Next month, after five years at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will leave his seven-day-a-week grind as the department’s chief operating officer.
It’s been an action-packed tenure, but his departure comes as the Pentagon works to exit Afghanistan, cut another $52 billion from its budget, get its Quadrennial Defense Review underway, and maintain unity with senior uniformed leaders.
The Obama administration’s choice will determine whether reforming the DoD to protect as much capability as possible in a financially leaner future will be possible.
Unfortunately, even if his successor were named today, getting a replacement in place will take many weeks — if not longer — via the White House’s laborious vetting process, background checks, security clearances and the hyper-politicized Senate confirmation process.
This administration is particularly slow in filling jobs, letting posts sit vacant for months, as it did with the Navy’s No. 2, and years for a confirmed Air Force acquisition chief.
That said, Senate Republicans have consistently objected to many nominees — including Carter and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
And to protest the White House’s handling of the Benghazi attack, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has a blanket hold on all Obama political appointees, including the Air Force secretary, DoD’s top program and budget analyst and the Pentagon’s civilian operations executive.
Senators are within their rights to block civilian and military appointments, but leaving so many top jobs unfilled for long periods amid a war and a budget crisis handicaps a Pentagon that is hard enough to manage — much less change — when the whole leadership team is in place.