Cisneros to leave Pentagon in early September after controversial tenure

Gil Cisneros, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness who has been a lightning rod for criticism of Defense Department efforts toward diversity and equity, will leave his post in early September.

In a letter Monday morning, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who announced Cisneros’ decision to leave, praised the undersecretary’s “people-first approach.”

“Under his leadership, the [personnel and readiness] team established policies to ensure access to reproductive healthcare and contraceptives, promoted the safety, health and well-being of the force during the COVID-19 pandemic and advanced initiatives to integrate strategic readiness across the department,” Austin said.

During his tenure, Cisneros drew criticism for ending the MyTravel program, the Defense Department’s SAP Concur contract that it spent the last five years and tens of millions of dollars implementing.

“It’s appropriate for Undersecretary Cisneros to depart in the wake of his recent role in the defense travel system contract fiasco. When his initial orders were not followed, his response was to back down, reverse field and terminate a years-long effort to replace an aging IT system with a state-of-the-art solution,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), chairwoman of the Oversight and Accountability subcommittee on cybersecurity, information technology and government innovation, in an email to Federal News Network.

Lawmakers threatened to issue a subpoena to Cisneros after he failed to attend a hearing July 26 on the new travel plan.

Cisneros has served in his position since August 2021, overseeing force readiness and management, health affairs, National Guard and reserve components and education and training.

In that position, he oversaw the creation of the DoD chief diversity officer position, which he currently holds, and the adoption of an advisor for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within each military department. The change was mandated by the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

A current backlash against DEI initiatives resulted in conservative members of Congress adding language to the 2024 NDAA to defund diversity programs. The Senate 2024 NDAA supports keeping them.

At a House Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing in March on DEI, Cisneros testified about the importance of diversity for both recruiting and force cohesiveness.

“A failure to leverage the strengths of our people — including failures to end discrimination or other toxic behaviors whether overt or covert — undercuts unit cohesion necessary for forces to train and fight as one,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros was also involved in the implementation of the recommendations from the independent review commission on sexual assault in the military and the independent review commission on suicide prevention.

In response to the commission on sexual assault, the Pentagon established a new Offices of Special Trial Counsel, the independent military prosecutors who will now decide, in place of commanders, whether to prosecute offenses such as sexual assault and domestic violence, child abuse and murder.

Cisneros previously served in the Navy where he first enlisted and then received a commission through the broadened opportunity for officer selection and training program. He also served as a Congressman from California’s 39th Congressional District.

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