A functioning defense secretary lacks the permanent political capital and internal confidence. The Senate Confirmation confirms a secretary with explicit and implicit powers – from the ability to recruit and establish long-term policies in the Pentagon to the ability to communicate authoritatively with foreign counterparts and members of the Congress.
"It's just not good. You want a proxy defense secretary," Eric Edelman, the former secretary of defense policy in the George W. Bush administration, told CNN. "You need a civilian perspective, one that gives political meaning."
Association thus is the institution in the middle of an unprecedented period of leadership movement. Esper is quickly informed about the functioning secretary's complex responsibilities. But thanks to federal vacancy, Esper must go down as a secretary when he is formally appointed as a permanent position.
When that happens, Marine Secretary Richard Spencer will become the new actor and will have to go through a similar training plan – just to keep the acting job for a short time before Esper would be expected to be confirmed by the Senate.
The outlook for three working secretaries for defense within a few weeks could have been avoided if the president acted faster to nominate either Shanahan or another candidate for the top ranks. Instead, the Pentagon has been in a leadership room for six months.
Pentagon on autopilot
This is not to say that the Pentagon cannot operate without permanent civilian leadership. The Ministry of Defense consists of massive, largely self-supporting bureaucracies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military branches and the operational commands, to begin with – which means the Pentagon's daily operations will not be shut down or even noticeably slow without a permanent secretary. In many ways, the department runs itself.
But there is a reason that it is designed to have a strong, senate-confirmed civilian population at the top. It is just as much about political decisions as they are operational. The secretary's job is to put and communicate policies so that military officials can implement that policy.
But a functioning secretary is limited in that capacity. For starters, no one is clear how long they will be in the job. They are excluded from recruiting and retaining lower-level officials. They cannot initiate long-term reforms, and it is difficult for them to order authority both in Congress and internationally. Having a working secretary with responsibility for the Pentagon is not a big problem for a few weeks. But when it lasts for six months, the ramifications begin to pile up, according to half a dozen defense experts and former officials talking to CNN.
"Losing the role of such a troublesome long time has hampered the ability of the Pentagon to function in a normal way, not only in crisis, but also on long-term plans," says Peter W. Singer, a defense expert and leading employee at the New America Foundation.
Mark Hertling, a pensioner Army Commander and CNN contributor, says the uniformed officers at the Pentagon who speak to tell about their turnover and instability among the Pentagon's civilian leadership have left many in the military brass sense as if they were alone.
"When there is no guidance from civil servants, people are taking some risk," Hertling said. "Now that you have the constant churn, where it is one by one, it really puts extra stress on the military guys."
The tension can be particularly acute for military officers temporarily assigned to the Pentagon. A pensioner says CNN these officials, accustomed to "getting things done" in the field, has become frustrated by the way the bureaucratic process has slowed down in recent months due to the unclear chain of civilian command.
"When you have a lot of uncertainty, people who are lower in the food chain will only be in trouble," Gary Schmitt, a national security strategy gun at the US corporate bank.
The long-standing functioning status of top contractors in the Pentagon can be challenging US opponents. Several Republican supporters of the President of Washington have told CNN in recent days that they fear that the vacuum cleaner at the Department of Defense has partly pushed the current crisis with Iran.
No more Mattis
Mattis The departure at the end of 2018 came at a crucial time for the Pentagon and the administration's defense policy. US military began to withdraw its presence in Syria in January. Eight US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan between January and April, when the president continued to withdraw from that country. And in February, the president held a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un trying to cure the country's nuclear program.
"It's an increasingly complex time with a whole bunch of problem sets," Hertling said. "Because of the crisis you are on, there are diverse resources and staffing. You have a lot of people switching between problem sets."
"It's a zoo," he added.
Shanahan cut short
It created a vacuum on Trump's national security law, which was filled by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. Many observers in Washington clearly saw Shanahan as a placeholder.
"When you are in a cabinet meeting or the Situation room … are all polite but there is this unwritten thing where the permanent guy will get more weight than an actor," says Tom Spoehr, a former Pentagon official and director For the Center for the National Defense at the Heritage Foundation.
It had clear implications for the Trump agenda, in an appearance in March before the Senate armed service committee, Shanahan fought to defend the Space Agency's proposals, even Republican legislators ready to supporting the president came from the hearing aid like ä Skeptical
Edelman, the former Pentagon official, says he is concerned about how the lack of a permanent defense secretary has exacerbated an existing problem for the department, namely the lack of civilian officials taking political considerations to the table. The lack of authority for a functioning secretary to fill important roles maintains the vacuum cleaner policy that the military fair is not equipped to fill.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with a timeline of events since Jim Mattis resigned as Defense Minister.
CNN's Jamie Gangel and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.