WASHINGTON — Two top Defense Department nominees cruised through a Tuesday confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, setting the stage for a quick path toward the Pentagon.
Ronald Moultrie, the nominee for undersecretary for intelligence and security, and Mike McCord, who is seeking a second term as undersecretary of defense (comptroller), faced little opposition during the hearing. Both Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the committee, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said they would support the nominees, while Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., expressed support for McCord.
That support likely locks the nominees in for an easy path forward at a time when SASC Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said he is focused on installing a wave of nominees in the department.
For Moultrie, a large number of questions focused on cybersecurity, particularly in light of the hack of a major U.S. oil pipeline over the weekend. Moultire acknowledged concerns about defending the defense-industrial supply chain from future digital attacks, calling it “inherently vulnerable” and warning that adversaries, particularly China, “understand” the industrial base and know how to target it.
To counter that, Moultrie said, a push toward greater communication between the government and industry on vulnerabilities and risks is needed.
“I think we have to ensure that we continue to identify what our vulnerabilities are in those key areas, in those key industries, in those key organizations,” Moultire said in response to a question about supply chain dangers. “We have to make them aware, senator, of what the challenges really are and what the threat actually is. And that means we have to — I talked about public-private partnerships — to be able to go out and talk to them, make sure that they understand this. And if confirmed I would work vigorously to ensure that we’re doing all we can to support the mitigation of risks in our supply chain as it exists today.”
With McCord, questions largely centered on two issues: the Pentagon’s ongoing audit, and whether he supports annual defense budget growth of 3-5 percent, a requirement defense officials first claimed during the Trump administration.
McCord previously voiced support for that growth, something Republicans pointed out when asking about the Biden administration’s defense budget, which does not include that annual increase in its top-line figures.
The nominee threaded the needle, noting that while that dollar amount may have been correct for what was laid out in the previous National Defense Strategy, the new administration will write its own document that would require different financial resourcing.
As to the audit, McCord called it a “priority” should he be confirmed, but did attempt to level set what the effort can achieve.
“It is not the answer to every question, certainly. An audit doesn’t tell — won’t tell you whether the particular airplane you bought was the right plane for the mission, for example, or whether the contractor overcharged you. Those are all different aspects of control that are above and beyond the financial audit,” McCord said.
“But that said, it does help identify where resources may be being wasted or improperly used, or inefficiently used. And the controls that are one of the big hurdles between where the department stands today and achieving that audit, getting all the controls in place, I think takes on new meaning in this era of cyber intrusions. So I think that they’re the business process reforms that are necessary for an audit — are things that department needs to be doing anyway. And the audit is a good forcing function for the direction that department needs to go.”
McCord said that while defense officials previously expected a clean audit in 2027 or 2028, if confirmed he would make it an early priority to talk with staff and see if it is possible to speed that up.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.