The Pentagon press secretary on Monday reiterated that the department will stand behind Eric Fanning, its current nominee for Army secretary, despite lawmakers’ objections.

“Mr. Fanning is still the president’s nominee for that position,” Peter Cook said during a briefing to reporters. “We certainly look to continue working with Congress to try to expedite his nomination. We think filling that position is critically important. It is a very important position within the Department of Defense, and we think he has the background and qualities that would make him an excellent fit in that job.”

Mr. Eric K. Fanning, nominated for Secretary of the Army. (U.S. Army photo by Alfredo Barraza/Released)
Mr. Eric K. Fanning, nominated for Secretary of the Army. (U.S. Army photo by Alfredo Barraza/Released)

For Fanning, who was tapped in September to take over as Army secretary, the nomination process has been fraught. Shortly after he was officially nominated by the president, Sen Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) placed a hold on his nomination, citing concerns that the administration could move detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The senator has no plans of removing the hold until the administration provides a guarantee that detainees will not wind up in Kansas, something it did in 2009, his press secretary Katherine Knight told Defense Daily. That request was articulated to Defense Secretary Carter, former Army Secretary John McHugh and other department officials working on the Guantanamo detention facility closure plan.

Fanning also hit a rough patch with certain members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including its chairman John McCain (R-Ariz). Early this year, Fanning resigned from his role as acting Army secretary after SASC members complained that holding that position could violate the Vacancies Act, which bars a person nominated for a job requiring congressional approval from serving in an “acting” capacity.  

With SASC satisfied, he appeared before the committee in January and vowed to stand up an Army rapid capabilities office if confirmed (Defense Daily, Jan. 21). SASC members moved his nomination forward on March 10, but the Senate cannot vote on Fanning’s confirmation until Roberts releases his hold.

Fanning currently is filling a “special assistant” role and is “doing a range of things on behalf of the department,” Cook said Monday.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter characterized the Senate’s treatment of Defense Department and military nominees as largely prompt and civil, but noted that the nomination process has slowed recently, possibly because President Barack Obama’s second term is coming to an end (Defense Daily, March 13).

“There are always ones [nominations] where there are issues and debates and so forth that go on, but I wouldn’t say [the process has become] uncivil,” he said during an event hosted by Politico. “I understand the role of the Senate, I respect the role of the Senate. That is the way our system works. The best I can do is put forth really good people and then back them up and try to help them get through this process.”