Despite operating without a secretary for the last six months and losing two nominees for the position, the Army seems to be getting by without its top civilian post filled.
The service weathered the 2018 budget process, the further integration of women in combat positions and most recently the unexpected transgender policy announcement on July 26.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the situation is not ideal, but the Army is making due with what it can.
“It’s best to have a secretary. There are a variety of authorities that come with having a secretary, but having said that, the way the system is built no one man is indispensable so to speak. Bob Speer was designated as the acting secretary and has been since the inauguration. He’s done a wonderful job. He’s doing a great job. Granted he’s an acting secretary, but I was an acting chief of staff for a period of time too,” Milley said during a July 27 speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “I would argue that not having a ‘full-fledged’ secretary of the Army certainly has not been catastrophic… we’ll work through it. I think it’s better to have one than not.”
Speer says he has some regrets about how he’s handled his acting position purely because he wasn’t expecting to be in the position for so long.
“There’s a little bit of a setback in just the terms of your own mindset… I went into [the position] as if it was all told by the leadership ‘You are the secretary of the Army,’ but I think I would have gone at it even a little more aggressively,” Speer said during a July 26 speech at the Assocation of the United States Army in Arlington, Va. The time in position “just kept going and the Army goes on and you can’t pause.”
Both Milley and Speer said the soldiers and civilians in the enterprise headquarters did not miss a beat during the transition.
“I felt we did an extremely good job of capturing the readiness understanding and conveying it to Congress and the leadership coming in,” Speer said.
Speer said he works well with Milley and they are constantly in a dialogue and share a close partnership on where the Army is and needs to go.
The Army is not the only area of the Defense Department that is working with a placeholder leader. Out of the 53 positions in DoD that need Senate approval only seven have been confirmed. Twenty are awaiting confirmation and the rest are still without a nominee.
As Speer said, the Army keeps going and it did all through the budget process and integrating women into combat positions.
Despite the lack of leadership representing the White House, the Army continued its integration efforts.
“I think it’s going fairly well. We’ve articulated fairly well it’s based upon standards. As long as you meet the standard and you are meeting the standard of that occupation whether its infantry, armor or field artillery and on, that you should be to serve there,” Speer said. “The numbers aren’t great yet to be able to evaluate what the current impact is, but they are serving well.”
Milley agree that the execution of the policy is working well to date.
The Army is also holding a united front after a bombshell announcement from President Donald Trump barring transgender people from the military.
As questions arose from the President’s tweets over who will be able to stay in the military and what their fate would be, the Army is standing with the policy it has until new guidance is issued.
“Twitter is not a policy. I do know that we were encouraging the defense secretary to review the accessions policy on transgender, which he was doing and that review and analysis was not done and that’s the latest guidance. I’m not going to get between where the President and/or the defense secretary are going on a future policy. I know the current policy and the current one particular on the accessions we were holding off until we studied it a little more,” Speer said.
Milley said he was not informed by the White House or DoD about the decision, but saw it on the news. He added that finding out information like that on the news is not unusual for him.
Milley echoed Speer’s comments stating that there is no new guidance from the White House.
Each week, Defense Reporter Jared Serbu speaks one-on-one and in depth with the people responsible for managing the inner workings of the federal government's largest department, and those who know it best. Subscribe to the latest episode on PodcastOne or iTunes.