18 senior Pentagon roles are vacant, filled temporarily
19 of the most senior roles at the Pentagon lack permanent appointees, after it was announced that Adm. William Moran who was set to become the branch’s top uniformed officer is instead retiring after his judgment was questioned over a professional relationship he maintained with a former Navy public affairs official who left the Navy after an investigation into alleged incidents of sexual misconduct.
That brings the total of number of roles without permanent appointees to nineteen. Last week the Department of Defense confirmed to CNN that eighteen roles were unfilled, providing a complete list of positions currently being filled by temporary officials.
It is a reflection of the Department of Defense’s ongoing struggle to establish an unprecedented transition plan aimed at ensuring continuity of leadership at the highest levels while there is still no confirmed secretary of defense.
The top priority is to get Mark Esper’s nomination to the Senate Armed Services Committee so a confirmation hearing for the acting secretary of defense can be scheduled quickly. Esper stepped into the acting position following the dramatic implosion of Patrick Shanahan’s nomination last month.
Due to federal regulations, Esper is expected to have to instantly step down as the acting secretary during that confirmation process, several officials have said. Government lawyers are looking to see if there are any loopholes that could keep him in the job through a confirmation vote, a defense official previously told CNN.
Still, it is now increasingly likely that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will be named acting defense secretary for a brief period when Esper is formally nominated for the permanent role, making him the third acting defense secretary to serve under President Donald Trump.
The turmoil around Esper’s transition plan has only been heightened by the fact that more than a dozen of the most senior and critical jobs at the Pentagon are also currently filled by temporary officials.
Following Moran’s sudden retirement, Adm. John Richardson, who was due to step down as Chief of naval operations, will continue in the role until Trump nominates another candidate.
Right now, there is no secretary of the Air Force or permanent senior official in charge of issues as crucial as personnel and readiness; international security affairs; special operations and strategy and planning.
If Esper, who was serving as Army secretary, is confirmed as secretary of defense, then his deputy at Army, Ryan McCarthy, will have to be confirmed to fill that job as well.
Here is the complete list of presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed senior Pentagon positions that are vacant or filled by temporary officials as of July 8:
Secretary of defense: Mark Esper
Deputy secretary of defense: David Norquist
Chief of naval operations: Adm. John Richardson
Chief management officer of the DoD: Lisa Hershman
Under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness: James Stewart
Deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness: Vacant
Inspector general of the DoD: Glenn Fine
Director of cost assessment and program evaluation: Yisroel Brumer
Assistant secretary of defense for health affairs: Thomas McCaffery
Assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs: Katie Wheelbarger
Assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs: Virginia Penrod
Assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense program: Alan Shaffer
Assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict: Mark Mitchell
Secretary of Army: Ryan McCarthy
Under secretary of the Army: James McPherson
Assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment: Lucian Niemeyer
General counsel of the Department of the Navy: Garrett Ressing
Secretary of Air Force: Matt Donovan
Under secretary of the Air Force: John Roth
CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.