As the United States moves to inaugurate its 46th president next week, the Department of Defense continues in its mission to defend the American people, our Constitution, allies and interests. Among all government agencies, the DOD holds the most solemn responsibility to conduct a seamless transfer of power from one administration to the next.
When it comes to the defense of the country, there is no honeymoon period granted by our enemies for a new administration’s learning curve.
That is why, as the department’s chief of staff and head of the transition (as designated by regulation), I ordered the DOD to fully cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden. That process began Nov. 23, the day the General Services Administration announced transition activities could occur.
The process will continue through next week’s inauguration, where the National Guard will defend the ceremony and participants, with 15,000 guardsmen positioned in Washington to uphold the Constitution and rule of law.
At the outset of this historic process, it was important to me that the transition with our DOD political and career officials take place in full transparency and in a collegial manner. Though that was deemed ambitious by many cynics in today’s highly charged political environment, the department’s professionals nonetheless quietly went about the business of the transition with remarkable efficiency. They carried out the process with precision, poise and honor.
The Biden team initially requested 130 interviews, eventually increasing that to 225 — a far greater number than prior administrations. To date, we have completed 213, involving more than 550 senior department officials.
The department also completed 261 requests for information and 43 initial transition books constituting upwards of 7,200 pages. This was all accomplished amid the ongoing challenge of COVID-19, which has caused the Pentagon to operate with only 40% of our workforce in the building.
I’m proud of, and would like to thank, the career national security professionals who have worked so hard to fulfill the expectations of the American people.
Shortly before Christmas, Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller paused the interview process for one day (Dec. 18, 2020) so that our senior leadership could focus on other pressing national security matters, including threats from Iran, a data breach, and two COVID-19 vaccines that were released that week with the help of Operation Warp Speed.
Though this one-day pause caused much false speculation that the DOD was halting the transition entirely, Acting Secretary Miller and I both made sure to reach out to the transition team for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to personally guarantee them that the transition activities would resume and the media chatter about nefarious plots was just that: chatter.
Indeed, transition activities did resume as promised, and 20 more interviews will occur this week.
Every American can take pride in our nation’s history of the peaceful transfer of power. That’s no small thing in a country founded by a willful, independent and fiercely-determined people.
Here at the Department of Defense, we will ensure that the new leaders of the world’s most powerful military are fully prepared to assume the helm at noon Jan. 20. Along with the entire department, I wish them the utmost success and am grateful for their service to the country. I’m sure leading the brave men and women who wear the cloth of our nation will be the greatest honors of their lives, as it has been for me.