25 September 2023

UNITED STATES: PS civilians deserting Pentagon

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High numbers of civilian employees at the US Department of Defense are heading for the door, with many saying they are frustrated by a lack of influence and disheartened by President, Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

As a result, key positions at the Pentagon are increasingly being run by active-duty or retired military officers.

One former Defense Department official said civilian oversight of the military had “fallen off a cliff”.

“It sucks to work in an office where nobody listens to you,” the former official said.

At least nine senior officers have left the Department in the past year, including Sally Donnelly, who was senior advisor to Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and Elbridge Colby, who co-led development of the Department’s premier strategic planning guidance, the National Defense Strategy.

The attrition has caused concern outside the Department.

A recently released independent review of the National Defense Strategy highlighted the “relative imbalance of civilian and military voices” on critical national security issues and urged the Department to reverse this “unhealthy” trend.

“Constructive approaches to any of the foregoing issues must be rooted in healthy civil–military relations,” the report said.

“Yet civilian voices have been relatively muted on issues at the centre of US defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control.”

While the trend began years ago, officials say it has accelerated under the Trump Administration.

Deputy Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Dr Kori Schake said the exodus was bound up at least in part with Mr Trump’s volatile foreign policy and treatment of allies.

“The people who work on alliance issues, particularly alliance issues in Europe, are extraordinarily downhearted because of the President’s behaviour,” Dr Schake said, citing Mr Trump’s incendiary rhetoric during the most recent summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in July.

Washington, DC, 16 November 2018

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