The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Mark Esper to be the next Defense secretary, 90-8, bringing to an end an eight-month period during which the massive bureaucracy was led by a series of acting leaders.
Esper, who has served as Army secretary since 2017, follows James Mattis as President Donald Trump’s second Senate-confirmed Defense secretary.
The largely bipartisan vote to send Esper to the Pentagon’s top job reflects concerns on both sides of the aisle about bringing leadership stability to a Defense Department grappling with a wide array of foes and threats, as well as stateside challenges like decrepit military housing.
Esper’s confirmation comes as Congress and the White House have agreed in principle to a two-year budget deal that will give the Pentagon a $738 billion budget for fiscal 2020 and $740.5 billion in fiscal 2021.
As Army secretary, Esper has prioritized modernizing the service’s weapons systems, something the Army has struggled to do for two decades as Russia and China beef up their military capabilities.
Esper in his previous role was particularly bullish on integrating artificial intelligence capabilities into Army weapons systems, arguing that doing so would give the Army “overmatch” for years. Presumably as secretary, Esper will call for similar improvements across the military.
For the moment, Esper, who briefly served as acting Defense secretary, will lead subordinates filling temporary roles. The Pentagon is currently operating without a Senate-confirmed Air Force secretary, Army secretary and deputy Defense secretary, among other posts.
The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday will hold a confirmation hearing for David Norquist, Pentagon comptroller, to serve as Esper’s deputy. The Senate could approve Norquist’s nomination before the chamber leaves town for its scheduled August recess.