WASHINGTON — At a meeting with reporters earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was asked a question about filling the empty chief management officer spot.

Shanahan quickly responded, “We haven’t made any changes in the CMO position,” before turning to aides and checking, “Has there been an announcement, you all?”

Getting a negative response, Shanahan reiterated that Jay Gibson, the first man to be the Pentagon’s full CMO, “is still in that position.”

That exchange sums up neatly the situation surrounding Gibson, a former Air Force official with industry experience who was named the Pentagon’s No. 3 official earlier this year.

In early September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Gibson had been effectively fired from the position for a lack of performance. Sources around the Pentagon confirmed that situation to Defense News, and indicated the official announcement would come just days later.

Six weeks after the report, Gibson remains in office; yet no one inside the building denies that he is on the way out, with the widespread expectation around the building that it’s just a matter of paperwork and potentially lining up a successor.

Call it Schrodinger’s CMO — Gibson has a job, but has also been fired. And until official word comes down, those working on issues pertinent to the CMO are stuck in what several individuals have described as an awkward situation, one where no one seems to know when the official end will come.

Gibson had been charged with finding efficiencies within the department, which Mattis hoped to directly funnel towards war-fighting needs. In a May 1 interview with Defense News, Gibson said he had targets of finding $6 billion in fiscal 2019, as part of a broader goal of saving $46 billion over the next five years.

“We’re probably going to pleasantly surprise people,” he said then of expected savings, adding they would “support lethality. That brings those resources back to the services to use.”

Sources inside the Pentagon said there wasn’t any one issue that led to Gibson being told he’s out, but that he had built a reputation for simply not getting things done — a bad reputation to develop when one of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ three stated priorities is reforming the Pentagon.

The sources said work that fell under the CMO’s purview was often picked up by the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation organization’s director Robert Daigle or Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy, the latter of whom was recruited by Shanahan.

Both men are likely potential CMO replacements. But anyone replacing Gibson will need to go through the Senate confirmation process, a slow affair in the best of times.

Given the upcoming midterm elections, and the fact that any nominee not cleared by the full Senate before the end of this Congress will need to be renominated come January, it seems unlikely a full replacement CMO will be in place in the near future — regardless of when Gibson’s termination is made official.

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.

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