30% of the Pentagon's top leadership positions will be vacant in 2020

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An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005.

Five top defense officials have tendered their resignations this month, ultimately leaving nearly one-third of the Pentagon's Senate-confirmed positions vacant, defense officials said.

Since Dec. 5, the following officials have tendered their resignations:

  • Tina Kaidanow, senior advisor for international cooperation.
  • Kari Bingen, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
  • Randall Schriver, assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs.
  • Jimmy Stewart, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
  • Steven Walker, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Separately, Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Nov. 24. Esper later told reporters he was "flabbergasted" to learn that Spencer went behind his back to try to negotiate a deal to allow Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher retire with his trident.

With the most recent departures, a total of 18 of the 59 presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed positions on the Defense Department staff will be vacant, said Pentagon spokesman Chuck Prichard. The Defense Department will have to fill two more positions when President Donald Trump signs the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Esper recently told reporters that he was not concerned by the slew of resignations in December.

"That's a normal rotation," Esper said during a Dec. 16 flight back from Belgium. "Folks have been at it hard for two years now, two-plus years."

But Lara Seligman of Foreign Policy first reported that current and defense officials blame Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood for creating a hostile work environment that has prompted many of the Pentagon's civilian leaders to resign.

Rood, the No. 3 leader at the Pentagon, is reportedly verbally abusive toward subordinates, In one case, according to Seligman, Rood allegedly exploded over a minor issue and could not get over it for days.

However, of the five defense officials who have announced they are leaving, only one – Schriver – works for Rood, said Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason.

Two other senior leaders who worked for Rood have left this year, Gleason said. David Trachtenberg, the former deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, retired in July. Mark Mitchell left in November after overseeing special operations for roughly four months.

"We have the utmost confidence in Under Secretary John Rood's expertise and professionalism," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement to Task & Purpose. "He has demonstrated effective and constant leadership over the past two years as under secretary for policy in a difficult, demanding and vital role in the Department with responsibility for aligning civilian and military policy across the globe in accordance with Secretary's focus on the National Defense Strategy."