Changing of the Guard: Reed Ascends to Top of Senate Armed Services Committee
WASHINGTON, DC – A West Point graduate who served 12 years as an Army officer, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is officially the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), after the U.S. Senate adopted by unanimous consent S. Res. 27: 117th Congress Organizing Resolution.
The powerful committee is responsible for overseeing the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), all military services operating within the domains of land, sea, air, cyberspace, and space, and all DOD agencies, including their budgets and policies, and national security aspects of nuclear energy. Each year, SASC is tasked with producing and passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest federal agency and the nation’s largest employer, with nearly 1.4 million active duty service members, and a total of about 2.9 million service members and civilians, including National Guard and Reserve service members. The fiscal year 2021 defense budget topped $740 billion. The armed forces of the United States is comprised of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard. The Army National Guard and the Air National Guard are reserve components of their services and operate in part under state authority.
“I am honored to lead this committee. I hope to match the sacrifice and commitment of our service men and women and be worthy of the trust that the people of Rhode Island have placed in me. This job requires putting the needs and security of our nation first and that is what I strive to do,” said Reed. “This committee, like the military itself, must be able to conduct multiple missions and assignments simultaneously, from oversight to confirmations to writing a forward-looking NDAA. And we must be able to adapt to the unique circumstances we are facing amidst a pandemic while meeting urgent and evolving national security challenges.”
Reed is moving from Ranking Member to Chairman because of the Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate, with a fifty-fifty split amongst lawmakers and Vice President Kamala Harris, in her capacity as President of the U.S. Senate, serving as the tie-breaking vote.
Reed, who first joined the Armed Services Committee in 1998, has served as the Ranking Member of the panel since 2015, after the retirement of U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). During that time, he worked closely with the panel’s two former Chairmen, the late-John McCain (R-AZ) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
“Both Senators McCain and Inhofe proved themselves to be exemplary Chairmen. Senator Inhofe and I will continue working in partnership. We both served in the Army and share a bipartisan commitment to our troops and their families, as well as a commitment to ensuring strong oversight and accountability,” said Reed. “The Chairman holds the gavel and sets the agenda so it increases your leverage to influence debate, but it doesn’t give you control of the outcome. Every member of this panel gets an equal vote and it’s up to all of us working together to get the job done for the citizens who sent us here, our troops, their families, and the American people. I plan to work closely with our subcommittee chairmen and ranking members. To effectively provide for the common defense, we must find common ground. I had the great fortune to both study and teach at West Point. An important lesson I learned in the Army, and throughout life, is that if you work hard and prepare, focus on the mission, treat people with respect and care for those around you, and properly credit their role in your success, you can achieve positive outcomes.”
Reed and Inhofe’s close working relationship and commitment to bipartisanship on the committee should make the transition smooth, but Senator Reed notes the last four years of the Trump Administration have undermined U.S. national security, frayed U.S. alliances, hollowed out the Pentagon, and politicized the U.S. military and U.S. intelligence. With thousands of U.S. National Guard troops still deployed to defend the U.S. Capitol, which was violently breached by a mob of white nationalist pro-Trump supporters, Reed notes that the national security threats and military challenges America faces today are unlike any other in our nation’s history.
“Our nation has a lot of work to do to repair alliances and restore stability. It is not up to just one person or one party to fix everything. Working on a bipartisan basis, I will do my part as Chairman of this committee to help strengthen national security. The U.S. military must be apolitical. And the Pentagon should be led by well-qualified, Senate-confirmed appointees who are accountable to Congress and the American people,” said Reed.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Reed has made it his mission to visit with U.S. troops in the field at various hotspots around the globe, including the Middle East and Africa. In an effort to get a firsthand look at operational and strategic impacts of U.S. policy, as well as political developments in the region and their impact on counter-terrorism operations and America’s national security, Reed has made 18 trips to Afghanistan and 21 to Iraq.
Reed said he will unveil his policy priorities for the committee in the weeks ahead, once he is able to discuss the committee’s upcoming agenda with his colleagues on the panel. But he made it clear the U.S. Department of Defense must step up efforts to help overcome COVID-19 and noted there will be a sharp focus on forward-looking policies, programs, platforms, and cyber defense systems that offer the strongest return-on-investment possible in terms of mission effectiveness, operational readiness, and survivability.
BACKGROUND & MILITARY CAREER
Reed’s late father, Joseph A. Reed, was a machinist in the U.S. Navy during World War II who served aboard the USS Cebu. After the war, he came home and got a job as a custodian with Cranston public schools, eventually working his way up to become custodial supervisor of Cranston’s school system. Jack Reed’s military career began at the age of 17, when he was nominated for an appointment to the United States Military Academy by U.S. Senator John O. Pastore (D-RI). On July 3, 1967, Reed reported to West Point to begin cadet training. After graduating from the Military Academy in 1971 near the top of his class and receiving an active duty commission in the Army, Reed earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Reed also went on to earn a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1982.
Jack Reed is not a combat veteran. He earned the Ranger Tab and served as a paratrooper in the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division where he was a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, and Battalion Staff Officer. He eventually joined the faculty at West Point, teaching cadets about economics and international relations as an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Sciences. He served as a professor at the U.S. Military Academy until August of 1979 when he resigned from active duty as a Captain. He continued serving in the U.S. Army Reserves until June of 1991, when he left the Reserves with the rank of Major. Over the course of his military career, he earned the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Ranger Tab, Senior Parachutist Badge, and Expert Infantry Badge.
Reed was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 as the 46th United States Senator from Rhode Island. He is the eighth U.S. Senator in our nation’s history to graduate from West Point, and becomes just the fifth person to lead the Senate Armed Services Committee this century. The four other Chairmen are: John Warner (R-VA), Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
In addition to chairing the Armed Services Committee, Reed is also a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which provides him with additional oversight responsibilities in determining how defense dollars are spent.
In terms of age, Reed, 71, is the 23rd oldest member of the chamber, but he ranks 10th in seniority in terms of longest-serving Senators. He serves on three other committees, including:
- Appropriations (fifth most senior Democrat)
- Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (most senior Democrat. NOTE: under Senate rules, senators may only helm one full committee at a time)
- Select Committee on Intelligence (ex officio. NOTE: The Senate Majority and Minority Leaders and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee serve as ex officio SSCI members. This means they may attend briefings and ask questions at hearings, but they do not have a vote in committee).
The last two Rhode Islanders to chair full Senate committees were John Chafee, who led the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from 1995 to 1999, and Claiborne Pell, who served as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee from 1987 to 1995.