The Senate on Wednesday confirmed former Rep. Gil Cisneros to serve as the Pentagon’s top personnel and readiness official, filling a key Defense Department leadership post that has been frequently vacant in recent years.

Cisneros’ confirmation by voice vote came just before the Senate’s summer recess is set to begin. He is expected to be formally sworn into the post in the coming days.

Cisneros, 50, is a Navy veteran who served two terms as a Democratic representative from the Los Angeles area before losing his re-election bid last fall. As the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, he’ll be charged with Defense Department health care, education and readiness programs.

The leadership seat holds a key role in all facets of personnel policy, including issues such as enlistment of transgender troops and gender equity in military jobs. The undersecretary role also serves as the Pentagon’s senior adviser on National Guard and Reserve component affairs, which have seen historically high usage rates since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

But filling the post has been problematic for the White House in recent years. Matthew Donovan was confirmed to the role in March 2020 and held the post until this past spring before stepping down. The office has been vacant for the last few months.

Before Donovan, Robert Wilkie held the job for four months during 2017 and 2018 before taking over as acting (and eventually Senate-confirmed) veterans affairs secretary. Between 2015 and 2020, six different acting secretaries oversaw the personnel office.

Cisneros served 11 years in the Navy before leaving in 2005 to work in the shipping and manufacturing industry. In 2010, weeks after he was 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.

Cisneros’ approval came amid a flurry of Defense Department confirmations by the Senate in recent days, including Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson to head U.S. Southern Command.

Joe Gould, of Defense News, contributed to this report.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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