President Joe Biden wants to put a civilian bureaucrat in charge of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and that has drawn immediate and significant criticism. The White House has been accused of pushing policies that put US national security at risk, and this personnel gambit is no exception. Congress has already halted the administration’s plan to retire one-of-a-kind nuclear weapons without any alternatives.
The Constitution provides that senior defense leadership is the responsibility of civilians. Consequently, the secretary of defense and the service secretaries are civilians who establish management policies. But the direct transactional management relationship between the Pentagon and the commanders of the unified warfighting commands historically has been understood to be a uniformed military responsibility.
Missile Defense Needs a Warfighter, Not a Bureaucrat
“The current director of the US Missile Defense Agency, vice admiral Jon Hill, is expected to retire later this year. The Biden administration has privately told lawmakers that it can’t find military leaders interested in the position and plans to nominate a civilian to lead the agency for the first time,” Alana Goodman reported for The Washington Free Beacon. Wait a second. Let’s unpack that. The commander-in-chief “can’t find military leaders interested”? Biden decided to put a civilian in a traditionally military position, not based on mission priorities or having the most qualified senior executive to lead but on a poll of who’s interested. That should not be how this selection process works.
Approximately six months before an agency position led by a military officer opens, the Joint Chiefs of Staff goes to the service chiefs requesting nominees. Each military service provides a nominee, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff selects and forwards to the secretary of defense the slate of candidates, ranked in order of qualifications. This is not a “gee-if-I-feel-like-doing-it” process. The uniformed leadership of the services and the Joint Chiefs are abrogating their responsibilities — unless the commander-in-chief has another agenda, such as diversity, equity, and inclusion and not national security.
There has always been a flag-level military officer as MDA director, a direct report to the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. The MDA has an operational warfighting mission closely aligned with directly supporting the combatant commands. The agency’s raison d’tre clearly states, “The Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) mission is to develop and deploy a layered Missile Defense System to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends from missile attacks in all phases of flight.” Developing and deploying are military operational responsibilities – not bureaucratic tasks.
Former Missile Defense Agency Directors Object
Former directors of MDA were not amused at the Biden administration’s break with the historical requirement for a military leader in charge of protecting the continental US and allies from enemy ballistic missiles. The former MDA directors wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee stating, “Any suggestion that the next director could be a civilian leader should be carefully scrutinized and most certainly rejected … It would have been impossible in our experience for this job to have been effectively executed without a senior military flag officer,” according to Goodman’s Free Beacon article. The decision to make this extraordinary personnel policy change does not consider the threats faced by America from adversaries. These foes have unprecedented hostility toward the United States and brandish missiles and nuclear weapons. This decision calls into question the Biden administration’s capacity to grasp US national security imperatives.
With this decision, it seems the president and his national security team have not demonstrably put the protection of American citizens or allies at the top of their defense priorities. It appears the White House turning over a critical warfighting Pentagon position to a non-uniformed bureaucrat was another ho-hum decision. The MDA is the first line of defense of the US homeland and global allies. The person who is selected to lead that effort should be one of the most crucial personnel placements in the Department of Defense, not left to political whim.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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