Floor Statements

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on Department of Defense (DOD) nominations:

“The Senate Armed Services Committee meets today to consider the nominations of:

  • “Mark T. Esper to be Secretary of the Army;
  • “Robert L. Wilkie to be Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness;
  • “Joseph D. Kernan to be Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; and
  • “Guy B. Roberts to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs

“We thank you all for joining us this morning. We also welcome your family and friends here with us today. As is our tradition, at the beginning of your testimony we invite you to introduce those who are joining you.

“Mr. Wilkie, over half of the annual defense budget is spent on personnel costs, to include training, health care, and compensation. Our force is facing a readiness crisis, and our personnel are experiencing the strain of 16 years of continuous conflict. The next Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will be the senior official responsible for issues that have been a priority for this Committee in the last three years. The sweeping personnel reforms Congress has passed in recent defense authorization bills reflect the importance we place on these issues. If confirmed, we expect that you will work to faithfully implement these reforms and be a forward-thinking partner to this Committee as we look to ensure that serving in defense of our nation remains a compelling calling for our best and brightest Americans.        

“Admiral Kernan, if confirmed as the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, you will serve as the principal intelligence advisor to the Secretary of Defense and will be dual-hatted as the Director of Defense Intelligence in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It has been nearly 15 years since this position was created, and the security environment has changed dramatically during that time. The scope and complexity of global threats is unlike anything the nation has faced during the last seven decades. That is why it is more important than ever that this Committee and the Department make certain that the defense intelligence enterprise is appropriately structured to integrate and prioritize intelligence resources and capabilities throughout the Department. I look to our nominee to explain how he intends to reassess this structure and ensure that the military has timely and accurate intelligence to defend the nation against a rapidly evolving series of security challenges. 

“Mr. Roberts, if confirmed, you will be the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on nuclear weapons and chemical and biological defense, as well as the Executive Director of the Nuclear Weapons Council. As such, you will have a key role in shepherding the modernization programs of the nuclear triad, including the bomber, the submarine, the ICBM, the Long-Range Stand-Off Weapon, and nuclear command and control. If confirmed, we will expect you to advocate for the timely and responsible execution of these programs, which remain a cornerstone of our national defense—especially in the current strategic environment. We also expect you will work with the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy to support the recapitalization of the critical infrastructure that supports the nuclear weapons stockpile. Many of those facilities are in a disgraceful state of disrepair, and strong leadership from both the DOD and DOE will be required to keep all of these programs on time and at cost.

“Dr. Esper, there is no clearer illustration that our Army remains at war than the combat loss of four of our non-commissioned officers in Niger last month. After sixteen years of war, the Army—perhaps more than any other service—has been tested. Repeatedly, our soldiers have met that test and proved their commitment, courage, skill, and determination.

“Today, however, our Army is facing a crisis. The burden imposed on our soldiers only grows as threats to our nation increase and sequestration remains the law of the land. Given current operational demands, restoring readiness must be the Army’s first priority. We have made some progress this year toward improving the number of ready brigades that are available for deployment. But too many of our soldiers remain in brigades that are currently non-deployable, and the Army still does not plan to return to full spectrum readiness until 2021 at the earliest.

“Meanwhile, the Army is woefully behind on modernization, and our soldiers are increasingly unprepared to confront the harsh realities of 21st century warfare. With glaring capability gaps in mobility, lethality, and survivability, these problems will only get worse as our adversaries continue to modernize their forces. Put simply, our Army lacks both the adequate capacity and the key capabilities to win decisively. If confirmed, we will expect you to implement the six key priorities for force modernization the Army announced last month. You must work to turn these program goals into real weapons and equipment and put them into the hands of soldiers as soon as possible.

“Our soldiers cannot afford the false choice between readiness and modernization. Building a ready, modern Army will require visionary leadership and a clear strategy. If confirmed, we will expect you to lead the Army to those ends. You will have to learn the lessons of the past, make tough decisions, take and manage real risks, and hold yourself and those working for you accountable for results. When you do so, you will always have an ally in this Chairman and this Committee.

“Finally, Dr. Esper, I would be remiss if I did not reiterate my concerns about the number of nominees from defense industry filling out the leadership ranks at the Department of Defense. I want to be clear that my reservations grew out of early consultations I had with the Administration about potential nominations, including yours and a handful of others that were yet to be nominated. It was then that I decided I couldn’t support further nominees with that background, beyond those we had already discussed. I appreciate your commitment not only to recuse yourself from matters related to the Raytheon Company but further not to seek or accept waivers to your recusal obligations—and I would like to submit your letter stating that commitment into the record, without objection.

“Again, let me thank all of our witnesses for their willingness to serve our nation at this challenging time.”