After allowing Patrick Shanahan to serve as acting defense secretary for 168 days without a nomination to the post, President Donald Trump is moving to nominate his replacement before he even arrives in the role.
On Friday evening, Trump announced his intent to nominate Army Secretary Mark Esper for secretary of defense. Esper was set to step up as acting defense secretary Monday after Trump announced earlier this week that Shanahan would not continue to pursue nomination, following reports of an FBI investigation into two troubled domestic incidents in 2010 and 2011.
In the same announcement, Trump said he would nominate David Norquist, who has been serving as acting defense secretary, to that position; and Ryan McCarthy, under secretary of the Army, as the service's secretary.
Esper was also set to represent the U.S. at the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium next week.
However, due to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, Esper will not be able to step into the role if his formal nomination does closely follow Trump's announcement. In most cases, the law does not allow a secretary nominee to fill the role in acting capacity.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Jessica Maxwell, told Military.com an official nomination has yet to be received.
"As of right now, we don't have anything official that he's been nominated yet," she said. "We'll just have to wait for an official nomination to come through."
According to the formal line of succession, the position of acting defense secretary would default to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer if Trump does not name another candidate.
Esper, who served 10 years as an Army infantry officer and later became vice president of government relations at defense contractor Raytheon, has served as Army secretary since late 2017. A Gulf War veteran, his awards include the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.
Other roles he has held include Capitol Hill staffer, working on national security issues for Sens. Chuck Hagel, Fred Thompson, and then-Majority Leader Bill Frist. Hagel would last become defense secretary. He also has worked as a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Armed Services committees and served as Executive Vice President of the Aerospace Industries Association of America.
Like Shanahan, whose prior work as an executive with defense contractor Boeing would haunt him as acting defense secretary, Esper's work at Raytheon could prove a bone of contention. As Army Secretary, Esper has recused himself in dealings with his former employer, which makes an array of missile technology for the Pentagon.
As Politico reported earlier this week, Esper's history could limit his ability to participate in ongoing negotiations with Turkey over its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system.
Norquist, the prospective nominee for deputy secretary of defense, currently wears two hats, performing the duties of deputy defense secretary and serving as the Pentagon's chief financial officer. He has been filling the role of deputy defense secretary since Jan. 1, when Jim Mattis vacated the position of SecDef and Shanahan, then the deputy, moved up.
Norquist was sworn in as Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer on June 2017. He previously worked as a partner with CPA firm Kearney and Company, and has spent nearly two decades as a federal employee, working with the Department of the Army, on Capitol Hill, and as chief financial officer for the Department of Homeland Security.
McCarthy, the current under secretary of the Army, has held the role of acting Army secretary once before. He served in the position from August to November 2017 prior to Esper's confirmation to the post.
Before then, McCarthy served at yet another major defense contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., where he was vice president for the sustainment program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. A former Army Ranger, he has also served in the past as special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and as vice president of commercial financing for the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corporation.
In his role as Army under secretary, McCarthy was viewed as a rising star, making frequent public appearances and taking an active role in efforts to revitalize service recruitment and modernize along six specific lines of effort.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.