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Senate confirms Wormuth as first female Army secretary

Nominee to be Secretary of the Army Christine Elizabeth Wormuth speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Nominee to be Secretary of the Army Christine Elizabeth Wormuth speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Christine Wormuth was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on Thursday to be the first female secretary of the Army.

Wormuth, who led President Joe Biden’s transition team at the Pentagon, got an overwhelmingly warm reception from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing this month.

Her confirmation sets her up as one of the more powerful officials in a defense establishment long dominated by men. She is the second woman named to a top Pentagon role by Biden. The deputy secretary of defense is Kathleen Hicks.

During her hearing, many of the senators pressed Wormuth on a range of personnel issues that have plagued the Army, ranging from sexual assault and racial tensions, to strains on a force that has been in combat in multiple war zones for the last two decades.

The Army’s handling of sexual assaults and other violence has come under significant scrutiny in the aftermath of a series of crimes, including murders and suicides last year at Fort Hood, Texas. A review panel found that military leaders at the post were not adequately dealing with high rates of sexual assault and harassment and were utterly neglecting the sexual assault prevention program.

Wormuth told the Senate Armed Services Committee that she was “angry and frustrated” by the failures at Fort Hood. And she said the Army needs to “put quite a bit of focus” on improving the command climate all the way down to the lower levels so that younger soldiers feel safe and are able to make complaints if needed.

She will take over her post just as military service leaders are facing pressure to change how they prosecute sexual assaults and other crimes. An independent panel has recommended that decisions to prosecute service members for sexual assault be made by independent authorities, not commanders, a major change that has been resisted by the military. And members of Congress strongly back such a change.

Wormuth has a long history of service in the Pentagon on a variety of national security issues. She served as the undersecretary of defense for policy and the senior director for defense policy at the NSC during the Obama administration, and held other Defense Department positions. She also previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary for homeland defense.

Her most recent job was as director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp., a federally funded think tank.