WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s No. 2 policy official is resigning Friday, leaving yet another hole in the department’s leadership.

David Trachtenberg, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, is retiring, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Carla Gleason confirmed to Defense News. Today will be his last day in the building. A replacement will be named at a “later time,” Gleason said.

Trachtenberg, who was confirmed to his position in October 2017, was previously president and CEO of Shortwaver Consulting, which focused on national security issues. He is a former House Armed Services Committee staffer and served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security policy from 2001 to 2003, and also did a stint as vice president and head of strategic analysis at CACI-National Security Research. He entered the Pentagon with a reputation as a hawk on Russia and a force for missile defense.

On Wednesday, Trachtenberg appeared before media to make the case that booting Turkey from the F-35 program is not a sign that the NATO alliance is collapsing.

Two names to keep an eye on as potential names to serve in Trachtenberg’s role, at least until an official nominee is named, are Katie Wheelbarger and Randall Schriver.

Wheelbarger started in the administration as principal deputy assistant secretary for international security affairs. Since October, she has been serving as acting assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, following the departure of Robert Karem from that role. A number of international partners have praised Wheelbarger’s work over the past year, with several telling Defense News they are concerned she may also look to depart if not given a more permanent role.

Schriver entered the administration in January 2018, and has served as assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs ever since. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2003 to 2005, and as chief of staff and senior policy adviser to Richard Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, from 2001 to 2003. After leaving the Bush administration, he followed Armitage into private consultancy. Like Wheelbarger, he has drawn positive reviews from Pacific partner nations.

Trachtenberg’s departure leaves yet another hole to be filled in the Pentagon’s structure. While it appears Mark Esper will be voted into office early next week, once he is confirmed there will still be a number of major spots to replace afterwards, including but not limited to:

  • Deputy secretary of defense (David Norquist, acting in this role, is expected to be nominated quickly after Esper’s vote)
  • Chief management officer (currently filled by deputy CMO Lisa Hershman, leaving that deputy spot also filled by an acting)
  • Army secretary (Ryan McCarthy, the undersecretary for the service, is expected to be nominated quickly after Esper’s vote, which will then leave the number two spot open)
  • Air Force secretary (President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Barbara Barrett on May 21, but has yet to send a nomination to the Senate. Service undersecretary Matt Donovan is serving as acting secretary)
  • Deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, with Trachtenberg’s exit
  • Principal deputy assistant secretary for international security affairs (Being filled by Katie Wheelbarger since the October departure of Robert Karem)
  • Assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict (empty since Owen West resigned at the start of this year)
  • Should Norquist and McCarthy both be confirmed, as expected, both the comptroller and undersecretary of the Army positions will also be open.

Members of Congress over the past week have expressed deep concerns about the lack of nominees for top defense spots. That concern helped Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., get approval across the committee to speed up the nomination hearing for Esper.

“It is very troubling that there are almost 20 top jobs across the Pentagon and military that are vacant or being filled on a temporary basis,” Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the SASC, said in a Thursday statement. “The President needs to realize this is a significant problem and quickly nominate qualified nominees for these key positions."

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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