Dr. Mark Esper, who is currently the Army Secretary while awaiting appointment to become the next defense secretary, officially testified for the top DOD post in a generally smooth Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday.
Following the hearing, Esper, a West Point graduate and former infantry officer who became Army secretary in 2017, is expected to become the first permanent Pentagon chief since the January resignation of Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis, CQ reported.
Senators of both parties stressed the importance of filling the cabinet post quickly and after the hearing lawmakers are expected to approve his confirmation within days, according to the report.
“We could actually get it done this week,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “We can definitely do it by Tuesday.”
In his advance statement, Esper addressed emerging issues that directly impact communities, military personnel and their families.
“I intend to place particular focus on the well-being of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, Marines and their families,” Esper wrote. “I understand very well the impact that issues such as housing, childcare, and spousal employment have on the readiness of our service members. I heard this firsthand during the dozens of town halls and private meetings that my wife and I held across the Army over the last twenty months. Our military families are willing to make great sacrifices for their country, and in return, I am committed to ensuring they are cared for properly,” he added.
Esper’s advance statement also provided his views on the need for armed services reform while maintaining a strong military.
“No reform is too small,” Esper wrote. “In the Army, we found billions of dollars in savings, by overturning hundreds of small stones that many said wouldn’t make a difference. I will also continue to take the approach that bureaucratic processes should not come at the expense of our men and women serving around the world.”
“The bottom line is this: in an era of mounting fiscal challenges and competing demands, we must actively seek ways to free up time, money, and manpower to invest back into our top priorities.”
Esper also addressed military community concerns in his advance policy questions submitted to the committee.
On the topic of additional BRAC rounds, Esper provided a limited response regarding the potential for future BRAC activity.
“The President’s budget did not include a request for BRAC authorization. As such, the Department is focused on sustaining our installations and using existing authorities to optimize facility usage,” Esper wrote.
He also provided a limited response on how he would approach a congressionally authorized BRAC.
“If confirmed, and if Congress were to authorize another BRAC round, my focus would be on the military value of installations, as informed by the National Defense Strategy,” he wrote.
For much of Esper’s in-person testimony Tuesday, lawmakers concentrated their questions on the National Defense Strategy’s focus on Russia and China, the need for a $750 billion defense budget in fiscal 2020, and finding ways to deescalate tensions with Iran.
DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber Smith