Pentagon & Congress

Biden nominates former California congressman to take over Pentagon’s personnel office

Former Congressman Gil Cisneros has been tapped by President Joe Biden to lead the Pentagon’s Personnel and Readiness office, the latest in a series of leadership moves for the Department of Defense.

Cisneros, 50, is a Navy veteran who served two years as a Democratic representative from the Los Angeles area before losing his reelection bid last fall.

As Biden’s pick for under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, he’ll be charged with overseeing military readiness issues, as well as the Defense Department’s education and health care benefits programs.

The post also serves as the Pentagon’s senior adviser on National Guard and Reserve component affairs. Those forces have come under heavy use in the last year, as thousands of troops have been deployed on pandemic response, civil unrest and Capitol security missions.

In a statement, White House officials said Cisneros was nominated because he has been “a strong advocate for our veterans, service members and our military families.”

He served 11 years in the Navy before leaving in 2005 to work in the shipping and manufacturing industry. In 2010, just weeks after being laid off from his job, Cisneros won $266 million in the Mega Millions lottery. He and his wife, Jacki, used some of the money to start charities focused on higher education scholarships for students with financial needs.

While in Congress, Cisneros was a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services committees, involved in several efforts to improve services for military families and sexual assault prevention.

He also was a vocal opponent of President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender recruits, and pushed for changes in how the Defense Department tracks cases of child abuse within the ranks.

The personnel and readiness post has been a problematic one for military leadership in recent years.

Under Secretary Matthew Donovan currently holds the job, after being confirmed by the Senate in March 2020. Before him, Robert Wilkie held the job for just four months in 2017 and 2018 before taking over as acting (and later, Senate confirmed) Veterans Affairs secretary.

Between 2015 and 2020, six different acting secretaries oversaw the department.

Cisneros must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming the post. Senate leaders have not yet set any timeline for when that vote may take place.

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