Esper Officially Nominated to Lead Pentagon; SECNAV Spencer Now Acting SECDEF

July 15, 2019 6:07 PM - Updated: July 16, 2019 9:49 AM
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Richard V. Spencer walks into his office at the Pentagon following the announcement of the nomination of Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper to Secretary of Defense by President Donald J. Trump on July 15, 2019 DoD photo.

Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was officially nominated Monday afternoon to assume the role permanently, setting off a chain reaction of position shifts inside the Pentagon’s civilian leadership.

Now that the Senate is considering his nomination, Esper relinquished his acting secretary of defense duties and returned to his previous job of Army secretary, as required by federal law.

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer is now acting secretary of defense. The Order of Succession Within the Department of Defense, March 1, 2010, stipulates the secretary of the Navy is next in line to become acting secretary of defense, according to a release from Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesman.

President Donald Trump’s formal nomination of Esper set in motion the following series of job changes at the Pentagon:

  • Esper returns to his role as secretary of the Army, awaiting a vote in the Senate on his nomination to be secretary of defense.
  • Spencer temporarily leaves his role as secretary of the Navy to become acting secretary of defense.
  • Remaining in place to ensure continuity are:
    1. David Norquist, the under secretary of defense (comptroller)/chief financial officer, who continues to perform the duties of the deputy secretary of defense.
    2. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    3. Eric Chewning, the department of defense chief of staff.
  • Thomas Modly, under secretary of the Navy, will now perform the duties of secretary of the Navy.
  • Ryan McCarthy is no longer performing the duties of the Secretary of the Army and returning to his role serving as under secretary of the Army.

Esper is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning. His confirmation is not a foregone conclusion. Esper’s previous work as a top lobbyist for Raytheon, one of the defense industry’s larger contractors, is likely to be a scrutinized by lawmakers.

Monday, shortly before Esper’s nomination was received by the Senate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the SASC, released a letter detailing her concerns with Esper’s relationship with Raytheon.

“I asked that, like former Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan, you extend your recusal commitment through the duration of your tenure at the DoD… and take additional steps to eliminate any real or perceived conflicts of interest. You indicated you would not do so. I am troubled by your unwillingness to fully address your real and perceived conflicts of interest, and write to ask that you reconsider your refusal to extend your Raytheon recusal through the duration of your tenure at DoD,” Warren wrote.

Shanahan, the former acting secretary of defense, had been a top Boeing executive before joining the department of defense. He had recused himself from any decisions involving Boeing, which manufactures F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for the Navy, among many other defense-related systems. Shanahan withdrew from consideration after reports of a 2010 domestic violence incident surfaced involving his son and ex-wife.

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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