This story was updated April 12, 2021, at 4:45 p.m. EST with information on the official announcement of three nominations.
Defense News reported the Wormuth news ahead of the formal announcement. Wormuth previously served as the undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration and was part of the Biden landing team at the Pentagon after the election.
The White House also announced its nomination of Gil Cisneros to be undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Susanna Blume to head the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, known as CAPE.
Cisneros, a Navy veteran, represented California’s 39th district from 2019-2021. During that period, he served on both the House Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees. He’ll take over as the top civilian in charge of personnel issues.
Blume was sworn in Jan. 20 as performing the duties of CAPE director. She is a well-known expert on the defense budget and previously served as deputy chief of staff for programs and plans under then-Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work. She pent the last several years at the Center for a New American Security think tank.
Sometimes described as an internal think tank for the defense secretary, CAPE’s job is to take a hard look at cost and strategy impacts for various trade-offs up for discussion at the Pentagon. In the previous administration, CAPE was at the center of a push for more autonomous ships.
“Susanna Blume is a dedicated public servant with extensive experience working with senior leaders in the Pentagon,” Jamie Morin, who served as CAPE director during the Obama administration, told Defense News. “She was one of the key players in helping turn the ‘Third Offset Strategy’ vision into programmatic reality, and clearly understands the unique decision support role of CAPE for ensuring we get the maximum capability out of every taxpayer dollar entrusted to the [Department of Defense].”
Wormuth to take Army lead
The biggest name of the nominations is Wormuth, currently the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the think tank Rand. While there have been three women confirmed for the position of Air Force secretary, neither the Army nor the Navy has had a female civilian in charge.
As undersecretary of defense for policy, her portfolio primarily included strategy and foreign policy issues.
Some believed she would be the nominee to lead the Air Force; her nomination as Army secretary came as a surprise.
If confirmed, she will take on a service in transition. The last several years set into motion an ambitious modernization strategy for the service through the establishment of its newest four-star command — Army Futures Command — that aligns with its new war-fighting concept Multi-Domain Operations.
The Army has spent roughly three years — first under Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Secretary Mark Esper, and then under Milley’s successor Gen. James McConville and Secretary Ryan McCarthy — realigning billions of dollars to prioritize what the service envisions will be needed to posture itself against China and Russia. Those priorities include long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles and aircraft, air-and-missile defense capabilities, and a robust and resilient network.
Wormuth would pick up the torch to guide a modernization effort that has seen progress but is still very much in its nascent phase following a decade-long struggle to make progress. And it won’t be easy to keep the momentum as future budget top lines stay flat or possibly decline.
McConville has stressed in countless speaking engagements over the past several years that there’s no turning back on investing in the Army of the future — and that it must happen now. However, the service will be preparing its force for the future with end strength numbers that will likely remain unchanged. Wormuth would work closely with McConville on these efforts.
Wormuth has openly supported Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks in her new role, tweeting: “I will never get tired of watching @DepSecDef, formerly @kath_hicks, give a master class on expertise, professionalism and what matters in natsec!”
On the nomination, Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, said: “Wormuth has a great deal of experience in national security and has held multiple key positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“As Secretary of the Army she will be expected to do three main things: be an effective communicator about the value of land power, to forge an effective relationship with Congress, and to lead change in the Army. Since Ms. Wormuth does not have experience working in Congress or directly with land power, she will need to continue to develop those aspects.”
Wormuth also spent time at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Like nearly all Biden nominees, she is deeply experienced in national security issues and will bring that expertise to the Army,” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program. “Her policy background may be particularly helpful in connecting the Army to broader national security goals. That’s important because many strategists are looking to cut the Army as a bill payer for maritime and aerospace initiatives. However, she will need to gain the Army’s trust because she has no particular connection with the Army, unlike the Army secretaries during the Trump years who had deep roots in the Army.”
“Christine is a respected known commodity in policy circles, and she’ll hit the ground running on her first day,” Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told Defense News. “She doesn’t need to do a lot of ‘homework’ to help lead the Army, and she has worked closely with many senior Pentagon civilians already and for years (like DSD Hicks). This puts the Army in a stronger position to have a seat at the table, to tell its story to decision-makers, and have more influence in general as a result. Army leaders are surely popping champagne right now at the news.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.