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More Empty Chairs At The Pentagon As USD Policy Rood Canned

More Empty Chairs At The Pentagon As USD Policy Rood Canned

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood testifies before the House Armed Services Committee.

PENTAGON: The firing of John Rood, the Pentagon’s top policy official, today set off a fresh round of musical chairs at the Pentagon, as officials once again shift offices to fill in for those who have quit or been fired.

Across the Pentagon, 16 empty positions wait for a nominee, including Rood and his deputy’s job, as well as the Navy Secretary and key positions running Asia-Pacific strategy and the international affairs office.

Rood’s ouster means James Anderson, already serving as acting deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy, will take over as acting undersecretary of defense for policy, Rood’s old job. Anderson temporarily took over the deputy job in July 2019 after David Trachtenberg announced he was leaving the department. 

No official nominations for either position have been sent to the Senate for approval.

Anderson was originally confirmed by the Senate in August 2018 as assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, but moved up a year later, replaced on an temporary basis Vic Mercado, a Navy veteran.

It’s unclear exactly why Trump fired Rood, but he emerged as a key dissenting voice over the White House’s decision to halt $250 million in Ukrainian military aid last year, a decision which eventually led to the president’s impeachment. Rood told Congress last spring that the Ukraine government had the confidence of the United States to spend the aid responsibility. That certification came before Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, during which he asked for a “favor.”

“The president has the opportunity and the ability to have the team he wants,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters today.”The president can make the decision to go a different direction, I’m not going to speculate” why Rood lost the president’s confidence.

With Rood out, another player in the Ukraine episode, acting comptroller Elaine McCusker still waits for the White House to send her expected nomination to the Senate. A New York Post story last week said McCusker would be dropped over her opposition to stopping Ukraine aid, but the report has not been confirmed. 

“Elaine McCusker is still the acting CMO and she’s still the president’s nominee,” Hoffman told reporters today. “I’ve not seen anything additional that would lead me to believe that that is a reality.”

In truth, Lisa Hershman is already confirmed as the Chief Management Officer, and McCusker is the acting comptroller and chief financial officer.

Rood’s departure adds another top-level office to the large list of “acting” officials doing jobs they have not been confirmed to perform by the Senate. 

Katie Wheelbarger, recently nominated to replace the departing Kari Bingen to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, has been serving as the acting assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs since late 2018. No hearing has been scheduled for her, but she leaves behind another office in need of a replacement. 

In addition to those vacancies, Eric Chewning, Esper’s chief of staff, stepped down earlier this year, along with Tina Kaidanow, senior advisor for international cooperation. While these don’t require Senate confirmation, they are senior officials.

Other notable departures over the past several weeks include Randall Schriver, the top official running the Info-Pacific office, Steven Walker of DARPA, Jimmy Stewart who ran personnel, and Richard Spencer, the Navy Secretary fired by Esper after a series of disagreements over Trump’s pardoning of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes. None have been replaced by a confirmed successor. 

“I would like to thank John Rood for his service to the Department,” Esper said in a statement. “John has played a critical role on a wide range of DoD issues including modernizing our nuclear deterrence capability, efforts to increase burden sharing by our NATO allies, our Missile Defense Review and implementing the National Defense Strategy. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Rood’s departure may have a silver lining: opening the door to declassification of information about both adversary and US space capabilities. One US government official familiar with the issue said Rood — who has roots in the intelligence community — was seen as an obstacle to momentum building within US military leadership for greater space transparency as a means of beefing up deterrence vice Russia, China and other adversaries.

There has been a sense of frustration within the DoD space community about the high levels of secrecy surrounding space — with leaders from Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, and DoD deputy assistant for space policy Stephen Kitay on down the chain expressing the need for more openness.

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