Pentagon & Congress

Trump taps Pentagon’s acting personnel head to take over permanent job

The White House on Thursday nominated Air Force Under Secretary Matthew Donovan to fill the Pentagon’s top personnel post, officially promoting him from the acting role he has served since early December.

Donovan, who spent 30 years as an active-duty airman, including time as a combat fighter pilot, has served in a variety of senior military roles since his military retirement. That includes time serving as acting Air Force secretary for five months last summer and fall.

In December, Donovan was tapped as acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness after the retirement of Jimmy Stewart, who had served in that role since October 2018.

If Donovan is confirmed by the Senate in coming months, he’ll be the first permanent leader for the office since July 2018, when Robert Wilkie left the role to become Veterans Affairs secretary. In the last five years, the office has only had an official under secretary in the post for about eight months.

The nomination comes about three weeks after President Donald Trump’s previous pick for the role — J. David Patterson — withdrew his name from consideration after a past controversial, anti-immigrant opinion piece began circulating on Capitol Hill

Donovan was confirmed to his current Air Force role in 2017 without any opposition.

The White House on Thursday also announced plans to nominate Victor Mercado as assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, a role he has been performing the duties of since James Anderson was promoted to a Pentagon policy post last year.

Meracdo retired as a rear admiral after 35 years in the Navy in late 2018, becoming deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans and posture a few months later.

The new appointments help fill multiple leadership voids at the Pentagon. Last week, White House officials pushed out Under Secretary for Policy John Rood, a move that again raised concern on Capitol Hill about the lack of Senate-confirmed individuals in key planning roles.

The two men join William Jordan Gillis, to be the next assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, and Kathryn Wheelbarger, to be deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, in the nominations queue.

Reporter Aaron Mehta contributed to this story.

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