The Defense Department’s head of personnel and readiness announced his upcoming departure from the Pentagon on Monday, according to a statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros, a Navy veteran and former two-term congressman from California, will leave his post in early September. Cisneros has been in the role since August 2021. No nominee was named to replace him.
During his tenure as the Pentagon’s personnel chief, Cisneros worked on numerous hot-button social issues, including the Pentagon’s newest abortion policy for military personnel, which covers travel costs and time off for troops who travel out of state due to abortion restrictions or bans in the state where they are stationed.
“[H]e was a steadfast and faithful servant in the department’s mission to take care of our people,” Austin said in a statement. “His commitment to the ‘people first’ approach helped the department improve the quality of life of our service members and their families.”
That policy, however, has been met by a hold on all uniformed and civilian Pentagon nominees by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. If the impasse on nominees is not resolved, Cisneros’ successor may face a similar delay in their confirmation process.
The departure comes as House Republicans inserted various amendments into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. A number of them seek to rid the Pentagon of its diversity and inclusion office, along with reviewing department diversity initiatives.
When asked if Cisneros’ departure was in response to House Republican’s efforts, a defense official said that was not the case. They pointed out that Cisneros is the longest serving personnel and readiness under secretary since 2009.
Austin also praised Cisneros for his work on sexual assault and harassment prevention in the armed forces. Over the past two years, Cisneros worked to implement 80 projects to reform the military sexual assault and harassment guidelines and practices.
Those efforts include standing up an independent counsel’s office for sexual assault cases, with Congress giving the office an implementation deadline in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act of Dec. 28, 2023.
While movement has been slow on establishing select reforms, Cisneros told Congress during a September 2022 House Armed Services Committee hearing that the speed is methodical and meant to continue building trust between the department and service members.
“Getting this right requires we move on expeditiously as possible to implement change, while also ensuring we do not rush to failure,” Cisneros told lawmakers. “If we improperly rush now, we will not be able to pick up the pieces and establish trust with our service members again.”
A vocal opponent of former President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender service members while in Congress, Cisneros has defended LGTBQ+ service members and President Joe Biden’s revocation of the ban. As the chief of the Pentagon’s diversity and inclusion office, Cisneros has also defended those initiatives within the military despite opposition from Republican lawmakers, calling the efforts vital to securing talent for positions in the armed forces.
“It is a diverse talent pool that ultimately contributes to our success on the battlefield and beyond‚” Cisneros told an audience at this year’s Pentagon LGTBQ+ pride event. “Diversity and inclusion are imperative to recruit and retain the best and brightest talent, we must ensure that we reach out to all communities.”
Cisneros’ tenure in the personnel role came during a time when the military has failed to meet its recruiting targets. Aside from the Marine Corps, each service is projecting shortfalls in Fiscal Year 2023 as branches continue to struggle with attracting new recruits. The Army is facing the largest recruiting deficit, with the service projected to miss its end-season mark by 10,000 soldiers.
An 11-year Navy veteran, Cisneros first worked in shipping and manufacturing following his time in uniform. Weeks after he was laid off from his job in 2010, he won $266 million in the Mega Millions lottery. Cisneros and his wife used some of the money to start charities focused on higher education scholarships for students with financial needs.
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.