When Americans complain about a breakdown of government in Washington, they’re usually venting at our dysfunctional Congress.
But sometimes it appears the executive branch is broken just as badly as the legislative process on Capitol Hill.
If you’re in the Air Force, or a member of the Air Force community, you ought to be outraged the Obama administration didn’t find time to name a new Secretary of the Air Force before Michael Donley was honored at a retirement ceremony June 28 and left office two days later.
There was nothing sudden about the end of Donley’s five-year stint in office. His decision to step down was announced April 26 — fully two months before he left — and was expected inside government even before the announcement. There has been plenty of time for the White House to choose a qualified replacement and send a name to the Senate for confirmation.
But that hadn’t happened when Donley departed. The delay is enough to make you ask whether the White House thinks the Air Force is important.
“It shows they don’t have us much in mind as one of their priorities,” said a recently retired master sergeant.
“The issues facing today’s Air Force don’t seem to have gotten on the administration’s radar,” said a retired lieutenant general. “By moving so slowly to name a replacement, they’re telling airmen we don’t matter.”
Whatever the message, this is too critical a time to require the Air Force to push for funding and other requirements without equal footing with the other services, all led with the full authority of top civilian leadership recognized as such by Congress, industry and military brass.
Especially now, as the Air Force faces difficult challenges on a number of fronts: Budget cuts under sequestration, the pending exodus from Afghanistan, a push for a “Pacific pivot” and a possible reorganization of the Air Force.
Acting Secretary Eric Fanning, a Dartmouth College graduate, does bring some valuable experience to the table: stints on the House Armed Services Committee staff, as a special assistant in the Defense Secretary’s office and as a deputy undersecretary in the Navy.
But he lacks the background of the Army and Navy secretaries, formerly career politicians with all the clout and connections that confers.
Some airmen believe — erroneously — that the secretary job is ceremonial. But that’s because airmen don’t see the behind-the-scenes labors that produce budget requests, congressional testimony and the staffing and equipping of the nation’s air arm.
The secretary works in partnership with the chief of staff — the Air Force’s top general — and without a civilian service chief in high standing, the general has less power and less credibility defending programs in Congress.
So, yes, we need a secretary. Washington’s gridlock of governance has made this an exceptionally difficult time for the Air Force. Still, there are plenty of experienced, qualified people.
Washington lawyer F. Whitten Peters, who has held the job before, would be my choice. Many other men and women are available to fill the job. It’s time for the White House to act.