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Pentagon's Third Highest Ranking Official to Step Down

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has recommended Derek Chollet as the next Under Secretary of Defense Policy

Pentagon's Third Highest Ranking Official to Step Down

The lead policymaker at the Department of Defense will step down nine months after taking the job.

Acting Under Secretary of Defense Policy Sasha Baker will leave her position at the end of April. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he is “deeply grateful for her outstanding contributions to the Department and to U.S. national security.”

“Acting Under Secretary Baker was asked to step into a difficult and critical position, and she has been a pillar of strength and wisdom. Under her leadership, our Policy team has helped the Department navigate a range of complex global challenges, including major crises in Ukraine and the Middle East,” said Austin in a statement on March 25. “Her strategic acumen and steadfast commitment to our national security have helped her play a pivotal role in shaping our defense policies, tackling emerging threats, and strengthening interagency relationships and international alliances.”

Baker is currently the third highest ranking official at the Pentagon. She was nominated by President Joe Biden in August 2021 to be the deputy undersecretary for defense policy. At the time, she was working as the National Security Council’s senior director for strategic planning. Baker was an advisor to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren during her 2020 presidential campaign and was the deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter during President Barack Obama’s administration.

“Sasha was involved in every single important deliberation in the secretary’s office, so all of our counterterror operations, cyber operations, the entire counter-[Islamic State] campaign,” Carter told Defense News in 2021. “She was critical to all our outreach to the tech sector.”

Baker took over the top policy position in July of 2023 after Colin Kahl left the Defense Department to return to his tenured professorship at Stanford University.

Until Baker’s permanent replacement is selected, Amanda Dory will perform her responsibilities. Dory is currently the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. 

Austin has recommended Counselor of the United States Department of State Derek Chollet as the next policy secretary for the Department of Defense.

“At this crucial moment for U.S. defense policy, the Department needs a confirmed principal adviser in this critical role,” said Austin.

Chollet was previously the executive vice president and senior advisor for security and defense policy at The German Marshall Fund. He served on the 2008 National Security Council transition team during the Obama administration and as the principal deputy director of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff from 2009 to 2011.

In February, Texas Congressman Michael McCaul publicly opposed Chollet as the next Under Secretary of Defense for Policy amid his confirmation hearing.

“I have grave concerns about Mr. Chollet’s candor and fitness to serve,” said McCaul, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee. “Therefore, I must advise against his confirmation as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. I do not make this recommendation lightly; during his transcribed interview, Mr. Chollet exhibited not only a failure to take accountability for his role in the withdrawal but also a disregard for Congress.”

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