WASHINGTON — Kari Bingen, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, has announced her intention to leave the Pentagon.
In her role, Bingen served as the No. 2 intelligence official in the Department of Defense. She worked in a number of congressional staff positions, most notably policy director for the House Armed Services Committee under then-Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, immediately before heading to the department.
Bingen’s last day will be Jan. 10, according to a department spokesman. Her planned exit was first reported by Politico.
She becomes the fourth top defense official to announce plans to leave the department in the last week. On Dec. 12, it was announced that Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s top Asia policy official, would be leaving shortly. One day later, on Dec. 13, Jimmy Stewart, who served as the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness since October 2018, announced his retirement from federal service. And on Tuesday, Defense News reported that Steven Walker, who served as the 21st head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will leave the position on Jan. 10 for an industry job.
The apparent Defense Department exodus has opened the Trump administration up to a new avenue of criticism. the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in an interview Wednesday that it reflects a broader “dysfunction” and “hollowing out” of the nation’s national security apparatus.
Poor morale and the departures of staffers at the State Department has been widely reported, amid budget cuts and Trump’s firing of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. But at the Pentagon ― now overseen by the Trump administration’s third national security adviser ― is suffering its own malaise, he said.
“It’s more obvious at the State Department, the criticism that career officials have been taking for doing their jobs, firing of ambassadors,” Reed said. “In [the] Defense [Department], there’s a carry over ― the notion of not only not being appreciated, but ignored [by the White House]."
“You have a national security apparatus at the White House that is dysfunctional,” he added. “The president doesn’t seem to be interested in facts and analysis, and I think [that] permeates down to the [Defense] Department.”
The practical effect is that with fewer career professionals and experts to draw on, Reed said, “you’re not anticipating problems and you’re not as well prepared to respond to problems. Sos this is a very difficult problem.”
In August, then-newly appointed Defense Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged that there needs to be “stable leadership” among civilian leaders in the department, and expressed his belief that the vacancies would be filled.
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.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.