An acting defense minister lacks the political capital and the inner confidence of a permanent. Senate approval gives a secretary explicit and implicit powers – from recruiting and setting long-term policies in the Pentagon to authority to authoritatively communicate with overseas colleagues and members of the congress.
"It's just not good, you want to have a full-time Secretary of Defense," Eric Edelman, the former secretary of defense for politics in the George W. Bush administration, said CNN. "You have to have a civilian perspective that has a certain political meaning."
The Department is in the midst of an unprecedented period of leadership unrest. Esper is quickly briefed on the complex responsibilities of the acting secretary. But thanks to federal law, Esper must resign as Acting Secretary as soon as he is officially nominated for permanent employment.
In this case, Marine's secretary, Richard Spencer, is likely to become the new acting secretary and will have to undergo similar training – just to hold the acting job for the short time before Esper is expected to be confirmed by the Senate ,
The prospect of three acting defense ministers could have been avoided within weeks if the president had acted faster to nominate either Shanahan or another candidate for the top position. Instead, the Pentagon has been in a period of weak leadership for half a year.
Pentagon on autopilot
That does not mean that the Pentagon can not function without permanent civilian leadership. The Department of Defense is made up of massive, largely self-supporting bureaucracies – the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Military Departments and the operational commandos – meaning that the Pentagon's daily operations without a permanent secretary are not shut down or even noticeably slowed. In many ways, the department works on its own.
But there is a reason why a strong, Senate-approved civilian should be the leader. It's about both political and operational decisions. The secretary's job is to set and communicate policies so that military officials can implement those policies.
However, an acting secretary is limited in this capacity. For a start it is not clear how long they will be in the job. They are prohibited from recruiting and holding subordinate officials. They can not initiate long-term reforms and find it difficult to gain authority both in Congress and internationally. Having a deputy secretary for the Pentagon is not a big deal for a few weeks. But if it takes six months, the consequences pile up, according to half a dozen defense experts and former officials who have talked to CNN. Pentagon should work not only in times of crisis but also on long-term plans, "said Peter W. Singer, defense expert and senior executive Employees of the New America Foundation.
Mark Hertling, pensioner Army Commander and a CNN employee, say the uniformed officers at the Pentagon, with whom he speaks, that the fluctuation and instability under the Pentagon's civilian leadership left many in the brass military sense "If civil servants do not have guidance, people take a bit of risk," Hertling said, "now that you have the constant exodus where it's one after the other, burdened it really adds to the military. "A retired officer tells CNN that these soldiers, who are used to it," Din frustrated how the bureaucratic process has slowed in recent months due to the unclear civil chain of command. Emagazine.credit-suisse.com/app/art…1007 & lang = DE In times of great uncertainty, people in the food chain will only be on guard, "said Gary Schmitt, a national security strategy researcher on the American Enterprise Institute Several Republican supporters of the president in Washington have told CNN in recent days that they fear that the power vacuum in the Ministry of Defense has partially fueled the current crisis with Iran.
No more Mattis
Matti's resignation at the end of 2018 marked a crucial moment for the Pentagon and the government's defense policy.The US military began reducing its presence in Syria in January, killing eight US soldiers in Afghanistan between January and April President continued to retreat from that country, and in February the President held a second summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to stem the country's nuclear program.
"It's an increasingly complex time with a whole range of problems," said Hertling. "Because of the Crisis du Jour, resources and staff are shifting, and there are a lot of people moving between issues."
"It's a zoo," he added.
Trump's national security team staffed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Many Washington observers clearly saw Shanahan as a placeholder.
"When you're in a cabinet meeting or in the situation room … everyone is polite, but there's this unwritten thing where the views of the standing man are given more weight than acting," said Tom Spoehr, a former Pentagon Civil servant and director of the Center for National Defense of the Heritage Foundation.
This had a clear impact on the Trump agenda. In a March appearance before the Senate Force Committee, Shanahan struggled to defend the Space Force proposal. Even Republican lawmakers who wanted to support the president came out of the hearing with skepticism.
Edelman, the former Pentagon official, is concerned that the lack of a permanent defense minister has aggravated an existing problem for the ministry – the lack of civil servants bringing political considerations to the table. The lack of the authority of an acting secretary to assume important roles maintains this political vacuum for which the military are not prepared.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with a chronicle of events since Jim Mattis resigned as Secretary of Defense.
CNN's Jamie Gangel and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.