Pentagon Policy Chief Ousted

The purge of non-loyalists continues.

A day after the Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense was fired by tweet, the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy has been forced out as well.

POLITICO (“Pentagon’s top policy official resigns after clashing with the White House“):

The Pentagon’s acting policy chief resigned on Tuesday after falling out of favor with the White House, raising fears of a post-election purge at the Defense Department.

The departure of James Anderson, the acting undersecretary of defense for policy, potentially paves the way for Anthony Tata, President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee for the top policy job who was pulled from consideration due to Islamophobic tweets, to take over the policy shop. Anderson’s resignation also comes one day after Defense Secretary Mark Esper was fired by Trump, also over policy disagreements.

Anderson, who was confirmed in June as the No. 2 policy official but has been acting in the top job, submitted his letter of resignation on Tuesday morning, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO. He had been expected to be asked by the White House to resign in the next few days.

I know Anderson a bit, as he was Vice President for Academic Affairs and previously Dean of the Marine Corps War College during my time at Marine Corps University. He never struck me as particularly ideological and had followed a fairly typical path in and out of government since earning his PhD at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.

Under a normal administration, OSD Policy is a huge enterprise and the Under Secretary the third most important civilian post in the Department. I have no idea how much influence Anderson had on Trump Administration policy, though—although apparently enough that he was causing some irritation above him in the chain of command.

Similarly, I don’t know how much damage Tata can do in 70 days. But I’d rather not find out.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:
  2. EddieInCA says:

    Not as bad as we think?


    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: ‘There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration’

  3. Scott says:

    I really don’t understand all the firings and purgings at this point. Especially of political appointees.

    It seems to be just spite.

    But this is more worrisome.

    Lame-duck Trump burrows loyalists inside government, starting with NSA

    Perhaps as consequential as President Trump firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper via tweet on Monday, which has been widely expected for months, was the hiring of Michael Ellis to be the National Security Agency’s general counsel.

    As one of the most controversial staffers in the White House over the past four years, Ellis has shown himself to be as much a staunch Trump loyalist as anyone else in the administration. But his new job means that he will no longer be a political appointee. Instead, as a civilian member of the senior executive service, he gets protections that will make it quite difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to fire him.

    But then again, Trump signed an executive order weakening civil service protections. Who knows?

    All I know that even if Biden can’t pass major legislation, maybe rebuilding an effective and efficient Executive Branch can be an accomplishment.

  4. CSK says:

    Oh, it’s definitely spite and vengeance. Trump always gets his revenge. He’s boasted about so doing in the past.

    He has no further use for those who voted for him–they’re disposable commodities, as far as he’s concerned–and he hates those who didn’t vote for him. So…punish them to the extent he still can. Plus he also wants to make life as miserable as he can for Biden.

  5. Paine says:

    From the WaPo:

    The White House budget office has instructed federal agencies to continue preparing the administration’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, according to multiple administration officials granted anonymity to share details of private conversations.

    The decision to proceed with President Trump’s budget for the 2022 fiscal year has rankled and surprised several career staffers given Biden’s victory in the presidential election, as well as the fact that the incoming Biden administration is expected to submit its budget plan to Congress early next year.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @sam: @Scott: I honestly don’t know how out of whack this is. It’s a bad look, especially considering the low caliber of his people, but I presume some degree of this is normal.

    @EddieInCA: I just put up a post on this.

    @Paine: Unless I’m misunderstanding, this is normal. The budget has to be submitted by early January. It takes months to formulate a budget. This means we’re always a year out of phase. (That is, Obama oversaw the first “Trump” budget, too.)

  7. Scott says:

    @James Joyner: WRT the budget, I know this is normal. In DoD, the budget cycle is continuous. The FY22 Budget Estimate Submission is already in. The prep for the FY22 President’s Budget is in the build stage.

    We are in FY21 currently, even if it is under Continuing Resolution until 11 Dec. What happens then is anybody’s guess but they will probably punt with another CR and start work on the FY22 bills. I suppose there is some room for mischief in the policy changes tossed in there but Congress will sort it all out with Biden and OMB next year.

  8. Paine says:

    Well, if that is perfectly normal and routine I wish the WaPo wouldn’t blast it out as a news alert:)

  9. de stijl says:

    Tata is deep fried cancer on a stick.

    Unconscionable. Disgraceful.

  10. Mike in Arlington says:

    could this (and trump’s other replacements) be about destroying evidence/documentation?