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Defense secretary removes hundreds of advisory board members in sweeping review

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinPentagon chief calls on military to reaffirm values, ethical conduct Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting MORE has ousted hundreds of members from the Pentagon's advisory committees, removing last-minute appointees by the Trump administration, the Department of Defense (DOD) revealed Tuesday.

Austin fired all members serving on DOD advisory boards and also ordered “the immediate suspension of all advisory committee operations until the review is completed,” effective Feb. 16. The boards are on hold while the Pentagon completes a “zero-based review” of at least 42 defense advisory committees, according to a Jan. 30 memo. 

The review includes the more visible Defense Policy Board, Defense Science Board and Defense Business Board, as well as former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller’s four choices to serve on the congressionally mandated commission tasked with renaming Confederate-named military bases, a senior Defense official told reporters.

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“Advisory committees have and will continue to provide an important role in shaping public policy within DoD. That said, our stewardship responsibilities require that we continually assess to ensure each advisory committee provides appropriate value today and in the future, as times and requirements change,” Austin said in the memo. 

The effort comes days after Austin halted the installation of several loyalists of former President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE to such advisory boards, the role of which is to provide advice to the Defense secretary. 

Shortly after the November election, the Trump administration removed longstanding experts on several such Pentagon panels, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright from the Defense Policy Board. In their place, the previous administration named Trump loyalists

The Trump administration also named former Trump campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey LewandowskiTrump likely to form new super PAC Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief ousts hundreds from advisory panels | Defense pick discusses Trump transition hurdles | Aircraft carrier returning home after 10-month deployment Defense secretary removes hundreds of advisory board members in sweeping review MORE and deputy campaign manager David Bossie to the Defense Business Board after nine board members were fired.

“There’s no question ... that the frenetic activity that occurred to the composition of so many boards in just the period of November to January deeply concerned the secretary and certainly helped drive him to this decision,” top Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. 

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The new review will be led by the interim director of administration and management in consultation with DOD acting general counsel. They will make recommendations to Austin on each committee by June 1. 

The scrutiny will allow Austin “to consider the broad scope and purpose of these boards and to think about how they can best be aligned and organized and composed to provide competent technical, professional policy advice to the department,” the senior Defense official said. 

“He’s mindful that there will be people who may look at this in a different way than he does. He certainly respects their rights to have that criticism, but he believes that ... this was the most fair, the most equitable, the most uniform way” to address this," according to the official.