Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has dismissed hundreds of members of 42 Pentagon advisory boards in an effort to oust last-minute Trump administration appointees, according to a memo to senior Pentagon leadership.
According to the memo dated Saturday, Austin removed all members serving on 31 defense advisory boards effective Feb. 16, including the Defense Policy Board, the Defense Business Board, and the Defense Innovation Board and directed the immediate suspension of operations of 42 panels so the Pentagon can complete a “zero-based review.”
“I am directing a zero-based review of all DoD advisory committees, to include any advisory committee that is not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA),” the memo reads. “I also direct, no later than February 16, 2021, the conclusion of service for all DoD advisory committee and subcommittee members currently serving on DoD advisory committees where the DoD approving authority is the Secretary of Defense or where a statute authorizes another DoD civilian officer or employee, or Active Duty member of the Armed Services to act as the DoD approving authority.”
The ousting comes after Austin once sworn-in to the position began halting the processing of Trump’s appointees including Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, deputy campaign manager David Bossie and former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller’s chief of staff Kash Patel. Both Lewandowski and Bossie who were named to the Defense Business Board were still in the security clearance process while Patel had been sworn in but his in-processing had been put on hold.
“Our stewardship responsibilities require that we continually assess to ensure each advisory committee provides appropriate value today and in the future, as times and requirements change,” Austin said in the memo.
According to a senior defense official, Austin took action because of concerns by the “frenetic activity” of the Trump administration openly packing the advisory boards with loyalists in the final months.
“No question, the secretary was deeply concerned with the pace and the extent of recent changes to memberships of department advisory committees,” one senior defense official said. “I think it gave him pause to consider the broad scope and purpose of these boards and to think about how they can best be aligned and organized and composed to provide competent, technical, professional policy advice to the Department. He believes that this review is going to allow him to take a better, deeper look at that and to make sure that the advisory committees are in fact providing the best possible advice, as is their purpose.”
The review will also include the 8-member commission of the Confederate renaming board that was created by Congress as part of annual defense legislation. Austin will name new members to the commission to replace the four Trump appointees, while the other four who were appointed by Congress will remain.
A defense official told reporters in a briefing that Austin believed “this was the most fair, most equitable way” to address questions about the boards
“The secretary was deeply concerned with the pace and the extent of recent changes to advisory committees and this review will allow him to get his arms around the purpose of those boards and to ensure that these boards are providing the best advice to department policies,” chief Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.