WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s musical chairs for leadership is following the technical tune of political protocol, but the slick timing of the scorecard of portraits is slightly off- key.
Like clockwork, a photograph of Mark Esper — who had been serving as acting defense secretary — was replaced Monday afternoon by a photo of Richard Spencer, who took over the position when Esper’s nomination for defense secretary reached the Senate.
However, in that gallery of leaders at the Pentagon’s River Entrance, the one used by most senior defense officials and foreign dignitaries, Esper’s photo was returned to his location of Army secretary — next to Spencer’s portrait as Navy secretary.
That is a protocol glitch of huge proportion.
When Spencer was elevated to acting defense secretary and thus no longer performing the duties of secretary of the Navy, his “Navy” protrait should have been removed. In its stead should have been the visage of Thomas Modly, the Under Secretary of the Navy, who became acting secretary of the Navy.
As of Wednesday — two very long days later — Modly remains missing.
Pentagon officials were not available for comment.
Esper had a nomination hearing for defense secretary on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The chair of the committee. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Wednesday that he expects Esper to be confirmed no later than Tuesday, July 23.
If Esper is confirmed, his photo would move back to the defense secretary slot and Spencer’s would move one space over as the acting defense secretary. That is because David Norquist, the Pentagon comptroller who also has also been “performing the duties” of the deputy defense secretary since January, is expected to receive a formal nomination from President Donald Trump to be deputy defense secretary.
At that point, Norquist will go back to being comptroller and Spencer will “perform the duties” of the deputy defense secretary. If the Senate confirms Norquist, Spencer would return to being Navy secretary (where his second portrait now sits in the oversight).
Esper’s confirmation would mean that Ryan McCarthy, the Army undersecretary, will have his photo back on the gallery. He is expected to be formally nominated to replace Esper as Army secretary.
After all, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.