Pentagon Senior Leader Backlog Growing

The standoff with Senator Tuberville is reaching crisis levels.

DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

POLITICO (“Biden taps Allvin to be next Air Force top officer“):

President Joe Biden is set to announce that he has picked Gen. David Allvin to lead the Air Force, after the White House notified the Senate of the impending nomination on Tuesday.

If confirmed, Allvin will replace Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, who was tapped in May to serve as the next Joint Chiefs chair.

Allvin, a career cargo, refueler aircraft and test pilot, currently serves as the Air Force’s vice chief of staff.

With the nod, Allvin will join a group of top generals and admirals — along with some top civilian DOD officials — whose nominations are being caught up in Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) blockade of senior Pentagon nominees over DOD’s abortion travel policy. On Tuesday, Biden also nominated Derek Chollet to be the DOD’s chief policy official, but it may be some time before the policy shop has a Senate-confirmed leader.

The hold has affected more than 270 senior military officers. Tuberville has had several conversations with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in recent weeks on the policy to pay travel costs for troops who seek abortions, but none with Biden himself, a situation that has frustrated the senator.

Also on Tuesday, Biden nominated Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to be the Marine Corps’ assistant commandant. If confirmed, he would replace Gen. Eric Smith, who has been nominated to be the service’s top officer.

WaPo (“Biden picks next Pentagon policy chief, testing Tuberville’s blockade“):

The White House said Tuesday that PresidentBiden will nominate a new Pentagon policy chief, a position the administration deems central to navigating challenges posed by China and Russia but one at risk of encountering the same standoff with congressional Republicans that has stymied the confirmation of otherdefense nominees.

Officials said the administration would send the SenateBiden’s selection of Derek Chollet, who now serves as counselor to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to become undersecretary of defense for policy.

Biden’s nomination of Chollet to replace Colin Kahl, who stepped down this month, comes amid a feud over abortion policy that has resulted in the stalling of hundreds of nominees for military and defense positions, including Biden’s pick to head the Marine Corps. If the impasse continues, it could result in other high-level vacancies in coming months, including the military’s most senior position, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

By my count, the following senior Pentagon appointments are being stalled:

  • Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (#3 civilian)
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (#1 uniformed officer in DoD)
  • Chief of Naval Operations (with Vice appointment coming) (top two Navy officers)
  • Commandant and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps (top two Marine Corps officers)
  • Air Force Chief of Staff (with Vice appointment coming) (top two Air Force Officers)
  • US Pacific Command (the most important geographic combatant command)

The Pentagon or the services can continue to limp along for quite some time but this will soon become untenable. People in “acting” billets lack the full legal authorities that go with these jobs. Additionally, many people will be doing pieces of multiple jobs rather than concentrating on a single billet.

Additionally, I can’t help but wonder if the hold isn’t impacting President Biden’s choices to fill these billets. General Eric Smith, the Assistant Commandant who has been nominated as Commandant and is simultaneously continuing to fill that billet while serving as Acting Commandant (his predecessor, David Berger, has retired) was widely expected to get that post. But I don’t know if the number two person in the Navy and Air Force would have moved into the top slots absent that being less challenging under these circumstances.

It’s noteworthy, too, that it’s not just these top posts but hundreds of other general and flag officer appointments down to the one-star level. These people’s lives are on hold. Normally, they would be moving or already have moved to their new locations, so their kids will be in place for the start of the new school year. And one imagines there are some colonels and captains who will hit the 30-year mandatory retirement point for that rank. Will they be allowed to continue while they wait this out?

As I’ve noted before, I think Tuberville has a point here. It seems likely to me that Secretary Austin not only exceeded his authority but is in violation of the Hyde Amendment here. But this is an awfully costly way to force a showdown.

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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. Daryl says:

    It seems likely to me that Secretary Austin not only exceeded his authority but is in violation of the Hyde Amendment here.

    IANAL, but the DOD disagrees with you.
    It seems patently wrong to force someone to be stationed somewhere where essential healthcare is unavailable due to the superstitions of a minority group. Austin is doing the right thing by the troops.
    And the idea that this is “abortion tourism”, as Tuberville and others have termed it, is just ignorant.
    Lastly – no one should ignore that Tuberville is causing a crisis in the military, having not served in the military himself and at the same time stealing valor for his father.

  2. Tony W says:

    One backwoods “coach” who got himself elected to the Senate is directly affecting the readiness of the United States Military, and Republicans just shrug their shoulders.

    Country first my ass.

  3. As I’ve noted before, I think Tuberville has a point here. It seems likely to me that Secretary Austin not only exceeded his authority but is in violation of the Hyde Amendment here. But this is an awfully costly way to force a showdown.

    I am going to say that he has an argument, but there are lots of policy decisions (and even statutes) for which a legit argument can be made that they are in error. But that means of dealing with such, if one is a legislator, is trying to get legislation passed. Or, going to court.

    If Tuberville is allowed to get away with this tactic, we should brace ourselves for it being used repeatedly in the future for a host of issues.

    (Side note: I don’t think Tuberville understands how laws work nor the degree to which interpretation and application of laws is not always as straightforward as a given person thinks).

    I also have to wonder, long-haul, if this doesn’t help the Dems in 2024 and hurt the Reps. People don’t like it when politicians mess with the troops.

  4. DK says:

    I think Tuberville has a point here.

    Most terrorists ‘have a point.’

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Daryl: I think DoD is wrong but I agree that “abortion tourism” is silly.

    @Steven L. Taylor: Oh, I think this is the wrong way to go about resolving this dispute and agree that the fact that one idiot Senator can bring the whole system to its knees is nuts.

  6. @James Joyner: I realize that you aren’t defending it.

  7. a country lawyer says:

    In addition to putting the affected officer’s lives on hold, it also affects their respective incomes. Each of these promotions come with an increase in pay, up to ten percent. I suspect if the senator’s pay was being similarly affected he wouldn’t be so quick with the hold.

  8. gVOR10 says:

    I read a piece a few days ago claiming the Senate is becoming more collegial because they want to avoid becoming like the clown act in the House. Sure doesn’t look like it. Seems like if GOP leadership cared they could talk to Tuberville, or Tuberville’s funders, and get him to declare he’s made his point and back down. So apparently they don’t care. And this is of a piece with GOPs experimenting with means of minority control.

  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    At the end of the day, it is the senate and its screlotic rules and traditions. IIRC, Schumer had the opportunity to clear all the held nominations last month when Tuberville was away from the senate for personal reasons, but didn’t, due to tradition.

  10. anjin-san says:

    @Tony W:

    Country first my ass.

    If Russia is the country you are putting first, Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with it.

  11. Jim Brown 32 says:

    If his point is that he’s simultaneously an idiot AND an asshole…then yes…Point well taken.

    Also of note, the Air Force COS nominee is not a fighter pilot. Probably makes sense in that the AF will play a bigger role as Air Bridge for troops, beans, and bullets than as Force projection. However, it historically hasn’t gone well for AFCOS that aren’t fighter jocks. Perhaps Gen Allvin will be the exception.