Pentagon down another senior official in top personnel office

Another top official in the Defense Department’s personnel and readiness organization has resigned, leaving another vacancy in an office that been plagued by gaps in its politically-appointed senior ranks for several consecutive years.

Veronica Daigle, the assistant secretary of Defense for readiness left the position on Jan. 31, the Pentagon confirmed to Federal News Network Friday. Daigle had only been confirmed for the post last June, but had served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for a year and half before that.

Tom Constable, a career civil servant and former Army officer, will fill the assistant secretary role on an acting basis, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. Constable also succeeded Daigle as the principal deputy assistant secretary for readiness.

By law, the office of the undersecretary for personnel and readiness has five Senate-confirmed positions, and Daigle’s departure means all but one of those is now filled by officials who are acting or “performing the duties” in the absence of full-time appointees.

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In August, the Senate confirmed Thomas McCaffery as the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, but until that point, that position had also been vacant since May of 2016.

And since March of 2015, the top position in the office, the undersecretary, has only been filled by an official confirmed for the position for a total of eight months. It became vacant again in November 2017 when President Trump nominated Robert Wilkie to be the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

More recently, James Stewart, the assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs was the acting undersecretary. But he retired in December, and the Trump Administration moved Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of the Air Force, into the personnel and readiness role, again on an acting basis.

The vacancies have spanned across the last two administrations. During President Obama’s two terms, the undersecretary position was filled by six separate people, only three of them confirmed by the Senate for that role.

Last month, the White House nominated J. David Patterson to be the principal deputy undersecretary — the office’s number two position — but he withdrew from consideration in recent days after a controversial op-ed he had written surfaced on Capitol Hill and jeopardized his confirmation.