Chief of Staff to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Eric Chewning, has announced that he is retiring. He stands among a crowd of high-profile civilians exiting the Pentagon. The top Republican staffer on the House Armed Services Committee and former top adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Jen Steward will take his place.
Former acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan took Chewning for his chief of staff exactly one year ago after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stepped down. Then Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was acting Pentagon chief, according to The POLITICO. That was when then-Army Secretary Esper was waiting for Senate confirmation. Esper said:
‘I’m grateful for Eric’s professionalism, judgment, and leadership over the last seven months as I moved into the Secretary of Defense role. In an incredibly demanding job, Eric has been a source of calm and tireless work. We wish him all the best upon his return to the private sector.’
Esper said that Stewart’s experience and specialties will be critical if the Pentagon continues with its preparations for the dual threats of Russia and China:
‘I have known Jen for years and I’m excited to bring her into the Department. Her deep expertise on national security issues will be a great addition to our team as we continue implementing the National Defense Strategy.’
If her own comments in recent years are any guide, she is likely to take a major interest in her new role in ensuring that the bureaucracy is more in sync with honing key capabilities, especially in cyberspace.
‘My personal interest, which will not surprise you, [is] cybersecurity. [She is interested in] helping to lay the groundwork for a very professional, responsible conversation about how we talk about staying ahead of Russia and China. We’re not calling them our enemies, but they’re emergent competitors who want to be peer competitors, and if we never want to get into a fair fight we have a lot of work in front of us.’
Esper said in his statement:
‘The Department continues to bring in high quality personnel into leadership positions. This week three new Senate-confirmed appointees will be sworn in, while three nominees await Senate action, and additional nominations are expected in coming weeks. Also this week, four new senior [senior executive service] appointees will be sworn in, joining approximately a dozen senior SES leaders brought into the Department in the last few months of 2019.’
Steward identified cybersecurity issues and making the Pentagon more efficient. Fortunately, she has strong ties in Congress and the Pentagon. She has also identified herself as a Republican.
She served on as the National Security Adviser to the former House Speakers Paul Ryan (R-WI) and John Bolton (R-OH). As far as Russia and China, she said:
‘We’re not calling them our enemies, but they’re emergent competitors who want to be peer competitors, and if we never want to get into a fair fight we have a lot of work in front of us.’
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