Richard Spencer becomes acting defense secretary while Mark Esper goes through Senate confirmation


Acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer walks into his new office on July 15.

Jeff Schogol

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.

Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.

"The senior team supporting the Office of the Secretary remains in place to ensure institutional continuity," Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement on Monday. "Notably, this includes David Norquist, the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, who continues to perform the duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford; and Eric Chewning, the Chief of Staff for the Department of Defense.

"Additionally, Thomas Modly, Under Secretary of the Navy, is now performing the duties of the Secretary of the Navy. Ryan McCarthy is no longer performing the duties of the Secretary of the Army and is solely serving as Under Secretary of the Army."

Esper had been serving as acting defense secretary since June 24, but the Federal Vacancies Reform Act prevents him from continuing in an acting role once the Senate has received his nomination. For the time-being, he has reverted back to his old job as Army secretary.

On Monday, Spencer walked into the defense' secretary's E-Ring office on the Pentagon's third floor on Monday.

"Ladies and gentleman, how are we doing today?" Spencer asked reporters on the scene.

Before becoming Navy secretary on Aug. 3, 2017, Spencer served as an CH-46 helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps from 1976 until 1981, leaving the Corps as a captain, officials said.

During his tenure leading the Navy, Spencer denied claims from people claiming they were exposed to dangerous chemicals found in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, following a federal judge's December 2016 ruling that the Navy was not liable for damages.

Spencer has also staked his job on fixing the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford's electromagnetic weapons elevators. In January, Spencer told President Donald Trump that if all 11 of the Ford's elevators were not working by the end of the summer, Trump could fire him.

Only two of the Ford's weapons elevators are currently functional, said Navy spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez. Work on the other nine elevators is expected to last beyond October, when the aircraft carrier leaves the shipyards.

Esper's confirmation hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. He replaced Patrick Shanahan as acting defense secretary after Shanahan withdrew from consideration as defense secretary amid media reports that he and his son had both been involved in violent altercations with his former wife.

Shanahan had served as acting defense secretary after Mattis resigned in December in protest of Trump's decision at the time to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. Trump subsequently reversed himself.

SEE ALSO: The Pentagon's path to getting Mark Esper confirmed as defense secretary is a Kafkaesque nightmare

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