Frustrated by lack of influence and disheartened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, Department of Defense civilians are heading for the door, leaving key positions unfilled in a Pentagon increasingly run by active-duty or retired military officers.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD for short, is the civilian arm of the department, crucial in assisting the secretary in policy development, operations planning, resource management, and more. OSD is traditionally a place where people spend entire careers—one former official likened it to “joining a priesthood”—but today it appears to be eroding at all levels. Interviews with a dozen current and former Department of Defense civilians reveal an increasingly hollow and demoralized workforce, with staffers feeling they no longer have a seat at the table.
Civilian oversight of the military “was already weakening in the last administration, and I think it basically fell off a cliff,” said one former Defense Department official who requested anonymity. “It sucks to work in an office where nobody listens to you.”
At least nine senior officials have left the department in the past year, including Sally Donnelly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s senior advisor, and Elbridge Colby, who co-led development of the department’s premier strategic planning guidance, the National Defense Strategy. Most recently, in October three senior leaders working on international policy departed: Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs Robert Karem, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Alan Patterson, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy Thomas Goffus. Other key positions in OSD are vacant or filled in an acting capacity, including: chief management officer; deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia; assistant deputy of defense for strategic plans and capabilities; and undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Read the full article and more in Foreign Policy.