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Senate Committee Grills Army, Air Force Secretary Nominees

McCarthy and Barrett
McCarthy and Barrett
Washington Report

Acting Army secretary Ryan D. McCarthy and former ambassador Barbara Barrett testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday about their fitness to serve as the senior civilian leaders of the Army and Air Force, respectively.

McCarthy and Barrett each mentioned Guard-specific concerns and plans, notably the Guard's role in identifying and mitigating contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, around military installations across the United States.

"I have a very significant PFAS contamination problem in my state. And there seems to be some miscommunication going on between the Department of the Army, the National Guard Bureau and the Michigan National Guard as well as the local community,” said Sen. Gary Peters. D-Mich., while speaking to McCarthy. "It is my understanding that a request was made by the Michigan National Guard through the National Guard Bureau and the Department of the Army requesting funds for a new water system for the residents that were affected.”

“My office was contacted by the Department of the Army and was told that the Army Office of Legal Counsel determined funding could not be legally provided to build this new water system. This is obviously very problematic."

McCarthy stated he dispatched "a team of experts" to evaluate the situation in Michigan and vowed to work with Peters to clean the contamination up. He also said he would support giving the National Guard access to defense environmental restoration program funding. These funds are currently administered under the Department of the Army.

Barrett was asked about the acquisition of C-130J cargo aircraft for the National Guard.

"I think the Guard needs those Juliet models," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.  Barrett indicated that she would "spend more time and pay attention to" the C-130J situation if confirmed.

The Air Force has stopped including C-130J’s in its annual budget requests.

Another lawmaker, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., highlighted the recently delivered KC-46As for the New Hampshire Air Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing. The planes are the first of their kind in the Guard. However, she said some of the maintainers that could be available to work on the new airframe had been assigned to older refueling aircraft.

Committee members also mentioned Army fires and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.  

“The ISR mission performed by the Air Force is evolving,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said. “And it’s evolving with the changing pace of technology and with the threats we face as a country.”

The two nominees also addressed issues facing both services including sexual assault, suicide prevention, cyber warfare and military housing. Great power competition and force readiness was also mentioned by several committee members.

"If confirmed, I anticipate I will be asked to continue to make tough choices to ensure the Army is prepared to meet the mandates of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy so that it is ready to deter and, if necessary, defeat near-peer competitors," McCarthy wrote in response to advance policy questions posed by members of the SASC.