WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning is stepping aside, at least temporarily, because the Senate hasn't confirmed his nomination, officials said Monday.
The Army's No. 2-ranking civilian, Patrick Murphy, was confirmed as undersecretary last week, and will temporarily double as the acting Army secretary.
The Pentagon announced that Fanning was stepping down "as a show of comity" to Congress. Some members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have expressed concern that his continuing as the acting secretary would violate the Vacancies Act governing requirements for filling openings that require Senate confirmation. Fanning had been serving as acting Army secretary since the previous holder of the office, John McHugh, stepped down late last fall.
President Barack Obama nominated Fanning in September to succeed McHugh. If confirmed by the Senate, he would be the nation's first openly gay leader of a military service.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said Fanning is taking a staff position temporarily in the office of the secretary of defense and would return to the Army leadership position if his nomination is approved by the Senate.
"We have no reason to believe that he won't be confirmed," Davis told reporters.
In early November, Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts placed a hold on Fanning's nomination as a protest over Obama's ongoing campaign to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility and transfer detainees to the United States. The move was part of an effort to prevent the White House from taking executive action to close the facility.
The White House had hinted that the president might use his executive authority to shut it down and move the detainees to the U.S.
Law currently bans detainees from being transferred to U.S. soil, but a Pentagon team has looked at facilities in Kansas, South Carolina and Colorado as possible alternative detention sites.
Fanning had been serving as acting undersecretary of the Army since June.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a written statement that Fanning agreed to step aside as acting secretary "to focus on achieving confirmation in the near future."
"We expect this move to be of a short duration and for Fanning to achieve speedy confirmation," Cook said. "He remains one of the most qualified nominees to be a service secretary, having served in many senior executive positions in each of the three military departments and as chief of staff of the department."
Fanning has held senior positions in the Air Force, including undersecretary from 2013 to 2015.