Can the military save affirmative action?
The military’s role in affirmative action, at least the part it has played in recent years, is much less clear-cut than it once was.
The military does have the “right” to make decisions about how to hire, but does it have a “duty” to do so?
In April 1996, President Bill Clinton nominated Lieutenant General William E. O’Keefe, Jr., the senior career officer in the Army to be assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs. O’Keefe had previously served two tours as chief of staff of the Army until he was selected to become deputy undersecretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs.
According to The Washington Post, he became assistant secretary by appointment “because Congress gave him no choice” in selecting him for this post. On the other hand, Congress had decided to require that the secretary of defense select the head of the military’s civil service selection and appointments office to be a career officer in the military.
The Post reported that O’Keefe had been nominated by Clinton because he had once supported the idea of “affirmative action.”
The Post noted that O’Keefe had “been a persistent critic of some aspects of the military’s affirmative action programs.”
He had also opposed what he described as overly restrictive hiring practices and urged the military to be more open to diversity.
The Post reported that O’Keefe was well-known to be an intelligent man, and that as a young military officer before becoming chief of staff he had written a thesis on the military, with the thesis having been selected for inclusion in the official history of the Army.
Later in 1996, Clinton nominated Major General John P. Elwood for the post, but Elwood withdrew his name after a Senate committee determined that he did not have sufficient military experience. Elwood told the Post of his decision in a recent interview.