Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued guidance earlier this month for how the Department of Defense workforce can reorganize leadership roles in light of Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s, R-Ala., ongoing hold on military confirmations.
“This unprecedented, across-the-board hold is having a cascading effect, increasingly hindering the normal operations of this Department and undermining both our military readiness and our national security,” Austin wrote in an Aug. 2 memo obtained by Military Times and first reported by CNN.
Austin recommended a series of steps to mitigate the consequences of the hold. For instance, “in extraordinary cases,” lower-level officers in a grade of O-8 or below who are not in the normal line of succession “may be assigned to head organizations in an acting capacity, provided they have not been or will not be nominated for the head position,” he wrote.
The guidance comes as now two military service branches are without a Senate-confirmed leader, including the term-limited heads of the Marine Corps and Army.
Gen. David Berger, the now former commandant of the Marine Corps, retired last month without a confirmed successor and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville left his role last week without a confirmed replacement.
Tuberville’s hold comes in response to the Pentagon’s recent policy that provides leave time for troops to travel to receive abortion services.
“If they’re worried about readiness, they need to go back to their old policy and we’ll get it done,” Tuberville previously said. “But they’re more worried about social programs than they are about military readiness.”
Austin has spoken to Tuberville regarding the hold about three times since March, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Aug. 7, adding that he was not aware of any future scheduled calls at this time.
In his guidance, Austin wrote that incumbent heads of organizations may be asked to remain in place until their successor is nominated, confirmed and appointed.
Additionally, he wrote officers in a deputy or vice position “may assume the head role in an acting or temporary capacity, regardless of whether they have been or will be nominated for the head position.”
In other cases, the memo outlines that officers in the grades of O-9 and O-10, without leaving their current position, may perform the duties of another O-9 or O-10 position in an acting or temporary capacity if they are in the normal line of succession for that position, regardless of whether or not they have been or will be nominated for it.
It adds that officers in the grades of O-9 and O-10 who are candidates to remain in place will be considered on a case-by-case basis for retention in their position, accounting for hardships that may result from remaining in place.
“I understand that these steps will not end or offset the risk to our readiness or our global leadership position,” Austin wrote. “Nor will they resolve the uncertainty and stress inflicted upon our general and flag officers and their families, or alleviate the worries rippling further down our ranks.”
Many other roles may soon be left without confirmed replacements. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are both slated to exit from their positions in the coming months.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media