Two months in to the Trump administration and Secretary of Defense James Mattis remains the sole political appointee at the Pentagon.
Directly underneath Mattis is Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, a holdover from the Obama administration, who agreed to remain in place until the White House comes up with a nominee.
But so far, no nominee has been forthcoming, and that problem extends to the rest of the Pentagon, as well, The Associated Press reports.
Trump’s pick for secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden, dropped out of the running in late February, likely because of complex financial holdings. And in early February, Trump’s pick for secretary of the Army, Vincent Viola, a billionaire trader on Wall Street and owner of the Florida Panthers, also withdrew because of difficulty separating himself from business ties.
The White House did announce Tuesday the intent to tap John J. Sullivan as head lawyer at the Pentagon. In January, Trump said he wanted to pick former GOP Rep. Heather Wilson as the next secretary of the Air Force. But that nomination has not been formally submitted.
“The delays are already causing much consternation among allies, especially in Europe and Southeast Asia, as their most senior working level day-to-day contacts – the deputy assistant secretaries — may not come onboard until the summer,” former Pentagon budget chief Dov Zakheim told the Associated Press. “Lots of mayhem could take place before then.”
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Mattis’s staff is hard at work conducting interviews and coordinating with the White House on placing the right people in key positions.
“We are in the final stages of vetting on several of these, and expect they will be announced soon,” Davis said.
While Davis gave a more rosy angle on the incredibly slow speed of nominations, several officials told the Associated Press that Mattis and the White House have had considerable differences over personnel choices.
In January, Josh Rogin at The Washington Post reported Mattis had been jettisoning numerous picks from the White House. In particular, Mattis was angry about Trump’s choice of Viola for secretary of the Army, though it’s unclear if Mattis’s frustration had anything to do with Viola’s withdrawal.
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