.m., came about 18 hours before Esper’s Senate confirmation hearing and sparks a series of personnel moves. Esper now steps down from his position of acting defense secretary and returns to being Army secretary, and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is the acting Pentagon leader as senators consider Esper for the top civilian job.
“As such, Secretary Spencer has the full authority and responsibility of the Secretary of Defense,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The senior team supporting the Office of the Secretary remains in place to ensure institutional continuity.”
Spencer is the Pentagon’s third man to serve as acting defense secretary this year. The Defense Department has been without a permanent secretary since Jim Mattis was abruptly fired after announcing his resignation in December.
While Spencer is acting as the Pentagon’s top civilian, Navy Under Secretary Thomas Modly will temporarily serve as the service’s acting secretary. Ryan McCarthy, formerly the acting Army secretary, returns to his regular job as under secretary while Esper is back.
The Senate Armed Services Committee set a date for Esper’s confirmation hearing last week before the nomination was official. SASC rules require the committee to wait seven days after getting a nomination to hold a hearing, but lawmakers decided to fast-track the process, “given the exigencies of the situation,” committee leaders said in a statement.
Esper became acting secretary last month after former Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan resigned from his position and withdrew his name from consideration for the formal nomination amid reports of turmoil in his personal life.