On Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “dismissed hundreds of members of the Pentagon’s policy advisory boards…, ousting last-minute Trump administration nominees as well as officials appointed by previous administrations,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Although the removals don’t immediately take effect, Austin’s action means that advisory board members who were appointed by the Trump administration will no longer have a role within the Defense Department in the near future. Although the positions are unpaid and do not entail any apparent firsthand policymaking, at least some advisory board members at the department do have access to classified information, raising the stakes.
In an internal memo, Austin said that the advisory boards “have and will continue to provide an important role in shaping public policy,” but he added that “stewardship responsibilities require that we continually assess to ensure each advisory committee provides appropriate value today.” Concurrently, Austin has also ordered a review of at least 42 of the advisory boards at the department, and this review is slated to be finished by June. According to a department official conducting a press briefing, Austin thought that the wide removals were “the most fair, most equitable way” to deal with potential issues around the boards.
Last week, Austin already suspended the officiation process for Trump appointees to Pentagon boards whose security clearances were not complete, including Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, both of whom previously served on the Trump campaign. A number of Trump era appointees to the advisory boards made it completely through the onboarding process before the end of the Trump era. For instance, Anthony Tata was sworn in as a member of the Defense Policy Board on January 19 — the last full day of the Trump presidency — although he “came under fire last year for tweets calling former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and for calling Islam a violent religion,” POLITICO reported.
Elsewhere in the federal government, the Biden administration has been swiftly working to undo some of the chaos of the Trump era. This week, President Biden was slated to sign executive orders on immigration issues, including one measure to establish a task force to reunite immigrant families who were separated at the border while the Trump administration was in power.