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Transcript: Hearing of Erin Conaton to be Under Secretary of the Air Force

Erin Conaton at her confirmation hearing last week
Erin Conaton at her confirmation hearing last week

A previous post reported on the nomination of Erin Conaton to be the Under Secretary of the Air Force. In case you missed it, her confirmation hearing was held on the 19th of November before the Senate Armed Service Committee.  The webcast of the hearing can be found here. The transcript of the hearing follows below:


SENATOR LEVIN: (Sounds gavel.) Good morning, everybody. The committee — I don’t think these mikes are on. Could someone take a look? It’s just my mike here, I think.

The committee meets today to consider the nominations of Dr. Clifford Stanley to be Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Erin Conaton to be Under Secretary of the Air Force, and Lawrence Romo to be Director of the Selective Service System.

By the way, I’m not sure these mikes are still working at all. Can somebody check the mikes?

We welcome our nominees and their families to today’s hearing. Senior Department of Defense officials put in long and uncertain hours, and we appreciate very much the sacrifices of our nominees to serve their country, their continuing sacrifices in most of their cases. But their families deserve equal gratitude for the support that they provide because that support is essential to the success of these officials.

Today’s nominees are highly qualified for the positions to which they’ve been nominated. Dr. Stanley served 33 years in the Marine Corps, became the Marines first African-American regimental commander, and retired in 2002 as a two-star general.

Since that time, Dr. Stanly has served executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania and president of Scholarship America. If confirmed, he will be the principle adviser to the secretary of Defense on the recruitment, retention, pay and benefits, health care, readiness, and quality of life of the men and women of our armed forces.

He will also be the primary official responsible for shaping and developing the Department of Defense’s 680,000-person civilian workforce as the department implements the secretary’s new hiring plan.

Ms. Conaton has served as research staff director for the Hart- Rudman Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, a professional staff member of the House Armed Services Committee, and most recently as the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee.

And if confirmed, she will be the second ranking official in the Department of the Air Force and will serve as the chief management officer of the Air Force.

Previous under secretaries have also been designated DOD’s executive agent for space. We do not know yet whether Ms. Conaton will exercise this responsibility.

Ms. Conaton is, of course, well known to all members of our committee for her hard work, her capable leadership in our conferences on the National Defense Authorization Act. I am confident that we’re going to be able to forgive her for her persistence in supporting the House position (laughter) in these conferences.

And I think the person sitting to her right is very well aware of just how well she did in her persistence and how she accomplished things which should not have been accomplished. (Laughter.)

Mr. Romo retired as lieutenant colonel after a career in the Air Force Reserves. He’s current Soldier and Family Assistance Program Manager for the Army’s 5th Recruiting Brigade and the admissions liaison officer for the Air Force Academy.

And if confirmed, he will be responsible for managing the Selective Service system of our country.

We look forward to the testimony of our nominees, to their speedy confirmation. I now call upon Senator McCain, and then we will quickly call upon our dear friend, Ike Skelton, for an introduction.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I welcome our friend, Congressman Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is here with — on a mistaken mission this morning — but we’re always happy to see him.

And we very much appreciate the environment that persists thanks to the efforts of Ms. Conaton and our staff that makes us work successfully together in maintaining a record of a defense authorization bill being signed by the president of the United States for many years now.

I welcome all the nominees and their families. I thank them for their willingness to serve in these key leadership positions.

Dr. Stanley, the nominee to be under secretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness, has a distinguished 33-year career as a Marine Corps officer culminating in his assignments as Commanding General Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, and deputy commanding general Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico.

His employment as president of Scholarship America demonstrates his commitment to public service and the importance of education and personnel development.

The manpower and readiness challenges facing the Department of Defense and the services in this eighth year of the War on Terrorism are many. In your advanced policy question responses, you identified the challenges of continuing to sustain the all-volunteer force and ensuring appropriate compensation and personnel policies, quality health care, and essential support to military families and wounded warriors.

I agree with you and I would add the challenge of formulating policies and programs aimed at ensuring the highest possible readiness of our personnel and operational units during a time of great stress, at preventing sexual assaults and suicide, at bringing under control the rising costs of personnel as an overall part of the DOD budget without eroding readiness, at restructuring the National Security Personnel System and creating an acquisition workforce that is capable of delivering weapons systems on time and within budget.

Now, Dr. Stanley, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenge that will probably fall under your purview of eliminating or changing the DOD homosexual conduct policy. As I’ve stated before, I believe that the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy works, is not a failure as some have proclaimed.

I would be opposed to any attempt to modifying the existing policy in ways that will harm military readiness or place upon the shoulders of military leaders an extra burden that they simply do not need.

If change in policy is contemplated, it should be accompanied by input and studies by the joint chiefs, input by people like yourself, hearings, and votes before this fundamental policy, which has worked successfully, in my view, is changed for political reasons.

Ms. Conaton, the nominee for the position of undersecretary of the Air Force is currently the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, and I know you’ll be missed by Chairman Skelton. You’ll be missed by all of us. You’ve done an outstanding job.

And I congratulate you for all the work you’ve done. You’ll be an asset to Secretary Donnelly and General Schwartz, and I congratulate you on your nomination.

Mr. Romo is the nominee to be the director of the Selective Service System. An Air Force Academy graduate, Mr. Romo served over 20 years in the Air Force in the Air Force Reserve. Since 1999, as a civilian employee of the Army’s Recruiting Command, he has headed up the Soldier Family Assistance Program in the San Antonio, Texas, region.

The Selective Service System, while an independent agency, continues to be an important element in our national defense planning. The all-volunteer military is a strategic national resource that has never been more capable and respected.

I certainly hope we’ll never face the requirement to reinstate the draft. It’s essential that we retain the Selective Service System and the means to do so.

I look forward to the testimony of the nominee today, and I, again, thank you them and all their families for their service.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you very much, Senator McCain.

Now, we’re going to call upon our good friend, Chairman Ike Skelton of the House Armed Services Committee, for an introduction. We welcome you enthusiastically, Ike. It’s always great to see you.

REP. SKELTON: Thank you, Senator. Is this on?

SEN. LEVIN: There’s something wrong, Ike, with the — just talk as loudly as you possibly can because the mikes, Ike, are not working.

REP. SKELTON: All right. Well, it’s an honor to be here this morning, Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain. It’s a bittersweet moment for me. I’m here to recommend and urge the confirmation of Erin Conaton, the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, to be the under secretary of the United States Air Force.

Seldom is there a combination or confluence of talent, good judgment, knowledge, devotion to duty, common sense, and, as we say in Missouri, “good get along” particularly someone who is of the tender age of Erin Conaton.

She’s a remarkable young lady. We, on the Armed Services Committee, have been the beneficiaries of her hard work — hard work — good judgment, fantastic talent. And I know that the Air Force will be in good hands.

She’s a good manager. She handles people very, very well. She’s respectful, and her knowledge is as good as anyone I have ever run into in a position comparable to hers.

I ask that my formal remarks be placed in the record.

Educated at Georgetown, Tufts University, on the Hart-Rudman Commission as a staffer, as you mentioned in your opening remarks. She came as a staff member on the Armed Services Committee. And when I became the ranking member, she was the ranking staff director and now, since we’ve been in the majority, she has been the director and has run the Armed Services Committee as well as anyone in the history of my some 33 years in this Congress.

I’m privileged to know her. We are all privileged to have been the beneficiaries of her fantastically first-rate work. And she’s a good friend. I know that our country will be in — not just good hands — but better hands with her as undersecretary of the Air Force.

I sincerely urge her confirmation, and I know she will make us all proud.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you very much, Representative Skelton — Chairman Skelton. I know how much that extraordinary tribute and introduction means to Ms. Conaton, and it does mean a great deal to us as well. Your entire statement will, of course, be made part of the record, and we know that you’ve got a heavy load in your schedule so that you are excused or free to leave at any time that you wish.

The — let’s see if there’s any other introductions here. Okay.

Let me now ask all three of our witnesses the standard questions, and then we will call upon each of them for their opening statements. They can introduce families or whoever else that is with them that they would like to introduce here.

Here are the three standard — here are the standard questions that we ask all three of you.

Have you adhered to applicable laws and regulations governing conflicts of interest?

(All witnesses respond in the affirmative.)

Have you assumed any duties or undertaken any actions which will appear to presume the outcome of the confirmation process?

(All witnesses respond in the negative.)

Will you ensure your staff complies with deadlines established for requested communications, including questions for the record in hearings?

(All witnesses respond in the affirmative.)

Will you cooperate in providing witnesses and briefers in response to congressional requests?

(All witnesses respond in the affirmative.)

Will those witnesses be protected from reprisal for their testimony or briefings?

(All witnesses respond in the affirmative.)

Do you agree, if confirmed, to appear and testify upon request before this committee?

(All witnesses respond in the affirmative.)

And do you agree to provide documents, including copies of electronic forms of communication, in a timely manner when requested by a duly constituted committee or to consult with the committee regarding the basis for any good-faith delay or denial in providing such documents?

(All witnesses respond in the affirmative.)

Okay. Now, I think in terms of the order here for you to give your opening statements and introduce people who accompany you today, we’ll first call upon you, Dr. Stanley, and then Ms. Conaton and then Mr. Romo. That will be the order.

Dr. Stanley?

GEN. STANLEY: Thank you, Senator. Good morning.

Chairman Levin, Senator McCain, members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear here today.

I thank President Obama for having the confidence in me to nominate me to be the under secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for the Department of Defense.

I’m also appreciative to Secretary Gates and Deputy Secretary Lynn for their support.

My wife, Rosalyn, and daughter, Lieutenant Commander Angela Stanley, United States Navy, are here today along with — accompanying my wife is our service dog and family companion, Juno.

Not present today but serving in uniform is my niece, Air Force Staff Sergeant Michelle (sp) Stanley.

My wife’s support throughout my career and the inherent challenges associated with special needs as we moved from duty station to duty station have afforded me add insights into the needs of military families. The service of our daughter, niece, and many friends still serving has kept me current on many of the issues shared by both men and women currently serving in uniform.

The president and Congress, particularly the members of this committee, are working together to support our military, their families, and Defense Department personnel serving our nation.

If confirmed, I would do my best to ensure optimal standards of personnel support and operational readiness.

That concludes my statement.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you very much, Dr. Stanley.

Ms. Conaton?

MS. CONATON: Thank you, Chairman Levin. And let me just say at the outset thank you to you, Senator McCain and to the chairman for those extraordinarily kind words.

It’s an honor to appear before all of you today and an honor to be nominated for this position. At the outset, I would like to thank President Obama for nominating me and Secretary Gates, Deputy Secretary Lynn, and Secretary Donnelly for supporting this nomination.

If confirmed, I greatly look forward to working with all of them.

My current boss and mentor, Chairman Skelton, likes to note Cicero’s adage, gratitude is the greatest of all virtues. I’ve all agreed with him in this and all things, and in that regard, I need to say a few more words of thanks.

First, I have a lot of friends and family here today. It’s not an understatement to say that I would not be here without their unwavering support. I’d like to acknowledge my parents, Stan and Pat, my aunt and uncle, Judy and Tom, my brother and sister-in-law, Shawn (sp) and Erin (sp), my sister and her partner, Meg and Drew. But most especially, I am thrilled that my two-year-old niece, Norah (sp) can be here today and that her four-year-old brother, William, was able to be excused from pre-school to be here with us. (Laughter.)

SEN. LEVIN: Well, he would have probably been here even if he weren’t excused. He looks like — (laughter.)

MS. CONATON: I think that’s right.

Second, I’m confident that I would not be nominated for this position if it was not for the gentleman from Missouri, Chairman Ike Skelton. I have benefitted greatly from his wisdom and counsel and from his friendship. He’s already provided me some additional wisdom in the event that I’m confirmed by reminding me that I should always ask myself what would Harry Truman do.

I have to admit that the prospect of not working directly with him every day made the choice to accept this nomination very difficult. I can only hope that I will make him proud, if confirmed to this position.

Finally, I would like to thank the tremendous staff associated with this committee and the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, which I have been privileged to lead. These staffs, both those who work in member offices and those who serve the committees directly, are extraordinary professionals.

I have been privileged to work with them over those years, and I have learned much from our debates, deliberations, and friendship.

Mr. Chairman, this committee knows well the challenges facing the Air Force and has been instrumental in efforts to address them. The Air Force is a great service with a proud history and a commitment to service shared by the nearly 700,000 members of the Air Force family, active duty, Reserve, National Guard, and civilians.

If confirmed, I would consider it a privilege to become part of that family and to help Secretary Donnelly, General Schwartz, and General Chandler in their strong leadership of this service.

I would also welcome the opportunity to contribute to the joint effort, working with the other services, the team that makes up the office of the secretary of Defense, and the Congress. I also would like to say what an honor it is to be on the same panel as Dr. Stanley and Mr. Romo, and I would look forward to working with both of them.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I thank you, Senator McCain, and the committee again for this opportunity, and I look forward to your questions.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you so much. And, again, our thanks for your great service to the House committee and the way in which you’ve worked with our staff as well. Your comments are, I know, appreciated by them and appreciated by us.

Mr. Romo?

MR. ROMO: Chairman Levin, Ranking Member McCain, and members of the committee, good morning. I’m, indeed, honored and humbled that President Obama has expressed his confidence in me to become the twelfth director of Selective Service.

Pending Senate confirmation, I look forward to serving my country in this unique position. At one time or another, I think most of us have dreamt about being placed in charge of an organization where we can make the difference. If I am confirmed as director, you will be placing me in a fortunate situation.

As someone who is very interested in national security and our armed forces, I believe I am highly qualified to preserve the best aspects of a proud agency that has a distinguished 69-year history while making improvements to operational efficiency, motivating employees and volunteers, and boosting morale.

The Selective Service System is an important federal agency with dedicated people doing terrific work, but there is always room for improvements. I know about people, and I have studied how the Selective Service System operates. I understand its importance to national defense, readiness.

As America’s only proven defense manpower insurance for our nation’s all-volunteer military, I stand ready to make the needed improvements to the agency’s structure and priorities and defend its budget and necessity existence as a key component of our national defense.

And because of personal experiences with the military and our wonderful veterans, I also understand and believe in the role that every young man must play with regard to the Selective Service. I will encourage the two million men reaching age 18 every year in the United States that they must live up to their patriotic, legal, and civic obligation to help provide for the common defense by registering with the Selective Service.

With your support, I stand ready to take up the challenges of this important assignment, and I thank you for considering me. And I want to thank you all for the service you do to our country.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you so much, Mr. Romo.

Let me start asking questions of Dr. Stanley.

Dr. Stanley, as you know, our service members and their families are under severe stress.

One component of the stress is the repeated and lengthy combat deployments, especially in the Army and Marine Corps, and the lack of adequate dwell time for our service members.

What can you tell us about your views on that issue? And what would be your plans and hopes in terms of that challenge?

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator.

We have, as I alluded to in the opening statement — but the all- volunteer force is actually going to be one of the top priorities, if confirmed.

SEN. LEVIN: The voices are going to be going on and off because the mikes are off and off. So can you — but just — I don’t know if you can hear when the mike goes on –

GEN. STANLEY: I can hear it kind of going up and down.

SEN. LEVIN: Yeah. So keep your voices up as high as you possibly can.

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator.

The all-volunteer force is actually one of the highest priorities. And under that subset of the all-volunteer force, is, of course, wounded warrior, dwell time issues, family issues, the stress that’s affecting our military today.

And so, if confirmed, I promise that that will be one of the top priorities that I’ll be focusing on as undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

SEN. LEVIN: In April, Dr. Stanley, Secretary Gates determined that the Department of Defense had gone too far in relying on service contractors to perform basic functions, announced that the department would seek to substitute civilian employees for contractors in critical roles.

He stated, quote, “Our goal is to hire as many as 13,000 new civil servants in FY ’10 to replace contractors and up to 30,000 new civil servants in place of contractors over the next five years.

Would you agree that the civilian employee workforce of the department plays a critical role in the success of the department’s activities? And if confirmed, will you make the planning and management of that change and of the civilian workforce a high priority?

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator, I would and I do.

SEN. LEVIN: Our service members have now been fighting in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom for many, many years. And the wear on our service members and their families continue to grow.

Timely access to mental health care for both service members and their families must be a priority as these brave men and women work through what they’ve experienced in combat and the hardships that they face at home while they are loved ones are away at war. What efforts should be untaken to increase the number of mental health professionals available to service members and their families?

GEN. STANLEY: Well, Senator, as I understand it, if confirmed, we know that the mental health stress on our troops, their families, and really also the entire Department of Defense is very significant. So if confirmed, this would be an area that I would put a lot of emphasis in.

We know that right now probably one of the most important things that I could do, if confirmed, would be to actually ensure that we have the right people selected to help with that process of selecting the best people as we look at these difficult — these challenging issues of stress within the armed forces.

SEN. LEVIN: And, by the way, I didn’t announce this, but why don’t we have a nine-minute first round for whoever is keeping time there?

Senator McCain made reference to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The president’s made it clear that he would like to see that federal statute repealed. You will be responsible for leading the implementation of any change in the policy within the Department of Defense if that policy is changed.

And before it’s changed, there would, of course, be a significant input from the uniformed military and from others. There will be hears, of course, before any change is voted in, and then there will be votes to determine whether, in fact, such a change should take place.

If you are confirmed, will you give us your best objective opinion on the question of whether or not “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be maintained or dropped?

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator, I will.

SEN. LEVIN: Ms. Conaton, the undersecretary position also serves as the chief management officer of the Air Force, as I mentioned. We established that provision in 2007 out of the frustration that we had with the inability of the military departments to modernize their business systems and their processes.

We chose to have the under secretary serve concurrently as chief management officer because no other official in the Air Force other than the secretary sits at a high enough level to cut across stovepipes and implement comprehensive change.

I think you give us one of the great opportunities that we’ll have to achieve a comprehensive change because you know this subject so well. Will you make modernization of the Air Force’s business systems and processes a top priority?

MS. CONATON: Yes, Senator, I will.

SEN. LEVIN : And give us an idea, if you can, on how you’re going to balance your duties as the chief management officer with the other duties that you’ll have as undersecretary?

MS. CONATON: Yes, thank you, Chairman Levin.

My understanding of the roles and responsibilities of this position is that, as undersecretary of the Air Force, I would be responsible for being the principle assistant and deputy to the secretary and to take on such roles and responsibilities as he sees as appropriate.

In addition to that, you point out, rightly — and, obviously, I was involved from the Hill perspective in helping to give the responsibility to this position for chief management officer. I think you’re right to point out the daunting nature of that task.

I’ve been informed that the Air Force already has an office dedicated to the chief management officer’s responsibilities up and running. If confirmed, I’ll look forward to working with them to see how far along they are and be able to give you all my best assessment of where we stand and to balance those duties with the other things that Secretary Donnelly would ask me to take on.

SEN. LEVIN: The efforts to improve business systems in the Department of Defense, for instance, by purchasing commercial off-the- shelf systems frequently fail because too many people in the department want to keep doing things the same way that they’ve always been done, refuse to give up unique business processes and data requirements that don’t fit in the new systems.

Instead of instituting approaches that have worked in the private sector, the department ends up spending hundreds of millions, indeed billions, to tailor off-the-shelf systems to interface with obsolete systems and to me the unique demands of DOD users.

Now, such changes have resulted in delays, duplication, added expense, and system failure. Do you believe that you will have the authority needed to work across stovepipes and to drive the change in the Air Force’s business processes that is so needed — so much needed to effectively implement new business systems?

MS. CONATON: Yes, Mr. Chairman. I believe that that is the intent of the law as it was passed by this Congress and that that is the way it is being implemented in the department.

If I find, upon confirmation, that there are additional authorities needed, I would certainly let this committee know that.

SEN. LEVIN: Well, that was my next question. Will you let us know promptly when you run into those obstacles and if you need additional authorities because this has been a long-standing goal of this committee, indeed, the House committee and the Congress? So if you’ll do that, we would appreciate it.

MS. CONATON: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. LEVIN: On the question of the next tanker aircraft, do you agree that that the new tanker is needed, first of all, I assume?

MS. CONATON: Yes, sir.

SEN. LEVIN: But will you, in your role, to the extent that you are involved, will you bring to that role the neutrality, the fairness, the objectivity which is so essential?

MS. CONATON: Yes, Mr. Chairman. My — sorry. My sense and my commitment is to ask questions upon confirmation that would lead to this competition being concluded to the best interests of the war fighter. I think it’s very important that this be a fair and open competition and that it be clear to those who see the results how the decision was made.

And I would look forward to being able to ask those questions in a neutral and objective manner.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you.

The issue of climate change and the interrelated issue of energy use, and that particularly involve the potential for renewable energy use. That issue has been receiving huge and needed attention throughout the government, including here on Capitol Hill.

The largest user of fossil fuels in the federal government is the Department of Defense which creates a significant carbon footprint and, as a result, is going to need to do its part to reduce carbon emissions in the years to come.

Can you give us your views on this challenge in this essential effort so that we can reduce this footprint in a significant way?

MS. CONATON: Mr. Chairman, I concur with you that the Department of Defense and, indeed, the Department of the Air Force are significant users of fossil fuels, including in the case of the Air Force, for aviation fuel. In my capacity as staff director at House Armed Services, I’m aware that the Air Force has put in place goals for reducing that and for increasing the percentage of renewable fuels that are part of the fleet’s operation.

If confirmed, I believe that energy policy will be a critical area to look at and one of the responsibilities that I would look forward to taking on. Thank you.

SEN. LEVIN: Okay. Thank you.

My time is up. I have asked that Senator Ben Nelson take over the chairmanship here because I must leave. And I’m very much appreciative of his willingness to do so.

According to our early-bird rule, I will call on Senator Udall next and then turn the gavel over to Senator Nelson.

Senator Udall, you’re next. Sorry to interrupt the conversation there, but –

SEN. UDALL: Senator Levin, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And I wanted to start out by giving a special welcome to Ms. Conaton. I served in the House Armed Services Committee, and many people would probably think all that I know is tied to Chairman Skelton, but it’s actually tied to Ms. Conaton’s mentorship and her great friendship. So this is an exciting day for me as well as for you.

If I might, I’d like to share a concern with you. It’s a comment at this time, not a question.

I’m sure you’re aware that the Air Force recently came out with its Joint Strike Fighter candidate basing selection. I’m still trying to understand how the Air Force arrived at some of its calculations, and I intend it schedule a briefing with the Air Force soon to get some more clarity.

So I wanted to just let you know that that’s a concern of mine, and it’ll continue to be a concern of mine as we move forward.

But, again, welcome, and I look forward to your confirmation process moving quickly and getting to the point where you no longer have to say “if confirmed,” but it will be “I have been confirmed and now I can go work.”

MS. CONATON: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. UDALL: Great to see you here today.

Mr. Romo, if I might comment as well that I could direct your way. As I understand it, currently, DOD policy — current policy — prevents individuals who fail to register with the Selective Service within the legal time frame between the ages of 19 and 26 from joining the military. That seems fair to me.

But the same policy also prevents them from ever obtaining a federal job, and waivers to the policy are permitted, as there should be at times when circumstances could explain by an individual didn’t fit into that time frame.

But my office has petitioned for a number of Coloradans, without success. It seems that, frankly, in some cases, the punishment may exceed the crime. And so I’d like to follow up with you and see if there isn’t some remedy in those cases that have merit.

I just wanted to bring that to your attention.

MR. ROMO: Thank you for the questions, Senator Udall. And thank you for serving the people of Colorado. I spent a good time from at the Air Force Academy, and I enjoyed my experience. Maybe not the first year, but I enjoyed the other years. (Laughter.)

But in answer to your question, you know, our job is to implement the policy that the president and the Congress directs. And y’all set the standards and statutes. And candidly, it’s up to y’all to decide which way you want to direct us.

If you say for us to look at the different processes, we’ll be happy to look which way you want to go. My job, when I’m in there, if confirmed, is to assess and evaluate the situation and is to optimize the procedure and processes.

For example, we want to do a quicker turnaround when you have inquiries when somebody is looking to get a certificate that they registered for Selective Service for a student loan or a federal grant. We want to make sure we have a quick turnaround because 90 days is unacceptable right now from what I’ve been told. But that’s my position right now.

SEN. UDALL: Okay. Thank you for that interesting clarification and, again, I look forward to working with you to see if we can resolve some of these cases in Colorado and, perhaps, look more broadly in those cases where, as I said, the punishment may exceed the crime or the oversight.

Dr. Stanley — General Stanley. Great to have you here. I can find fault with only one part of your application. That’s that you seem to have no family members serving in the U.S. Army. You’ve got all the other service branches covered. (Laughter.)

I’d like to follow up on the same line of questioning and comments that the chairman directed your way, starting with the mental health of our service men and women. At Fort Carson in Colorado and across the country at many installations, there’s a combination of combat stress and repeated deployments and mental illness, failures of leadership. Drug and alcohol problems have led to broken soldiers, broken families, and increased incidents of suicides and homicides.

You know I know there’s a stigma attached to mental health issues, not just in the military community but in society at large, quite frankly. We can’t pass laws to eliminate it. I wish we could some days.

So it’s all the more critical, I believe, for our military leaders to stand up and demonstrate the courage to talk about this. Our military leaders must work to change the culture. I would note General Graham — he just left his post at Fort Carson after a very significant two years — was one of those leaders.

Will you commit to helping in this effort is the question I’d like to direct to you.

MS. CONATON: Yes, Senator, absolutely. I’m aware of the stigma associated with mental health issues and, particularly, anyone going to seek counseling for mental health having served as active duty as well as even my, you know, current experience.

So if confirmed, I certainly will look into that. And just for the record, Senator, my father and my brother served in the United States Army. (Laughter.)

SEN. UDALL: I’m glad I gave you that opportunity to clarify the record. That was my intent.

Let me move to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” if I might, a sensitive topic, but an important topic. As a commander, you saw and experienced “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” being implemented. I’m sure you’re aware that gays and lesbians are already serving in our armed forces, and thousands of gays and lesbians are civilian employees at the DOD.

Today, you’ll be looking at DADT as a soon-to-be very senior member of the president’s Department of Defense leadership team. We all heard the commander-in-chief say last month that he intends to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And I thought the president sent a clear message to every service member in uniform, straight and gay, regardless of service or rank, that this change was coming.

Some in Congress believe the president is prepared to include repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among his policy recommendations in the Congress and the defense budget that he submits to us early next year.

Is that a recommendation you’re prepared to support?

GEN. STANLEY: Senator, I clearly recognize that this is a very sensitive issue, and it’s an issue that I’m prepared to address, if confirmed. I certainly will be taking input from all sources. This is Department of Defense, it’s outside of the government, it’s Congress, Senate. I mean, in general, it’s a lot of input.

The service chiefs in particular and our commanders all the way down to the, really, you know, from the deck plate down to the squad level, this is a very, very challenging subject but one that I know we can get our arms around.

I have to provide, based upon that input, a recommendation to Secretary Gates. And based upon whatever I get — when I don’t know right now — and I enter this discussion or now what we’re talking about with no preconceived notions. I fully expect that it will be a challenge, but I’m up for that challenge, if confirmed.

SEN. UDALL: Thank you for that forthright answer. I look forward to working with you further when you’re confirmed if I have anything to say about it. And I would associate myself with the remarks of the chairman on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as well.

Again, I want to thank the panel for your willingness to serve, for your wonderful and illustrious careers that you’ve had already. And I know your men and women in uniform will be well served by all three of you in the important work that you’re about to undertake.

Mr. Chairman, thank you, and I yield back any time I have. Thanks.

SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Senator.

And, first of all, thank you all for your willingness to serve in these new responsibilities. According to the list, I call upon myself to begin my questioning.

Dr. Stanley, Secretary Gates announced earlier this year and Chairman Levin referred to it as well that the department would scale back the role of outside contractors in support services. The goal, as I understand it, is to reduce the number the support service contractors from the current 39 percent to 26 percent and replace them with full-time government employees.

And I understand that DOD’s efforts to efficiently utilize its resources. And I realize that an overreliance on contractors can lead to the erosion of the in-house capacity that’s essential to effective government performance as well.

But I want to be assured that this policy is grounded in a very thoughtful analysis that considers both base mission and local community implications as well. If DOD makes these conversions without a strategic plan in place, we have the potential to erode our industry base in key mission areas as well.

And from the information that’s been provided to me by U.S. STRATCOM in Nebraska, it appears that STRATCOM’s current conversion plan will reduce the contractor population to 227 or 22 percent of the total workforce by 2015. My sense is that, for too many years, we were outsourcing too much with too little emphasis on why and whether it was justified.

But regardless of the makeup the workforce of the department, outsourcing or insourcing, it just has to make sense and be oriented towards the best utilization of resources, both money and people.

So what review of these base-level decisions like the decisions at Offutt and STRATCOM will the DOD be undertaking to ensure that those decisions are both appropriate and consistent with the direction provided by the secretary?

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator. As I understand your question, we are looking at the Department of Defense at reducing the number the contractors overall. I am not aware of all the details yet. I am aware that the Air Force has been working on some of this, but I sense that the contractor issue is much bigger than even that.


GEN. STANLEY: If confirmed, I will certainly take this on as a responsibility within my department to coordinate with all of the services to ensure that we have equitable as well as reasonable and responsible kind of strategic planning in it and the details of that and, also, work very closely with Congress and this committee to ensure that we move forward properly.

SEN. NELSON: The consistency is extremely important so that what we do accomplish is what the goal sets out for us. And that is the wise use of resources, both money and people, in the best possible manner. As a strategic plan of some sort, I think, would be important to assure that that process is both consistent and we get the best use of the resources.

So I’ll be looking forward to further information on that as you develop your efforts.


SEN. NELSON: As part of that process of putting together a strategic plan, I hope that you would approach it on a business case analysis process. I think the best decisions are typically made when there is — where there’s a strategic effort underway and you can give it a good business basis for the decision as opposed to establishing a number and work backwards toward reaching that.

That’s why I was a little concerned when I saw that a number had been achieved rather than do it on a case-by-case basis to establish what the number should be.

Dr. Stanley, also, as you have already been asked questioned related to personnel and readiness, it’s a broad portfolio — a broad portfolio.

Can you identify what will be your top priorities? Perhaps, your top three priorities in seeking that personnel and readiness role that is going to be so vital to the future of our military?

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator. I would have to say that the all- volunteer force is number one. And that’s the umbrella. It’s the piece that actually covers everything because it’s so all- encompassing. As you already stated, it is the portfolio of the under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness is abroad, you know, portfolio.

But right under that, I’d have to look at our wounded warriors and the stress and all of the things that go along with that because that’s so significant as we now are at war, in two fronts, which is very significant. And we have thousands of Marines, sailors, airmen, you know, you name it, that an Army — soldiers who are actually committed and will be committed depending on decisions that are going to be made.

So that’s — the wounded warriors, the stress, all the things — the things that we don’t know about. And then I’d have to say families. We cannot sustain the all-volunteer force if we don’t have our families, not only on board but taking care of our families. And we can’t have our deployed people actually worried about what’s happening with families back here.

And so there’s so much that has to be addressed there. And, of course, there’s schools. There are other exceptional issues that relate to families. Employment opportunities for spouses, you know, things like that. There are significant issues.

I would say that the starts out the three. I almost hesitate to stop there because there are significant issues in the all-volunteer force.

SEN. NELSON: And part of the taking care of families and our service members probably includes the compensation arrangements that we’re constantly trying to improve to be more competitive to keep the all-volunteer force rather than to lose it due to competition from the outside

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator.

SEN. NELSON: Do you have any particular thoughts about the compensation package at the moment? What you might be doing to look at improving it? Modifying? It’s not always just about salary. It includes a number of other pieces as well.

GEN. STANLEY: Senator, if confirmed, it’s certainly going to be an issue that I’ll be looking at. And that’s why I was almost hesitating to stop at three.


GEN. STANLEY: Primarily because –

SEN. NELSON: Four. I’ll let you have four.

GEN. STANLEY: Absolutely. There is a balancing now. We’re now talking about not only the compensation but also how much we can afford in an all-volunteer force. What, in fact, should we be, you know, paying out in terms of compensation? What shouldn’t be we doing?

And there’s always going to be, as you know, a yin and yang when it comes — because for every stimulus, there’s going to be some reaction. And so the bottom line is that the compensation piece is something, if confirmed, I’d have to look at very closely because I know that health care costs as well as the personnel costs in general are eating our organization — our Department of Defense and our nation. And we have to address that.

So it’s an issue we have to balance. And, of course, this goes into equipment, all the other issues associated with that.

There is not an endless stream of money, and I am very much aware of that. So, if confirmed, that will be part of that priority list.

SEN. NELSON: Very good. Thank you.

Ms. Conaton, during the Air Force posture hearing earlier this year, the KC-X tanker was listed as one of the Air Force’s top procurement priorities. And I expect that one of your biggest challenges will be, as already mentioned, awarding the contract to build this next generation of aerial refueling tankers.

Once you get this vital contract awarded, do you have an estimated timeline and strategic vision for how the National Guard units that have the KC-135s might be rolled into fielding the plan?

MS. CONATON: Senator, I do not at this point, not being confirmed, have a detailed sense of how the Guard will play with this. I guess I would say, generally, that the tanking, the aerial refueling capacity is critical to the — not only to the Air Force but, truly, to the totality of the service given the joint fight.

And the Guard, as part of the total force of the Air Force, is critical. That would be one of the things I would be very happy to look at more carefully if confirmed is how the Guard will play in the replacement of current KC-135 aircraft.

SEN. NELSON: With the new role of the Guard in the military today, obviously, they’ll play a very vital role in our readiness as it would relate to the new tankers. So having a plan in place to field it is going to be vital. And I hope that that will be a high priority in connection with the awarding of the contract and the detailing of everything that follows the awarding of the contract with the fielding of the plan.

MS. CONATON: Yes, Senator.

SEN. NELSON: Thank you.

Senator Burris?

SEN. BURRIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I am very interested in these high-level positions and found it necessary to be here to listen to the testimony of these very important appointments. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to be visited personally by any of you all, so I really instructed my staff that I could be here to see who would be taking these high-level positions.

And I must say that the president has selected very well. I’m looking forward to you all’s responsibility in these important positions that you’ve been appointed and entrusted to.

Just permit me to answer a couple — ask a couple simple questions. I want to ask Dr. Stanley in reference to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” if confirmed, Doctor, you will move in immediately, and I would assume that there are some case pending for dismissal.

What is your position on that situation if you were to come in contact with them or should have — I know you said you had to follow a law. But we also had the president saying that we intend to make some changes in that policy — I’m sorry — in that law which was passed by this Congress.

So I’d just like to hear a little bit more on your position on that, please.

GEN. STANLEY: Senator, if I — forgive me for — make sure I repeat the question back. But you’re talking about pending cases and what would be me position on those pending cases?

SEN. BURRIS: That’s correct.

GEN. STANLEY: If confirmed –

SEN. BURRIS: Yes, sir.

MS. CONATON: — and there are pending cases there, they would fall under the existing statute, as I would understand it. Not sure where, as I sit here right now, if confirmed, that I would be directly involved in what’s going on in the service purview right then.

But that’s about all I can say about that at this time because I’m tissue-paper thin on a number of the, you know, some of your questions there.

SEN. BURRIS: That’s a very sensitive issue, Dr. Stanley.

And we’re hoping that we can get something done in this Congress in reference to that that would free up your hands, and we would not even be bothered with this issue because we need all volunteers who will commit to serve this country of ours to be able to serve and to serve in the capacity as honorable and as brave as their capacity would allow them to.

But let me ask you this question then. My colleague, Senator Blanche Lincoln, has put a bill into the Senate called the Selective Service Continuum of Care Act which would provide advance physical and dental screening to our Reserve components prior to deployment.

If you are confirmed, Doctor, how would you address the need for pre-deployment screening and care of our national Reserve component?

GEN. STANLEY: Senator, I’m not aware of the specific law or amendment or what’s being put forward right now. This is the first I’ve heard of that.

However, on the overall issue of our Reserve and our Guard and pre-deployment issues in general, I’m very much aware and believe that we should do more with that. I know that it’s an area that we’d be looking at.

If confirmed, I certainly am committed to ensuring that our Guard and Reserve will continue to ratch up. I’m going back to my time when I was on active duty, and I know that that was an area we needed work on. And as I was getting ready for this confirmation hearing, I know there’s more work that needs to be done.

SEN. BURRIS: It’s good to have experience, right? You’ve been there, almost done that. Right?


SEN. BURRIS: Okay. Ms. Conaton, if confirmed, how would you plan to work with the new director of cost assessment and program evaluation position that has been created this past year to advise the secretary of Defense on program cost efficiency?

MS. CONATON: Senator, as you rightly point out, that new position was created by this committee and this Congress as part of an effort to get weapons system acquisition reform jumpstarted in the department. I think it’s a very important step. I think the acquisition challenges that the department faces are not unique to one service; they’re across the board.

And I think one of the critical things about the position that you mentioned, the director of the so-called CAPE, is to get accurate and precise cost estimates at the beginning of a program so that we have greater confidence in the ability of the program to continue forward without significant cost overruns.

But both cost and requirements are a critical issue to deal with at the beginning of the weapons system program. I would look forward to working with the director.

SEN. BURRIS: And, also, what priorities would you be placing on the United States advancement of unmanned drones and their use in surveillance missions? Do you believe that the unmanned aircraft should also be — unmanned aircraft pilots should also be trained to fly manned aircraft as well?

MS. CONATON: Senator, we all are aware of how important unmanned systems have become. Although, I’ve been — it’s been pointed out to me that there is still a person controlling that aircraft. So to say that it’s unmanned is, perhaps, a little bit of a stretch.

But I think these UAVs –

SEN. BURRIS: Not on the cockpit.

MS. CONATON: Not in the cockpit. That’s correct, sir.

SEN. BURRIS: Of the drone cockpit.

MS. CONATON: That’s correct, sir.

SEN. BURRIS: In the cockpit in Las Vegas somewhere, right?

MS. CONATON: Yes, sir.

SEN. BURRIS: Nevada.

MS. CONATON: I think they’ve been critical in the missions of intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. As we all know, we’ve got two wars going, and the commanders in the theater have a tremendous demand for those types of capabilities.

So I think UAV systems are things that we’re going to be continuing to look at over the next couple of years.

As to the role of whether there should be a — what the pilot training should be for this, that would be an area that I would want to look at more closely, if confirmed. I know that the Air Force is doing a lot of thinking about that. I know how important that issue is.

I appreciate you putting it back on my radar screen, and it’s something I would look carefully at, if confirmed.

SEN. BURRIS: Thank you.

Mr. Romo, I don’t have any — I’m just concerned — on the Selective Service — which all the 18-year-olders must register, do you have any idea how many — what type of failure there is in registering of 18-year-olders?

MR. ROMO: Certainly. When I was a young officer, I was in Strategic Air Command, SAC, at Offutt. And “peace of our profession” was our motto. And why? Because we have deterrents. We have different levels of deterrents. That was, obviously, a nuclear deterrent when I was a launch officer.

But we have a deterrent with the Selective Service System that’s essential for our national security. Right now, we have an all- volunteer force that works tremendously. I had the great fortune of working with a recruiting brigade or Recruiting Command, and these soldiers do a tremendous job in getting some recruits for us for our volunteer Army.

But it’s essential that we maintain an optimal national security and register these young men when they’re 18 years old. There are 6,000 young men that register — or that have the birthday — over 6,000 young men that turn 18 years old every day in this country.

SEN. BURRIS: Say that again. I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that.

MR. ROMO: Over 6,000 young men have their 18th birthday every day in our country.


MR. ROMO: And it’s up to us to register those young men by marketing — having an optimal marketing plan. And we have a tremendous registration rate of 90 percent, and we want to make sure that we raise that at least minimally maintain that. But that’s why we do it so we can maintain a deterrent.

We have two wars going on, and if the president and the Congress direct us to have a draft, we are ready. And we want to show our foes that we are ready to have the draft to supplement the volunteer force if we have somebody that threatens us.

SEN. BURRIS: Mr. Romo, would you look at that marketing budget? Because I think I’m pretty worldly in reading the news. But I don’t even recall hearing any type of advertising recently on the last five or six years that young men turning 18 are required to register.

I heard about it when the law came out, but I don’t hear that regularly. And I’m just wondering whether or not we’re really doing enough promotion in regards to that.

MR. ROMO: I will ensure that I had a great briefing by our — the purpose affairs of Selective Service. And I will ensure that they will sends to you the ways they currently market.

And with the wars going on, we have to be very creative. And what I mean by that is creative for marketing but creative in using the least amount of dollars for the marketing.

And they do do public service radio spots, for example. And they market through the state directors and the volunteer local boards that they do have all around the country. So there are many ways.

But civically, I’ll make sure that they send that to you.

We do have a great relationship, by the way, with the MEDCOM (ph) at Great Lakes, Illinois. We do have a data center and a regional center there in Illinois.

SEN. BURRIS: I’ve been getting problems with those little Navy recruits who come into Great Lakes by the tons. I was up there the other day, and God knows, I really appreciate how those young people are coming forward. And that Navy ship them up and ship them out.

I’ll tell you, they be shipshape when they leave there. (Laughs.)

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I want to commend our witnesses this morning. I’m very impressed and look forward to your being confirmed and carrying out your duties. God bless you and good luck.

SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Senator.

Senator LeMieux?

SEN. LEMIEUX: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

First of all, I want to thank all of the folks that are here today who are up for confirmation for your service to the public. It strikes me that we don’t thank people enough for the time that they spend working for the people, and you all have long and storied careers doing that. So thank you for dedicating yourself to public service.

General Stanley, I’d like to start with you, if I may, and ask you a few questions. We’re all seeing these reports about the stress that our military is under, both fighting out in the field and here back in the states. And I’m concerned, as I know you are, about the suicide rate that’s being — rising.

And I’ll — (inaudible) — a few statistics and facts for you and then ask you a question. We learned recently that 99 soldiers killed themselves in 2006, the highest rate of military suicide in the 26 years the military has been keeping statistics.

2007, we had 115. 2008, 133. And as of this Monday, we have 140 active duty Army soldiers that have committed suicide. Suicide rate for the Army for 2008 was calculated at roughly 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, which is the first time since the Vietnam War that it’s higher than the adjusted civilian rate.

So in your position to be in charge of personnel and readiness, these have to be big issues to make sure that, one, the people that are enlisting into the military are mentally — not only physically but mentally — ready. And that once they enlist and become members of our armed services, that they continue to have the support they need and the training they need and the counseling they need to endure the very difficult duty of fighting a war.

So I would like for you, if you would, sir, to speak to those issues and what plans you have to ready — make sure that our troops are ready on the front end and continue to be mentally strong throughout their time in the armed services.

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator.

I guess the first thing to say is that, in the priorities I laid out, that was actually at the very top, and it’s among my top three. The all-volunteer force, in itself, when we look at the quality of people who are coming in but also focusing on our wounded warriors and those injured, the stress associated with combat, and those who are pending combat has been very significant.

I’m aware of it. Suicide is not new, but it’s going off the page here. It’s been something that I’ve been personally familiar with from my time on active duty. And even one suicide is too many.

And so with that, you have the commitment, if confirmed, this will be an area that will be a priority. It’s not only in terms of what’s working right now but also looking at better ways to do what we’re doing because we have to. Work with the services, work with the service chiefs, and then have the kind of environment, because of the cultures of our services, to be able to work together because what they don’t need right now is for me to come down and say, this is what you’re going to do.

I think it’s important that we have to work together. I’m looking forward to that opportunity, if confirmed, because I think leadership, more than anything right now, and working as a team, the Department of Defense is absolutely critical at this time — and our civilian support too, and Congress.

SEN. LEMIEUX: Thank you, General.

Let me ask you another question, if I can, on a different topic. I know that you have personal experience with this, and I wanted you to speak to your views about military personnel who have disabled spouses or children.

I view — and I know that many do — that the public service is not just done by the person who’s involved in the public service. Whether it’s the military or it’s here working in Congress, it’s done by our families.

And we have to take care of the whole family unit. So I know this is something that touches your heart, and I would be interested in what goals you have with respect to these exceptional family members who have these challenges and what we can do to support them as well.

GEN. STANLEY: Yes, Senator. I’m smiling because if I flub this one, my wife’s going to take care of me. (Laughter.)

SEN. LEMIEUX: We don’t want that to happen.

GEN. STANLEY: No, sir. I will tell you that, at no point in my career — and we’ve been married 38 years — have my decisions been — even as a commander — a commanding general — I’ve had somebody right there with me.

We talked about my decision to retire. We talked about my decision to move for different duty stations. It wasn’t that I was going to even think about refusing the commandant’s orders. The fact is that I literally had a family. I still have a family, and that’s very important.

I bring that to the table of experience not to say that it’s omnipotent or all-knowing, but as a very sensitive area. And then when you start talking about exceptional family issues, from autism to any range of different issue, very sensitive to that, also.

And I know that we have occasionally — and, again, I go back to an earlier question here. Working with our service cultures, working in areas where duty stations that people aren’t even aware. People aren’t — we have great people in our military, but there are a lot of things they don’t know or understand about the sensitivities dealing with the only special school for this particular ailment; the architectural barriers that you would face in one duty station as opposed to another; employment of a spouse that you can work in certain duty stations but — and this is now — with disabilities, but you can’t work over here.

Going overseas, fine. But if you go to certain duty stations, the architectural issues are going to be a challenge as well as the schooling and things like that. Now, does that say that I know everything? No, Senator.

But what it does tell me I’m awfully sensitive to how complex these issues are and how much I’ll be ready to do it. And, quite frankly, even as I would — if confirmed in this position — you know, I’m in the going to be doing it without having the spousal support. I have to stop there, Senator.

SEN. LEMIEUX: Well, I appreciate that answer. Thank you. Thank you. I know you’re going to do a great job.

If I may ask, Mr. Chairman, I have one question of Ms. Conaton. Am I pronouncing that correctly?

MS. CONATON: Yes, Senator.

SEN. LEMIEUX: The military is extremely important to my home state of Florida and, certain, the Air Force is extremely important to Florida. And we are very pleased with these Joint Strike Fighters going to Eglin and to the training of them and having training there.

And I want to know if you have any thoughts on what the role will be. I think there are 59 planned at Eglin, and we’re going to maybe potentially have more. And I don’t know if you’re up to speed on that yet, but we think that we’re well suited at Eglin to train for these JSFs.

And I wanted to get your comments and thoughts on that.

MS. CONATON: Thank you, Senator.

I am not yet fully briefed, not yet being over with the Air Force, on the basing plans. I know how important the training mission is, and I recognize the significant contribution that Eglin has made in that regard.

If I’m confirmed, I’d be very happy to work with you to understand your concerns more and to see what is actually being planned inside the Air Force.

SEN. LEMIEUX: Well, maybe we’ll have a chance to go there together and work on that issue.

MS. CONATON: I’d welcome that.


MS. CONATON: Thank you.

SEN. LEMIEUX: Mr. Chairman, that’s all the questions I have.

SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Senator.

I have no further questions. But let me say to both — to all of you and to your families and friends, thank you for your service, your commitment. And we look forward to a rather speedy confirmation.

Thank you all. We’re adjourned. (Sounds gavel.)

It looks like the hearing went very well! I wish Erin the best as she awaits final approval by the Senate!

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.