March 10, 2020
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC nomination hearing.
Nominees included: the Honorable Matthew P. Donovan, to be Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; William Jordan Gillis, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment; and Victor G. Mercado, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities.
Inhofe: Now to try to set an example, I’m going to attempt to have a question for each one of you that I think is the most significant area of your potential service here and try to do that within our timeframe. Starting with Mr. Donovan: You are right. In your statement, you said we must recruit and retain — that’s the biggest issue out there. Right now, it’s complicated by the fact that we have a great economy, and so we’re competing with an economy at the same time. So I see two problems out there. First of all, the studies indicate that only about 29 percent of today’s youth population are eligible for military service. Now that’s a huge problem — that’s not a problem we’ve had before. And in addition to that, you have the problems then of the competition that’s out there in the market. How are you going to address that, Mr. Donovan?
Donovan: Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman. I have seen those same studies as well. I think it’s a problem that extends beyond the Department of Defense, and it is a national issue. I recall when I was a kid in elementary school, and we had the Presidential Fitness Program, and there was a lot of funding for sports activities and that sort of thing. I think that all feeds in, and then when you combine that with the increased use of smart phones and video games, I think kids are not getting the physical activity they need to prepare them for the rigors of military duty. That said, I don’t think we are really having that much problem yet recruiting the kind of people that we need. We’re generally filling the recruiting roles, but as we look towards the future, as we look towards the imperatives of the National Defense Strategy, then we are seeing that we’re going to need to attract those skills that are in so much demand on the outside as well. A good example is cyber that I spoke with Senator Rounds about. So we’re trying to partner with universities, we’re trying to partner with industries too even, to see if there’s some way we can share the load on this, but it’s an excellent question.
Inhofe: Ok thank you. Mr. Gillis, we have another problem there on the Tenant Bill of Rights. When it came out, it left out two things — it left out dispute resolution and the ability to withhold rent. Now when that was initially sent out to the tenants around, those were two things that were very significant to them. So my questions would be: Number 1 — why were they left out? And Number 2 — what’s the best way to communicate that?
Gillis: Yes, sir. So I take that whole issue very seriously. I was principal deputy at the Army when we became aware of what was happening with privatized housing, so I’m personally aware that those are very important to tenants. I think we left those out because we got hung up on details, but I assure you that even from my position now in the Army, that we are going to work through those. The acting assistant secretary in this role now committed to trying to do that by May 1. If confirmed, I will carry that on. If not confirmed, I will continue to work on it from the Army perspective.
Inhofe: That’s great. I appreciate that. Mr. Mercado, we know that the NDS, this document here, is about more than just many how planes, ships, and tanks that we buy, but also about making sure that our forces can be in the right places at the right time. That’s what Secretary Esper is trying to do right now. In doing this, I’m going to single out AFRICOM and the fact that if you take all of our coms — PACOM, CENTCOM and EUCOM — that adds up to about 250,000 troops — 250000 troops. All of AFRICOM is only 6,000 troops, and of that, 4,000 of those are in Djibouti, so that services other areas too. I would say that that has to be the most understaffed combatant command that we have, and so I’m asking the question. I would want to ensure that if you look at what is happening in that part of the world, that we are aware of the fact that we have problems in West Africa with only about 1.000 troops there total in West Africa. I don’t think it would be a good move to actually, during that effort by the Secretary of Defense, to actually even consider reducing that small number in West Africa. Any thoughts on that
Mercado: Yes sir. I understand, and Africa is a challenge. We know China is very interested in Africa — not only the base they established in Djibouti, but we know they are interested in the west side like Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea to kind of bridge and give both sides access to each side of Africa. People equate the reviews that we’re doing too much to downsizing when it’s more about right-sizing. When we’ve reviewed the tasks that AFRICOM has been asked to do over 10 years, we find out that they are a number of 1700 tasks. Over the years they have been unburdened, so we need to go back and look at the critical missions they do, from train, advise, and equip, great power competition and dealing with those violent extremist organizations that are intent to harm US and the homeland, and make sure we get their presence right.
Inhofe: Excellent response. Senator Reed.