WASHINGTON — The Air Force has seven politically appointed leaders that must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Only one — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson — is in office, but more could be on the way soon, Wilson said Tuesday.
None of the six nominees have been formally announced by the White House, but four individuals are "preferred nominees" that are in some point of the vetting process, Wilson told lawmakers during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The administration is still interviewing for the remaining two positions.
The available Air Force positions include its undersecretary; general counsel; assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics; assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller; assistant secretary for installations, environment, and logistics; and the assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.
While Wilson hinted that the administration was moving forward with filling those key Air Force jobs, she left much unsaid, including which nominees would be announced and when.
Of the 53 Defense Department politically-appointed positions, only 15 officials have been confirmed, nominated or designated by the White House, according to a databaseby the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service. The slow pace of announcements has led to criticism from lawmakers, industry officials and former bureaucrats, who argued that government processes and contracting will be impeded if the Pentagon did not have the necessary manpower, particularly at top levels.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump fired back, tweeting: "Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals."
But during the hearing, it was a Republican who sounded alarm bells about the unfilled positions and pointed fingers at the White House. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who initiated the line of questioning about the nominees, asked Wilson whether the lack of leadership throughout the Department of the Air Force was making it more difficult for her to do her job.
"It's becoming difficult, yes," she replied.
"Where is the problem?" Graham asked. "The White House?"
"Senator, I'm not really sure," she replied.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.