October 28, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned nominees for senior Department of Defense civilian positions about key readiness challenges facing the department, including spectrum management, sexual assault prevention and recruitment and retention effects of the vaccine mandate.
Nominees included: Carrie Ricci to be General Counsel for the Department of the Army; John Sherman to be Department of Defense Chief Information Officer; and Ashish Vazirani to be Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Inhofe: Regretfully I have to outdo the chairman. You know, I have been critical of this President and a lot of the things that are going on, but I have to say that I've never seen three nominees more qualified and in a better position to do a better job for America than we're looking at right now. And I don't know what came over him, but —
Reed: You may do that every time.
Inhofe: Yeah, but anyway, no, I'm so impressed with each one of you for different reasons. Certainly, starting with Mr. Sherman, you have the background and experience from when Dana Deasy was in this position. There were things that had to be done, and I know that it became, it was pretty controversial back when Ligado received [Federal Communications Commission approval], contrary to virtually everyone, every federal agency that was out there and on record at the time, along with the general public. I've not seen so much disregard for one individual or one group taking over, in this case, something as significant as the group handling the L-band for GPS, and then the threats that poses on our entire segment. And so, I did ask you if you saw the hearing that we had beginning of this, and I think you told me, Mr. Chairman, that you did, and so you know my feeling, and the feeling of everyone who testified that day, as to the problems that exist. So I’d only ask if you just keep in mind — you've got the background, you know the issue. You actually worked with Dana Deasy, and so I hope that you draw on that background to try to correct a problem that’s got to be corrected. Are there any comments you want to make about that?
Sherman: Sir, assured positioning navigation and timing, particularly with global positioning system, is so critical for our warfighting ability, both here in the homeland and overseas. As you noted, sir, I am very familiar with the Ligado issue and where that license is so close to the GPS spectrum, in my view, represents an unacceptable threat to bleed over into that spectrum. Despite our efforts to share other parts of the spectrum, where Ligado is, is not acceptable, and if confirmed, Senator, I would want to work with the executive branch, this committee and others to ensure that we rectify that issue to assure our PMT capabilities for our forces, sir.
Inhofe: Mr. Sherman, let me tell you how much I appreciate the very strong position that you've taken.
Mr. Vazirani, you have a background, as the chairman pointed out, that you really know, you have a hands-on background. And one of the problems I'm having and have been having now that it comes out of this administration is the problem of the COVID problems, with the idea that, as I read this and hopefully this is not going to happen, but there is a punishment, a penalty, a position that someone who is not complying could — and we’re talking about military people as well as contractors — those individuals could find themselves to be fired. Well, right now, certainly you realize, as do most people, our biggest problem right now is retention and recruitment. We did inherit a very good and positive economy. Consequently, it’s hard to find people to work ‘cause everyone’s working, and so that does create a problem. But right now if they were to — I can’t think of anything that would be worse than if we were to find ourselves in a situation where we’re letting people go, we’re firing people. It’s something that’s going to have to be corrected. I’d like any comment you might make as to what effect this could have on the morale and our recruitment and retention problem that exists today.
Vazirani: Senator, I believe that COVID, and I said my statement, that COVID is one of the readiness challenges that we face. One of the things that we've learned over the past two years is that COVID is deadly, and it detracts from readiness and that the vaccines are safe and effective. So Senator, I'm fully supportive of the president's order and the Secretary's mandate to vaccinate the force to ensure our readiness. It’s my understanding that there is an administrative process that allows for exemptions, whether they're medically necessary or due to religious belief, and then progressing administrative actions to address a service member who may decline a vaccine. So, Senator, if I'm confirmed, I would certainly look towards making sure that those processes are administered with care and compassion, so that we understand the specific needs of each service member.
Inhofe: Yeah, but here’s the problem I see is the damage is already done. Now I’m talking about — two Marines walking across the street just happened to recognize me and tell me that they were going to resign. And then, just the idea — I was enlisted personnel back in my military days. We don’t go into a lot of the details as to what the motives are and all that, but if all they read is that you better do this or you're going to be fired — well, that's just not acceptable. So I think that frankly, I think the damage is already done, and we're going have to do the best we can to remedy it. Now I know my time’s expired, but I do want to comment to Ms. Ricci that one of the problems I have in addressing a very serious problem that's out there is that we seem to be wanting to — all the efforts seem to be “what are we going to do now” as opposed to a prevention in terms of sexual assault. In other words, preventing it before it takes place, not afterwards. And so I know my time has expired.
Reed: Senator, go ahead.
Inhofe: If you just have a short answer for that.
Ricci: Yes, Senator. I agree with you, prevention is critical and that this is where the majority of our effort needs to be focused, and I believe that the IRC recommendations and Fort Hood recommendations will lead us to that prevention strategy.
Inhofe: I agree with that. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.