The Senate confirmed Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense on Tuesday, which means that after an unprecedented seven months of having an acting secretary, the Pentagon finally has a permanent leader. Program managers, service chiefs, and function advocates should brace themselves. Esper will likely conduct a “night court” process for the Department of Defense as a whole just as he did for the Army. That means that every program will need to be justified in terms of the national defense strategy’s reorientation towards great power conflict. Esper’s challenge increases because the recent budget deal does not provide enough money in FY 2021—the budget that the Pentagon is now preparing internally—even to cover inflation. Some tough trade-offs are ahead.
The Crossroads of Special Operations