WASHINGTON — A woman may serve as secretary of the Army in the Department of Defense for the first time.
President Joe Biden will tap Christine Wormuth, a former adviser for the Defense Department during former President Barack Obama’s terms in office, to helm a branch of the military that is under scrutiny amid several recent events, including the riot at the U.S Capitol on Jan. 6. Pentagon officials allegedly delayed authorization to deploy National Guard troops to quell the attacks, according to testimony from the head of the District of Columbia National Guard.
The Defense Department has also been criticized for unchecked sexual harassment and assault on some military bases and systemic failures in addressing sexual assault complaints.
Here’s what to know about Christine Wormuth:
She is an international security expert
Wormuth directs the the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND Corporation, a public policy research organization, where she is also a senior fellow. She writes and speaks about foreign policy, national and homeland security in the role.
She joined the Obama administration in 2009
Wormuth served as the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and civil support, according to The White House. Per her LinkedIn page, Wormuth was promoted to special assistant to the president and senior director for defense in 2010. Four years later, the U.S. Senate confirmed her as the under secretary of defense for policy, according to a Defense Department biography. Wormuth’s chief duty was principal staff assistant to former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former Deputy Secretary Ash Carter in developing national security and defense policy and oversight of national security objectives.
She served as staff director of ‘The Jones Commission’
The commission was designed to conduct an independent assessment of Iraqi Security Forces during former President George W. Bush’s second term in office. ISF was evaluated on its ability to secure Iraq’s 18 provinces, deny terrorists a safe haven and bring an end to sectarian violence, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. As staff director, Wormuth traveled to Iraq to assess the readiness of Iraqi police forces, according to the Defense Department.
She led the Biden-Harris Defense Agency Review Team
Wormuth was one of six mostly female members of Biden’s Pentagon transition team, Foreign Policy reported. She assisted in establishing a list of priorities for the administration’s foreign policy objectives.
Secretary of Defense endorses her
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed confidence in Biden’s pick in an official statement released Monday.
“Christine is a true patriot with a dedicated career in service to America and our nation’s security,” Austin said. “As the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Christine advanced the department’s counter-ISIS campaign and the rebalance to Asia, and her deep expertise will be critical in addressing and deterring today’s global threats, including the pacing challenge from China and nation-state threats emanating from Russia, Iran, and North Korea.”
“I have no doubt that, if confirmed, she will lead our soldiers and represent their families with honor and integrity as the Secretary of the Army,” he continued.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also lauded Wormuth’s nomination.
“This is a historic nomination. Christine Wormuth has dedicated her distinguished career to public service and safeguarding the nation,” Reed said in a statement. “She brings experience, expertise, and strategic vision to this new role, having served in senior level positions throughout the Department of Defense and the NSC.”
The challenges Wormuth faces
Wormuth, if confirmed, will inherit problems from her predecessor that range from dysfunction in the treatment and safety of soldiers at one of its key installations and concerns about politics swaying its decisions in dealing with domestic unrest.
Fort Hood, the sprawling Army post in Texas, became the epicenter last year for the Army’s troubled history of handling of sexual harassment and assault. The murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen there last year exposed how complaints about sexual harassment, of which she had raised, and the safety of soldiers in general had been called into question.
Guillen’s complaint and murder, though not connected, according to the Army, prompted a wide-ranging, independent investigation of life on Fort Hood. The panel found commanders at the Army’s largest base had created a “permissive environment” that allowed sexual harassment and assault to occur with little consequence. Wormuth’s predecessor, Ryan McCarthy, fired or suspended 14 Army leaders at Fort Hood as a result of the investigation.
Last June, Pentagon and Army leaders fended off attempts by then-President Donald Trump to deploy active duty troops to quell mostly peaceful protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. However, aggressive tactics by the Army National Guard, under McCarthy’s authority, drew criticism and an inspector general’s investigation after demonstrators were blasted by winds from low-flying military helicopters.
Members of Congress blasted McCarthy and other Pentagon leaders after they were seen as slow to respond to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, said it took senior officials at the Pentagon more than three hours to allow him to send reinforcements to support beleaguered Capitol Police. Walker testified he needed just 20 minutes to send help.
Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook