Christine Wormuth Pledges to Defend Army from Navy, Air Force Budget Grabs



The nominee to be President Joe Biden’s Army secretary is pledging to resist efforts to cut the service’s funding and end strength in favor of modernizing the Navy or Air Force.

During her nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Christine Wormuth pledged to be a “very strong advocate” for the Army and said she would be “quite skeptical” of any proposals that include major cuts to its force structure, which she said could harm soldiers.

“I would not want to see us return to the days of 15-month-long deployments and regular use of stop-loss,” Wormuth told Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. “I will certainly be a strong advocate for the Army in the event that we have to make hard choices.”

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Cotton, who served in the Army, said Wormuth likely will be facing tight budgets if she is confirmed as the service’s secretary.

He raised a possible scenario in the near future in which urgent Air Force and Navy priorities could no longer be postponed, and the Defense Department paid for those efforts by taking money from the Army. In that situation, he said, “maybe the easiest place to come down there is a reduction in end strength.”

“I don’t think anyone would be well-served by looking at the Army as just a bill-payer,” said Wormuth, responding to Cotton’s agreement.

Wormuth said she agreed with the Army’s current stance that long-range precision fires should be the service’s top priority, particularly considering the anti-access area denial defensive capabilities of adversaries in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region.

“Given the quite sophisticated integrated air defenses that we’ll likely be facing [in those regions], I think it behooves us to develop capabilities that allow us to strike targets from very long distances,” Wormuth said.

But if the Army is forced to make hard budgetary choices, Wormuth said she plans to look carefully across the service’s entire modernization program.

Wormuth, who, if confirmed, will be the first woman to serve as the Army’s top civilian, encountered collegial questioning during her two-hour nomination hearing. Though some Republicans expressed skepticism about some of the Biden administration’s priorities, such as the focus on rooting out extremism in the ranks, no issues emerged that appeared likely to trip up her confirmation. 

During the second Obama administration, Wormuth was the third-most senior civilian in the Pentagon, serving as under secretary of defense for policy from 2014 to 2016 under former Defense Secretaries Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter. Hagel introduced Wormuth at Thursday’s hearing.

When she was nominated last month, Wormuth was serving as director of the Rand Corporation’s International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Wormuth backed the administration’s decision to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan, saying the United States has succeeded in preventing the nation from being used as a base to launch terrorist attacks.

“I think the members of our military, and certainly our Army soldiers in particular, can be very proud of what they have done in Afghanistan,” Wormuth said. “But I think at this time, we owe it to those soldiers and their families to conclude that it’s time now to move to other future challenges.”

Wormuth told Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., that U.S. Central Command will look very carefully at how to keep watch on Afghanistan for future terrorist threats, and that the U.S. will keep funding Afghan security forces so they can protect their nation.

Wormuth also pledged to continue the Army’s work on fighting sexual assault and sexual harassment, and supported its decision to implement all 70 of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee recommendations — not only at Fort Hood in Texas, but across the entire Army.

Wormuth said she read the commission’s report “cover to cover, and when I was done, I was extremely angry and frustrated.”

“I think the commission’s report makes plain that the Army has real issues when it comes to this topic, and I think there’s quite a bit of work to be done,” Wormuth said.

She also said she wants to look at ways to go further, and improve training to prevent sexual assault.

“I’m not talking here about more Powerpoint slides that people just sort of go to mental screensaver on,” Wormuth said. “I’m talking about training that’s much more hands-on and gets people involved in scenarios and talks to people about bystander training. Because I think that’s something else we want our soldiers to, if they see something happening, be part of stopping it.”

Wormuth said she also wants the Army to work on “pushing a positive command climate down to the lowest possible level, so that those junior enlisted soldiers between 17 and 24 feel safe, feel protected and are looking out for each other.”

And Wormuth said she looks forward to seeing what recommendations the Pentagon’s Independent Review Commission produces for stopping sexual assault and sexual harassment.

— Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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