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Warfighting with the backup squad: 20 of the Pentagon's top officials are in temp or acting roles
With Adm. Bill Moran's abdication three weeks before he was due to become chief of naval operations, the Pentagon has yet another vacancy to fill with precious few days left before Congress goes on summer break.
As of Monday, a total of 20 top positions across the U.S. military are vacant, including defense secretary, Air Force secretary, and inspector general, said Heather Babb, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Two officials have been confirmed by the Senate but have yet to assume their official duties: Christopher Scolese as director of the National Reconnaissance Office and Veronica Daigle as Assistant Defense Secretary for readiness, Babb said.
That leaves 18 top positions held by defense officials who are "acting" or otherwise temporarily filling those slots.
The Pentagon has not had full time defense secretary since Jan. 1, after James Mattis resigned in protest after disagreeing with President Donald Trump's decision to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Syria (Trump later backtracked).
Mark Esper has been serving as acting defense secretary since June 24. The Senate Armed Services Committee has not yet received his nomination to become the official defense secretary.
Trump announced on May 9 that he would formally nominate Patrick Shanahan as defense secretary, but Shanahan withdrew on June 18 amid media reports that he and his son had been involved in violent altercations with his former wife.
Things will get sporty when the White House sends Esper's nomination to the Senate. Due to an arcane law, Esper will have to step down as acting defense secretary while the Senate considers his nomination.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will likely be called upon to briefly serve as acting defense secretary until Esper is confirmed.
Here is a complete list of Defense Department positions being held by acting or temporary officials:
- Secretary of Defense
- Deputy Secretary of Defense
- Chief Management Officer
- Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
- Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
- Inspector General
- Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation
- Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
- Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
- Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs
- Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs
- Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness
- Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict
- Director of the National Reconnaissance Office
- Secretary of the Army
- Undersecretary of the Army
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment
- General Counsel of the Department of the Navy
- Secretary of the Air Force
- Undersecretary of the Air Force
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Jessica Purcell, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, was pregnant with her first child when she noticed a swollen lymph node in her left underarm.
Health-care providers at a MacDill Air Force Base clinic told her it was likely an infection or something related to pregnancy hormones. The following year they determined the issue had resolved itself.
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Purcell was pregnant again. Her daughter had just turned 1. She was 35. And she had no right to sue for malpractice.
A 1950 Supreme Court ruling known as the Feres doctrine prohibits military members like Purcell from filing a lawsuit against the federal government for any injuries suffered while on active duty. That includes injury in combat, but also rape and medical malpractice, such as missing a cancer diagnosis.
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With the Department of Defense overseeing the new claims process, the question now is how fairly and timely complaints will be judged. And whether, in the long run, this new move will help growing efforts to overturn the ruling and allow active duty members to sue like everyone else.