Despite lawmakers holding a hearing to vet four Department of Defense official nominees yesterday, Secretary Ash Carter chastised the Senate Armed Services Committee for holding up the approval of 16 nominees.
“Twelve of those 16 [nominees] are still awaiting even a hearing — including our nominees to be secretary of the Army, the undersecretaries of each of our three military departments … and the undersecretaries of both intelligence and personnel and readiness,” Carter said Dec. 9. “These positions should be filled by confirmed nominees, especially in a time of conflict.”
Later that day, the committee finally relented and held a hearing with Marcel Lettre, nominated to be undersecretary for intelligence, Gabriel Camarillo, nominated as assistant secretary of Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, Vice Adm. Kurt Tidd, nominated as commander of U.S. Southern Command and John Sparks, nominated as a judge on the armed services court of appeals.
The nomination hearing marks the second in a month. Previously, the committee had only been holding hearings to approve essential nominations like the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chief of staff of the Army, which took place this summer.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this spring that he would hold up nominees as payback for Democrats changing the Senate rules to quicken the nomination process. Democrats made it so that nominees only need a majority to vote on a nominee instead of a filibuster-proof 60 votes.
The recent hearings on nominees of lesser importance to critical operations could mean a weakening in the nominations boycott by McCain. Carter admitted as much during his testimony.
“I welcome that the process is now moving and I urge it to move quickly for all of our civilian nominations and also for senior military nominations that will be made next year,” he said.
One of the dominate themes during the nomination hearing was how the Air Force will handle workforce reductions while also retaining talent.
The 2016 Defense authorization act mandates a 7.5 percent cut in military staffs each year for the next four years — 30 percent total over that time period.
“One of the major areas that we are working on is the, unfortunate tooth to tail trend that has continued to cause us to have bloated staffs — too many senior officers, and it is going to be one of the major areas of our hearings and investigation in the coming year,” McCain said. “It is a consensus on this committee, as well as from the witnesses we’ve had in our series of hearings of outside individuals with many years of experience, both in and out of the Pentagon, that we need to do something about it.”
Camarillo said he planned to stay in compliance with the act.
In response to questions about how he would recruit and retain talent within the Air Force, Camarillo told the committee he wanted to examine the current tools and incentives that the Air Force offers before answering the question.
He did note that the Air Force is conducting a review on what incentives it needs to retain and recruit talent. Additionally, the branch is looking into military compensation retirement and the new incentives made available by the newest defense authorization act.