SECDEF Austin: Tuberville’s ‘Unprecedented’ Hold on Pentagon Nominees Creates ‘Perilous Precedent’

May 9, 2023 2:10 PM
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley address the media during a press conference in April. DoD Photo

An Alabama senator’s hold on all Department of Defense civilian and military nominations is “unprecedented in its scale and scope” and “a clear risk to U.S. military readiness,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in a Friday letter to Congress, obtained by USNI News.

The letter, sent to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is in response to a request from her office on the effects of the hold on confirmations of more than a hundred military and civilian Department of Defense nominations. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has held up the confirmations over Pentagon rules that allow service members to take leave to travel for reproductive health care including abortions.

Download the document here

“Never before has one Senator prevented the Department of Defense from managing its officer corps in this manner, and letting this hold continue would set a perilous precedent for our military, our security, and our country,” Austin wrote to Warren.
“The ripple effects of this unprecedented and unnecessary hold are increasingly troubling. Ultimately, the breakdown of the normal flow of leadership across the Department’s carefully cultivated promotion and transition system will breed uncertainty and confusion across the U.S. military.”

A defense official confirmed to USNI News the letter’s authenticity.

Tuberville said last week in an interview with radio station WBHM that the military policy enacted earlier this year allowing service members to take leave for abortions was a violation of the Hyde Amendment.

“This is not about abortion. We’ve had abortions for years in the military,” he told WBHM. “We have a law in this country called the Hyde Amendment that says taxpayer money will not be used for abortions, because some people believe in it, some people don’t. Again, this is a change in the policy from the White House.”

In a statement to USNI News, a Tuberville spokesperson contested Austin’s claims the hold would disrupt military operations.

“Congratulations to Senator Warren on getting a prompt reply from the Pentagon. Coach is still waiting for a response to his letter from last July,” reads a statement from Tuberville’s communication director Steven Stafford.

“The claims [in Austin’s letter] are not substantiated by any facts whatsoever. They are merely asserted without evidence, Stafford wrote.
“Every leadership position in our military is being done right now. The facts haven’t changed, so Coach’s position hasn’t changed.”

The hold from Tuberville comes as military leadership is set for a wholesale turnover this summer with new leaders slated across the military.

“The Department of Defense has 64 three- and four-star nominations pending for positions due to rotate within the next 120 days. These include the Chief of Staff of the Army; the Chief of Naval Operations; the Commandant and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps; the Director of the National Security Agency and Commander of United States Cyber Command; and the Commander of United States Northern Command,” Austin wrote to Warren.

“Additionally, several one- and two-star nominations are now on indefinite hold for general officers and flag officers slated to take command or support critical positions across the Joint Force. Within the next nine months, approximately 80 three- and four-star rotations are projected across the Department. Those positions include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. In total, between now and the end of the year, the Department projects that approximately 650 general and flag officers will require Senate confirmation.”

The letter goes on to highlight the stress the hold puts on international relations and military families.

In the Navy, the hold delays the confirmation of the long-vacant officer of the Navy’s chief acquisition official, the commander of the Japan-based 7th Fleet, the Atlantic’s 2nd Fleet, the Middle East’s 5th Fleet, the next Naval Academy superintendent and the next commanders of U.S. Naval Air Forces, Submarine Forces, Naval Sea Systems Command.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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