WASHINGTON: Musical chairs times, dear readers. The rumor mill — we can’t call it anything else given how uncertain the Trump administration’s nomination process has been — has a number of top Pentagon positions getting filled. Who, you ask breathlessly?
Robert Blair, the top staffer on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, has surfaced as a likely candidate for comptroller. That’s consistent with guidance I’ve heard from three Trump advisors to the effect that some of the top defense positions will be filled by senior Hill staff. Blair left the committee last month, perhaps in anticipation of such a post.
Sean Stackley, the highly regarded head of acquisition for the Navy Department now serving as acting Navy Secretary, is being bruited about as the next head of Pentagon acquisition, a job that will considerably change when the next federal fiscal year starts. What is now the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics will become the undersec for research and engineering with a more focused portfolio, while management of various defense agencies is split off to a new, separate position. That gives Stackley the chance to claim the honor of being the new R&D job’s first occupant. Stackley is something of a throwback to the good old days of non-partisan service, having served both Republicans and Democrats.
With the demise of billionaire Vincent Viola, who just couldn’t get over those conflicts of interests he might have faced as Army Secretary, the inimitable Van Hipp is back in the running. As head of consulting firm American Defense International, he will doubtless have to divest himself of any interest in the firm to avoid the possibilities of conflicts of interest, but I understand he has already indicated his willingness to do just that.
Finally, Bob Rangel, Lockheed Martin‘s head of Washington operations, is being discussed for the crucial post of Deputy Defense Secretary. Trump administration sources have said repeatedly that the deputy will bear responsibility for filling most of the second and third tier political positions. Given Rangel’s experience running the House Armed Services Committee and his time as special advisor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates he would come with a deep database of names.
We’ll have to see how well the Trump vetting squad — which is separate from the tiny team led by Jared Kushner and Vice President Mike Pence that selects nominees — does its job with this much larger pool of nominees. They can’t want to have too many Vincent Violas.