Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I’d like to join you in welcoming our nominees and to thank them for their willingness to serve in positions with great responsibility in the Department of Defense.  I’d also like to acknowledge all the family members, many of whom are here today, and thank them for their important role in supporting our nominees.  

Dr. Esper, you have been nominated to lead one of our greatest institutions: the U.S. Army.  If confirmed, you will serve during a time in which the organization is facing many challenges including how to improve full spectrum readiness while we continue to deploy soldiers around the world.  The Army also continues to grapple with modernizing the force to include how best to make targeted investments in programs and cancelling those efforts that are underperforming or cost prohibitive. 

Dr. Esper, you have a wealth of experience including your service in the Army, as well as your extensive experience in both the public and private sector.  If confirmed as the next Secretary of the Army, your unique perspective will allow you to tackle these challenges head-on, and I look forward to hearing your views on these issues. 

Mr. Wilkie, if confirmed as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, you will face many challenges in ensuring, first and foremost, that our military has adequate numbers of ready and trained service members, of sufficiently high character and talent, to meet national defense objectives.  This overarching imperative implies many organizational challenges.  Military personnel costs have continued to rise at rates exceeding the increase to the overall defense budget, even as the overall number of active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines has dropped from over 2 million in 1980 to 1.3 million today – despite an increase to the defense budget over that time frame. 

Mr. Wilkie, your vast experience within the Department and in Congress should serve you well if you are confirmed.  I look forward to working with you as you tackle these difficult issues.

Mr. Kernan, you have been nominated to serve as the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence at a critical time.  Intelligence and operations are more integrated than ever before, but at the same time, the demand for accurate and timely intelligence continues to outstrip supply.  This challenge is exacerbated by an inefficient allocation process of available airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities among the geographic combatant commands.

As technical intelligence gathering capabilities continue to advance at an exceptional pace, we are also experiencing a shortfall in the personnel and analytical tools necessary to make effective use of the overwhelming amount of raw intelligence that is being generated.

Given your more than three decades of service in the Navy, you bring important experience to the position of USD(I), which should serve you well as you support the needs of our warfighters in the field.

Mr. Roberts, if confirmed, you will serve in a position that dates back to the 1946 Atomic Energy Act.  Since its creation, this office has assumed other important missions including threat reduction, nonproliferation, and treaty verification. However, its core mission has not changed, which is to serve as the interface between the Department of Defense for its stockpile requirements to support its nuclear deterrence mission and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration or NNSA.  In no uncertain terms, I expect you, as your predecessors have done, to hold the NNSA accountable in meeting the Department’s stockpile needs and, in particular, restoring our ability to produce plutonium pits as we recapitalize our triad over the next 20 years.  Since 2011, following the ratification of the New START Treaty, this committee has expended considerable time and effort holding the NNSA accountable to this mission, and we expect you to continue it.

Again, thank you all for your willingness to serve our nation.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.