The Senate Armed Services Committee approved retired Army Maj. Gen. Lucas Polakowski to be assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, and staff director of the joint civil-military group that coordinates nuclear weapons acquisition.
Polakowski was one of six civilian nominations the Committee advanced in a meeting Tuesday, held just over a month after the former STRATCOM hand came in for his confirmation hearing. Trump nominated the former two-star for the post in May.
The full Senate had not scheduled confirmation votes at deadline. If approved on the floor, Polakowski would report to Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment. Polakowski would manage the Pentagon’s programs to defend against, and counter, weapons of mass destruction.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Armed Services Committee chair, used Polakowski’s August confirmation hearing to showcase a still-unresolved fight between the House and the Senate over how much influence the Pentagon should have over the nuclear weapons budget at the Department of Energy.
Congress decided to fiddle with the status quo this year — the secretary of energy sets the budget, giving weight to the opinions of the agency’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Nuclear Weapons Council — with the Senate pushing for more Defense Department influence, and the House for less.
NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty last winter pushed for a budget request larger than what Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette wanted. The Pentagon and influential conservative lawmakers, including Inhofe, supported Gordon-Hagerty’s number. President Trump did, too, and over the summer, so did the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
A resolution, if there is one this year, will be part of conference negotiations on the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which last week the House’s top-ranking Armed Services Republican said would wait until after the Nov. 3 election.
Polakowski’s resume is heavy on chemical weapons issues. In a 36-year Army career, he served at U.S. Strategic Command’s Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD); as commander of the standing joint force headquarters for WMD elimination; and in the Pentagon’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense.
During Polakowski’s confirmation hearing, the unbendingly pro-nuclear Inhofe, said, “I can’t think of anyone who’s in a better position to assess what we need for NNSA than you, and the background you have, and you bring to this committee.”
Like the President, Inhofe is running for reelection this year. Depending on whether Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president, wins the White House, Polakowski’s might have four years or none to leave his mark at the Pentagon in what would be his first civilian appointment, post-Army.