U.S. Defense Department’s Top Budget Strategist to Step Down

The departure adds more uncertainty at the Pentagon, where Trump has yet to appoint a permanent secretary of defense.

The House Budget Committee displays copies of U.S. President Donald Trump's fiscal 2020 budget in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 11.
The House Budget Committee displays copies of U.S. President Donald Trump's fiscal 2020 budget in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 11. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Pentagon’s top budget and strategy analyst is expected to step down, leaving yet another top position unfilled as the U.S. Defense Department waits for President Donald Trump to name a permanent replacement for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Robert Daigle, the director of the Department of Defense’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, plans to depart next month, a senior defense official told Foreign Policy. In that position, Daigle leads an independent analysis group that helps inform the secretary’s long-term decisions on the Pentagon’s $700 billion annual budget. A former senior defense official confirmed his departure.

The news of Daigle’s exit comes at a moment of uncertainty for the Pentagon, which has been in limbo since Mattis’s resignation in December 2018 over Trump’s decision—since reversed—to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. Patrick Shanahan, Mattis’s deputy, has been serving as acting secretary of defense for a record four months.

The Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation director and the department’s comptroller are the senior officials responsible for allocating the Pentagon’s vast resources, helping make decisions from how many aircraft carriers to buy to how much money to spend on military housing. Since the beginning of this year, the comptroller, David Norquist, has filled a second position as acting deputy secretary of defense in addition to his permanent duties.

During this year’s budget negotiations, CAPE was integral to decisions to retire the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and to purchase a new version of Boeing’s F-15X for the U.S. Air Force, a defense official confirmed.

As Trump holds off on naming a permanent secretary of defense, many of the Pentagon’s most senior positions remain vacant or filled on a temporary basis. The list includes the secretary of defense, the deputy secretary of defense, two out of seven undersecretaries of defense, and nearly half the assistant secretaries of defense—among them the top civilian for international security affairs.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is also due to leave in May.

Veteran defense officials said they were alarmed by this state of affairs.

“The proliferation of actings is not helpful for the department,” said another former senior defense official. “Getting people confirmed in these roles is really important.

However, there are signs that Trump could soon tap Shanahan as permanent secretary of defense. The Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General last week cleared Shanahan of violating his ethics agreement after accusations that he inappropriately favored his former employer, Boeing. The move paves the way for Trump to nominate Shanahan, who has long been favored for the job despite some initial bumps and pushback from key lawmakers.

“You rarely get as clean a clearance from the IG as he got, and not only him as individual but the internal processes in the Pentagon also got gold stars,” said Arnold Punaro, a former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “There is no reason at this point for any further delay.”

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment for this article.

This story was updated to include information about CAPE’s involvement in major Pentagon budget decisions this year. 

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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