The Navy's top civilian leader told reporters Jan. 11 that while he respects the career and leadership abilities of President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of defense, he thinks Congress should take a hard line on its mandate to keep civilians in charge of the nation's defense.
(Photo: U.S. Navy Chief Mass Communications Specialist Shawn P. Eklund)
Outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Congress had a good reason to require former military leaders be out of uniform for at least seven years before they may take the top leadership positions at the Pentagon — including the roles of secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense — adding that the time out of uniform had recently been reduced from 10 years.
Trump's pick to lead the Pentagon, former Marine Gen. James Mattis, retired from the Corps in 2013 after 44 years in the military. His appointment would require a waiver from Congress to skirt the seven-year mandate.
"I have worked very closely with Jim Mattis almost the whole time [in office] and I have an enormous amount of respect for him," Mabus told defense reporters at a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C. "I think that civilian control of the military is one of the bedrocks of our democracy and there was a reason that was put in place."
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Navy mascot "Bill the Goat" show their support during a pep-rally at the Pentagon before the 110th Army-Navy college football game. (DoD Photo)
Top lawmakers in the Senate held a meeting with experts on military affairs Jan. 10 to debate the restriction, with many arguing the rule should be kept in place but that Mattis' experience and intellect warrant a one-time waiver.
"I would hesitate to ever say … that there is any indication that dangerous times require a general," said Kathleen Hicks, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, according to the Washington Post. "I don't think that's the issue. I think dangerous times require experience and commitment … which I think Gen. Mattis can bring."
So far one member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has spoken against granting a waiver. New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has said she'd oppose a waiver and hasn't "seen the case for why it is so urgently necessary."
Former Army Gen. George Marshall is the only Pentagon leader to be granted a waiver under the 10-year rule, and he served only one year during the hight of the Korean war.
"It was done for George Marshall but it shouldn't be done very often," outgoing SecNav Mabus said. "So I think [Congress] is right to raise that issue."
"This is nothing to say about Jim Mattis, I think he was a great Marine and a great general officer and a great CoCom," he added.
Mattis is set for a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 12. Both chambers are expected to vote on a service waiver before Trump's inauguration Jan. 20.