Uncertainty at the top blurs Marine Corps’ work on 2025 budget

by Braxton Taylor

The lack of a Senate-confirmed Marine Corps commandant is making it harder to draw up and defend the 2025 budget proposal, the service’s would-be leader said.

“We’re very close to wrapping that up. But what I think the challenge is, again, when I cannot be somewhere to say that ‘The Marine Corps’ position is exactly this,’” said Gen. Eric Smith, the assistant commandant and nominee for the top job. 

For example, Navy or Defense leaders will inevitably have questions about the Marines’ spending proposal, said Smith, one of three service-chief nominees whose appointments are being held up by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. 

“‘We think it might be better to spend dollars here instead of here; what’s your position?’ I’m not there to offer that,” he said Wednesday at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Smith and the Corps are in all-but-unprecedented limbo—along with the Army and Navy—thanks to the GOP senator’s blanket hold on Senate confirmations. Tuberville imposed the hold to protest Pentagon policies that help troops travel to get reproductive health care, including abortions.

The defense secretary and service secretaries have argued that the holds undermine readiness and national security. The acting chiefs have restrictions on what they can do in their role, including issuing guidance documents that set the priorities for the services for the coming years.

On Thursday, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh was asked how the holds affect modernization efforts in services led by acting chiefs.

“When you don’t have a confirmed leader in that position that would oversee a modernization effort, you’re talking about someone that’s going to set the vision for that command or for that department. When you have someone on hold or in a limbo state, of course that’s going to impact the mission,” Singh said.

While Smith remains “responsible and accountable” for the service, he has had to send others to attend meetings to discuss the budget, which also means their work is being passed on to others to handle.

“[A]nd I send very qualified people, but they’re not me,” he said. “I send someone to do that for me and then get a report back. And when it didn’t quite work out, then I have to go back, and at that point, sorry, the day has passed because that clock didn’t stop.”

“So, to me, that is the unsustainable part of having actings, because everyone has a full-time job.”

Smith later told reporters that having multiple people try to convey what the Marine Corps’ priorities are will have the service “lose synergy and cohesion in budget messaging, which is very important, both internal to the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, and on the Hill.”

“Because if someone goes on my behalf to speak to Senator X, and I’m speaking to Senator Y, and there’s some slight dissonance because I use a different term, then those two senators may say, ‘well, the Marine Corps doesn’t know what they want.’ We know exactly what we want,” he said. “But two people telling the same story, there’s going to be dissonance in their telling of that story, even though they both see the exact same thing. That causes me concern.”

A spokesperson for Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the acting chief of naval operations, declined to comment about the budget process with an acting leader.

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