Appointee Watch: A Wave of State, Defense Nominations

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Last month, President Trump announced his third pick to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, following multiple ethics scandals with previous choices.

Trump has tapped former acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to assume the role on a permanent basis, after former presidential physician Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration following a number of allegations about his conduct in the White House.

Before joining the VA, Wilkie was the undersecretary for Defense for personnel and readiness. If confirmed, he would replace former Secretary David Shulkin, who was ousted earlier this year after he was dogged by accusations surrounding his travel and acceptance of tickets to Wimbledon last year.

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On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this week that he is cancelling the annual August recess, arguing it is in response to Democratic intransigence in the confirmation process for agency and judicial appointees. But critics say the move is aimed at making it harder for Democrats to campaign for reelection.

According to the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post, which have been tracking more than 600 key agency posts that require Senate confirmation, the chamber has confirmed 330 people to their positions since Trump’s inauguration. An additional 140 appointees have been announced or formally nominated, while 196 jobs remain vacant.

In recent weeks, the White House has announced appointments at these agencies:

Agriculture: Mindy Brashears, undersecretary for food safety. Brashears is a professor of food safety and food microbiology and the director of Texas Tech University’s International Center for Food Industry Excellence. She is past-chairwoman of the National Alliance for Food Safety and Security and of the Agriculture Department’s multi-state research group.

Commerce: Karen Kelley, deputy secretary. Kelley is undersecretary of Commerce for economic affairs, where she leads the Economics and Statistics Administration. She previously was senior managing director of investments at Invesco.

Defense: Veronica Daigle, assistant secretary for readiness. Daigle most recently was principal deputy assistant secretary for readiness, and she previously was a senior adviser for national security at the Office of Management and Budget. She also was director of the Defense Department’s force and infrastructure analysis division in the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation.

Casey Wardynski, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. Wardynski most recently was CEO of FISH Technologies and previously was superintendent for Huntsville City Schools in Alabama. He served more than 30 years as a U.S. Army officer, and he was director of the Army’s Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis.

Education: Scott Stump, assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education. Stump is chief operating officer of Nebraska-based Vivayic Inc., a company that provides education consulting and curriculum design. He previously was assistant provost for career and technical education with the Colorado Community College System.

Energy: Christopher Fall, director, Office of Science. Fall is principal deputy director of the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. He previously served in the Office of Naval Research in a variety of roles, including chief scientist. He also served for three years at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Housing and Urban Development: Michael Bright, president, Government National Mortgage Association. Bright is the executive vice president, chief operating officer and acting presient of GNMA. He previously was director for financial markets at the Milken Institute and a senior vice president at investment management firm BlackRock/PennyMac. He has served as a senior financial policy adviser for Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

Labor: Gordon Hartogensis, director, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Hartogensis is a technology investor.

State: Ronald Mortenson, assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration. Mortensen is a retired Foreign Service officer, who worked for 15 years in the Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. He more recently worked at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, a hardline anti-immigration group.

Tibor Nagy, assistant secretary for African affairs. Nagy is a retired career member of the Senior Foreign Service, who served as a diplomat from 1978 until 2003. He was previously ambassador to Ethiopia and to Guinea, and served three stints as deputy chief of mission. He is currently ambassador-in-residence at Texas Tech University’s Institute for Peace and Conflict.

Denise Natali, assistant secretary for conflict and stabilization operation. Natali is the director for strategic research at the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, where she specializes in the Middle East, Iraq, trans-border Kurdish issues and post-conflict stabilization. She spent two decades researching the historically Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria.

Ronald Gidwitz, ambassador to Belgium. Gidwitz is a partner at GCG Partners, a company that sells gifts and novelty merchandise, and he previously was president and CEO of Helene Curtis Industries, a cosmetics company.

Admiral Harry Harris, ambassador to the Republic of Korea. Harris is commander of U.S. Pacific Command. A 40-year Navy officer, he has held seven command assignments in his career, including the Pacific Fleet and the Sixth Fleet.

Donald Lu, ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic. Lu has served as a diplomat since 1991. He is ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Albania, where he has served since 2014. He previously was deputy chief of mission in New Delhi, India, and he has served stints in Azerbaijan and the Kyrgyz Republic.

Brian Nichols, ambassador to Zimbabwe. Nichols is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, serving as an American diplomat since 1989. He is currently a senior adviser in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He previously was ambassador to Peru and principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Donald Tapia, ambassador to Jamaica. Tapia was chairman and CEO of Essco Group Management and a philanthropist.

Alaina Teplitz, ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Teplitz is a career diplomat, who currently is ambassador to Nepal. She previously was director of the State Department’s Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation.

Christine Toretti, ambassador to Malta. Toretti was president and CEO of S.W. Jack Drilling Company, and she has been vice chairwoman of the Agriculture Department’s Rural Telephone Bank and on the advisory board for the secretary of Energy.

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