Eric Fanning would assume the post at a time when the Pentagon budget is under intense pressure from the administration and Congress.
WASHINGTON — President Obama is nominating Eric Fanning, a civilian adviser to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, to be the secretary of the Army, the Obama administration said Friday. The appointment would make Fanning the first openly gay secretary of a military branch.
Fanning has been the acting undersecretary of the Army as the current secretary, John McHugh, prepares to leave his post. Fanning’s Defense Department jobs have spanned the services: He has served as Air Force undersecretary, deputy undersecretary of the Navy and deputy chief management officer of the Navy.
“I can’t think of any civilian with more experience with the services, having served in senior positions in all three,” said Derek Chollet, a former assistant defense secretary. “He understands all of their unique cultures and processes.”
Education: 1986 graduate of Centerville (Ohio) High School; 1990 Dartmouth College graduate with BA in history.
1991-96: Various positions, including research assistant with the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, special assistant in the Immediate Office of the secretary of defense and associate director of political affairs at the White House.
1997-98: Associate producer, foreign and national Desks, CBS News.
2001-07: Regional director and senior vice president for Strategic Development, Business Executives for National Security.
2008-09: Deputy director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
2009-13: Deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer, Department of the Navy.
April 2013-Feb. 2015: Undersecretary of the Air Force.
Feb. 2015-June 2015: Special assistant to the secretary and deputy secretary of defense.
June-present: Acting undersecretary of the Army and chief management officer.
Dayton Daily News
If confirmed by the Senate, Fanning will help guide the country’s largest military service as it undertakes a sweeping integration of gay soldiers. While the Pentagon lifted a prohibition on openly gay service members in 2011, it continues to struggle with a culture in which such members say they feel uncomfortable.
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Fanning would assume the post at a time when the Pentagon budget is under intense pressure from the administration and Congress. The Army announced this summer that it would cut 40,000 soldiers from its current force, leaving 450,000 active-duty soldiers by the end of 2018.
The Pentagon has been forced to restrain spending because of the automatic spending reductions — known as a sequester — approved by Congress in 2011. The Army cuts would save about $7 billion.
Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a defense-oriented nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., said Friday that unless Congress acts to remove the spending reductions, the Army could fall to just 420,000 soldiers by the end of the decade.
“Eric has demonstrated his understanding in how to work the political system,” Thompson said. “This is a thankless job, but if Eric can use his political magic to turn the political systems around, then he will be a hero.”
As a civilian, Fanning never had to conform to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy governing gay service members, which was in place for more than 15 years. But his appointment demonstrates that Obama and Carter want to keep pushing the military toward more openness toward gay men and lesbians, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official noted that the administration has been working to eliminate barriers to military service based on sexuality or gender. Defense Department officials say they believe that the changes since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” have largely been a success. They say that none of the dire predictions of opponents, such as a potential exodus of troops, have come to pass, and that recruiting, retention and overall morale have not been affected.
But gay and straight service members say ending the legal barriers has not erased all cultural barriers. Some gay service members say they still experience harassment and discrimination.
Fanning, 47, a graduate of Dartmouth College, is well liked at the Pentagon, and his appointment was widely expected. As Army secretary, Fanning, who has served as chief of staff to Carter, would exert influence over the selection of generals and over Army policy, including the further integration of women into combat roles, the training of combat forces and the purchase of weapons.
Fanning has been a specialist on national security for more than two decades and has played a key role overseeing some of the Pentagon’s biggest shipbuilding and jet-fighter weapons programs.
Gay-rights groups praised Fanning’s nomination.
“We are thrilled to see Eric Fanning nominated to lead the world’s greatest army,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, a support organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families.
McHugh plans to step down no later than Nov. 1.