President Trump has decided to retain Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite in his current posts as the Army's Chief of Engineers and Corps of Engineers Commanding General until the Senate approves his successor, a Corps spokesman has confirmed to ENR.
Semonite's four-year tour as Corps chief is scheduled to end on May 19. Most recently, he has had a prominent role in the Corps' nationwide effort to build backup hospitals in convention centers and other locations as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Senate hasn't acted yet on the nomination of Maj. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, Trump's pick to replace him.
Spellmon, who has been the Corps' deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations since June 2018, was nominated to its top post in January. [View 1/17/2020 ENR story on Spellmon here.]
The Senate Armed Services Commission didn't hold a confirmation hearing on Spellmon, but on March 12, the panel on a voice vote sent his nomination, along with 1,774 other military nominations, to the full Senate for its consideration, a committee spokesperson says. The Senate hadn't acted yet on Spellmon's confirmation as of May 13.
Semonite notified other Corps leaders in a May 12 note that the president is retaining him in his current Army positions until a replacement is approved.
The note, obtained by ENR, reads in part:
"Just received notification POTUS has extended me in my position as the 54th Chief of Engineers. This action enables us to have continuity of command as we respond to COVID-19 and Deliver our Programs. Army senior leaders will schedule the change of command once the Senate confirms the 55th Chief of Engineers."
Trump has been effusive in his praise of Semonite. In an April 20 White House press briefing at which Semonite outlined the hospital building program, Trump said that Semonite "has done an incredible job" and has been "so impressive."
Retired Brig. Gen. C. David Turner, former commander of two Corps' divisions, says the decision to keep Semonite in his current positions isn't a surprise. "From my perspective, it's absolutely the right thing to do," says Turner, now a senior adviser with water-resources consultants Dawson & Associates.
Turner, who says he's known Semonite for 30 years, adds, "He is an outstanding leader with tremendous energy that always keeps the Corps of Engineers strategically focused on solving the nation's toughest engineering challenges." Turner adds that Semonite "is truly the Army's Energizer bunny."
Semonite assumed command of the Corps on May 19, 2016, after setting up and leading the Army Talent Management Task Force. Before that he led the effort to build up the Afghan army and police.
Earlier in his career, Semonite held senior Corps positions, including deputy commanding general, its number-two post. Before that, he headed the Corps' South Atlantic and North Atlantic divisions.
The Corps is responsible for designing, building, maintaining and operating an extensive network of civil infrastructure, including river locks and dams, levees and other structures.
It also has wide-ranging military construction responsibilities and handles engineering and construction tasks for other federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the coronavirus-related hospital program.
Story corrected 9/10/2020 to say that as of May 13 , the Senate hadn't acted on Spellmon's confirmation.