Ted Johnson, a speechwriter for the Joint Chiefs from 2014 to 2016 and retired Navy commander, criticized the lack of diversity in the Trump administration broadly, noting that “the rhetoric that often accompanies the conversation around this administration makes it clear that if you are a minority serving in it, you’re going to have to contend with a level of discomfort that you would not have had to face in a previous administration.”
The Pentagon declined multiple requests to provide a breakdown of its senior civilian ranks by race, but publicly available data reveals a department run overwhelmingly by white men. Esper and his deputy, David Norquist, are white. Six out of seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are white men; new Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown is only the second Black man ever to serve on the Joint Chiefs.
The lower ranks of DoD senior leadership are only slightly more diverse. Out of six undersecretaries of defense, all are white and five are male. Out of 60 presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions, all but three are men. By comparison, at the end of the Obama administration in 2016, 11 were women.
At the Pentagon’s policy shop, nearly all the top positions are filled by men, including all five assistant secretaries of defense, four out of five principal deputies, and 19 out of 22 deputies, and all but two are white. At the end of the Obama administration, nine positions in the policy shop were held by women.
When it comes to national security, diversity of thought is particularly crucial, said Aaron Hughes, who served as the deputy assistant for cyber policy at DoD until 2017.
“If we have just a homogeneous population that thinks one way, that’s just putting us to [a] disadvantage when it comes to understanding world dynamics,” he said.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Risa Brooks, a professor of political science at Marquette University who specializes in civil-military relations, of Esper’s promise to increase diversity at the Pentagon. “Is this just hand-waving?”
Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell said while the Pentagon is “proud to be well-regarded as the largest, most diverse meritocracy in the world,” the department recognizes that there is still “work to be done on diversity and inclusion.”
In keeping with Esper’s diversity push, the policy shop has recently launched initiatives aimed at recruiting a more diverse group of junior and mid-level career employees, including outreach to historically black academic institutions, and is also creating a diversity council, Campbell said.
“As we continue to build on our efforts to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce for all who serve, we will draw upon the widest possible set of backgrounds, talents, and skills to increase the overall readiness and effectiveness of the department,” Campbell said.
Both the Obama and Trump administrations struggled when it comes to the overall workforce for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In September 2019, the last time the Office of Personnel Management