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John Kerry Hires New Arms Sales Gatekeeper at State Dept.

Secretary of State John Kerry has tapped one of Congress’s longest serving overseers of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to become the State Department’s new gatekeeper of arms sales to foreign countries, Foreign Policy has learned.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12:  A sign stand outside the U.S. State Department September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: A sign stand outside the U.S. State Department September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry has tapped one of Congress’s longest serving overseers of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to become the State Department’s new gatekeeper of arms sales to foreign countries.

The hiring of Bill Monahan, which has not previously been reported, removes the veteran staffer from the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he has been knee-deep in scrutinizing the Pentagon’s conduct of the twin conflicts as well as the U.S. military’s coordination with governments in Europe and South Asia. The new position at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs will put Monahan in charge of managing the sale and transfer of U.S. arms to foreign governments and about $6 billion in U.S. military grants to American allies.

“He’s going to be missed, but he’s going to be a great asset to the State Department,” Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told Foreign Policy.

Secretary of State John Kerry has tapped one of Congress’s longest serving overseers of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to become the State Department’s new gatekeeper of arms sales to foreign countries.

The hiring of Bill Monahan, which has not previously been reported, removes the veteran staffer from the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he has been knee-deep in scrutinizing the Pentagon’s conduct of the twin conflicts as well as the U.S. military’s coordination with governments in Europe and South Asia. The new position at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs will put Monahan in charge of managing the sale and transfer of U.S. arms to foreign governments and about $6 billion in U.S. military grants to American allies.

“He’s going to be missed, but he’s going to be a great asset to the State Department,” Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told Foreign Policy.

Despite its obscure and unassuming title — deputy assistant secretary for regional security and security assistance — the position wields significant clout in the booming military sales world.

“All of the conventional U.S. arms sales around the world go through that person,” said a Republican congressional aide familiar with the position. “If you are a Boeing or a Lockheed Martin or a Raytheon … you don’t want that person on your bad side.”

The job of vetting and approving U.S. military sales has become increasingly daunting as the American defense industry expands sales to foreign clients. According to a new Congressional Research Service report delivered to lawmakers last month, foreign arm sales spiked by nearly $10 billion in 2014 despite increased competition and a flat global weapons market. U.S. sales soared to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion in 2013 largely thanks to multi-billion dollar deals with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and South Korea. By comparison, Russia, the second largest weapons supplier, only maintained $10.2 billion in sales in 2014, down from $10.3 billion the year before.

“For the defense industry, with their revenue projections increasingly dependent on foreign sales, this job is becoming all the more important,” said a senior congressional aide.

The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs occasionally clashes with Congress over controversial arms deals made by the U.S. government. Last month, the State Department came under a wave of congressional scrutiny after approving the shipment of $1.3 billion in smart bombs and other warheads to Saudi Arabia as it executes a protracted military campaign in Yemen with a growing toll of civilian casualties.

The State Department would not comment on the departure of Gregory Kausner, the outgoing deputy assistant secretary, but congressional sources say the Navy reservist and fighter pilot was called to active duty.

Prior to serving at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Monahan worked as a senior policy adviser to Reed and previously to now-retired Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on defense and foreign policy issues related to Europe, NATO, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

“His departure creates a huge institutional memory loss,” said the senior congressional aide. “Bill is one of the few staffers handling this vast array of sensitive regional and functional issues almost since the beginning of the Iraq War.”

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