GW Alumnus Confirmed as U.S. Defense Secretary

The Senate voted to make former Trachtenberg School student Mark Esper the head of the Pentagon.

Mark Esper
Mark Esper was confirmed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate as the new Pentagon chief. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense)
July 23, 2019

Mark T. Esper, Ph.D. ’08, was confirmed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate as the defense secretary for the United States. The vote was 90-8.

His confirmation ends the Pentagon’s longest stretch without a Senate-confirmed secretary, which began with the late December departure of James Mattis.

Dr. Esper, an alumnus of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, stepped in as the acting defense secretary for three weeks leading up to his confirmation hearing. As federal law prohibits officials from serving in an acting role they are being nominated for, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has been serving as the acting Pentagon chief since July 15 when President Donald Trump officially conferred the nomination to Dr. Esper.

Prior to his latest role, Dr. Esper had been the Army’s secretary since 2017.

“I have no doubt that Mark will bring the competence, sound judgment and professionalism that he showed as a GW Ph.D. student to his new assignment at the Pentagon,” said James Lebovic, a Columbian College of Arts and Sciences professor of political science and international affairs and Dr. Esper’s dissertation adviser.

While at GW, Dr. Esper served as a senior congressional aide to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations in the George W. Bush administration.

“He made consistent progress in his research while maintaining his professional obligations,” Dr. Lebovic said. “He made quick progress in the program and eventually produced a well-written and argued dissertation.”

Dr. Esper completed his dissertation at the George Washington University in 2008 and was awarded the Trachtenberg School’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2018. He has worked as a national security adviser to former majority leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and as a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Armed Services committees.

Before attending GW, Dr. Esper received a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University. He served in the Army after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1986 and received a Bronze Star, among other commendations, following service as an infantryman in the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

Politics and Society


GW Alumnus Confirmed as U.S. Attorney General

February 19, 2019

Former GW Law student William Barr was sworn-in as the head of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ten GW Alumni Ran for Congress, Seven Won

November 08, 2018

The victory in California marked the seventh successful congressional campaign in the midterm elections for former GW students.