Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

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Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
Maura Sullivan

since July, 2015
Department of Defense
Reports to Secretary of Defense
Deputy Secretary of Defense
Seat The Pentagon, Arlington County, Virginia, U.S.
Appointer The President
with Senate advice and consent
Term length No fixed term
Constituting instrument 10 U.S.C. § 138
Formation 1957
First holder Murray Snyder
Salary Executive Schedule, level IV[1]

The Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, or ATSD(PA), is the principal staff advisor and assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Deputy Secretary of Defense for public information, internal information, community relations, information training, and audiovisual matters in support of Department of Defense activities, leading a worldwide public affairs community of some 3,800 military and civilian personnel. The Assistant to the Secretary follows the Secretary's Principles of Information in providing Defense Department information to the public, the United States Congress and the media.

The office of the ATSD(PA) is currently held by Maura Sullivan.[2] Prior to October 2012, the position was known as the "Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs", and was retitled in response to the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011[3]

The ATSD(PA) is the principal but not the sole spokesperson for the Department. In July 2011, the ASD(PA) announced the appointment of two additional spokespersons for the Department. George E. Little, one of two Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense for Public Affairs, served concurrently as the Pentagon Press Secretary. Little stepped down Nov. 15, 2013. Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby served alongside Little as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations and Spokesman. Kirby stepped down as spokesman in February 2015 and is in the process of retiring from the military. Both Little and Kirby served as spokespeople for the Secretary of Defense and for the Department.

Roles and Responsibilities[edit]

ATSD(PA) manages the following critical functions: community and public outreach, press operations, speechwriting, news analysis, communications planning. The ATSD(PA):

  • Serves as the principal spokesperson for the Department of Defense and is the sole release authority for official DoD information to news media representatives.
  • Ensures free flow of information to the news media, service members and families, Congress, partners, and the general public at large.
  • Develops and maintains relationships with the news media based on trust and integrity, on behalf of the Department leadership, to ensure honest forthright reporting about the Department.
  • Provides the critical link between DoD and the American people to ensure the efforts of service members are told in a timely and accurate manner and that information is only constrained by national security requirements.
  • Responsible for ensuring media representatives are given maximum access to ongoing military operations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, to provide fair and accurate reporting.
  • Develops communications policies, plans, and programs in support of DoD objectives and operations.
  • Integrates social and online media tools into the department’s communication strategy to maximize our ability to communicate timely information to traditional and non-traditional audiences.

In addition, the ATSD(PA) exercises authority, direction, and control over the Defense Media Activity (DMA). DMA provides news and information to our over one million service members stationed at home and around the world via broadcast, radio, web, and periodicals. DMA also trains DoD and other Federal Department public affairs professionals.

The ATSD(PA) is supported by the following divisions:

Press Operations[edit]

  • Provides expert advice and counsel to the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary, the Under Secretaries and every key organization with the DoD to ensure timely and accurate information is provided to the media, Congress, and the public at large.
  • In 2010, conducted more than 200 press briefings in the Pentagon Briefing Room per year including 13 briefings by the Secretary of Defense; supported 41 press briefings during Secretary of Defense travels.
  • Coordinates and releases approximately 1,250 news releases/advisories a year.
  • Arranges more than 1,200 media interviews and responded to thousands of queries, resulting in a countless number of press articles, broadcasts, and online media postings.
  • Provides guidance to the communications shops for all the Services, CoComs and Under Secretaries of Defense on media issues to include formal exercise and contingency operations public affairs guidance.


  • Prepares more than 50 major speeches and congressional testimonies each year to communicate the Secretary’s goals and priorities for the Department in a way that has impact in the media, the general public and within the U.S. military.

Communications Planning and Integration (CPI)[edit]

  • Interfaces with planners in OSD Policy, Joint Staff, Combatant Commands, military services, and the inter-agency to develop communication plans and strategies that accurately reflect U.S. policy goals, objectives and facts.
  • Serves as the key communication planning integrator for the DoD and serves as its lead on communication planning interactions with other U.S. Government elements.

Community Relations[edit]

  • Maintains engagement with more than 200 national, regional and local nonprofit organizations that support our service members and military families and provides guidance and counsel to worldwide DoD offices overseeing 2,300 Family Readiness volunteers and coordinators.
  • Receives and responds to over 50,000 public queries annually via web, phone, hard copy letters; responds to 2,900 annual public requests for commercial use of DoD imagery.
  • Responds to approximately 800 queries per year from non-profit/VSO leadership, congressional offices.
  • Conducts the Pentagon tour program for 136,000 visitors per year.
  • Conducts the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), a twice annual five-day program that connects prominent business and community leaders with senior military officials and troops on the ground.

Defense Media Activity[edit]

  • Communicates messages from senior DoD leaders to support and improve quality of life and morale, promote situational awareness, provide timely and immediate force protection information, and sustain readiness. DMA consists of 2,400 employees and has an annual budget of more than $200 million to provide the following services:
  • American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) also known as American Forces Network (AFN) broadcasts multiple television and radio channels providing a "touch of home" for nearly one million members of the military and their families deployed or stationed in 177 countries to include in Afghanistan and Iraq and aboard Navy ships.
  • American Forces Press Service covers and produces print and imagery products covering DoD, JCS, Combatant Command events, news, and information that are posted continuously in real-time to the primary DoD public web sites.
  • Stars and Stripes is a news and information organization that serves military audiences world-wide. Annual distribution of the newspaper is 33 million copies. Stripes is a journalistic and editorially independent publication provided free to deployed troops.
  • DoD News provides coverage of DoD senior leader events, policies, and programs.
  • Defense Visual Imagery Management Operations Center (DIMOC) collects, distributes and archives on a real-time basis combat camera still and motion imagery depicting U.S. military activities and operations worldwide.
  • Defense Information School (DINFOS) provides initial and advanced public affairs and visual information training for military and civilian students of all Services and International partners. DINFOS has an annual student load of more than 3200 students and 30 courses of study.
  • Public Web supports and manages the hosting for nearly 600 OSD, JCS, Combatant Command, and Military Service public-facing web sites.


The position was originally established as the Assistant to the Secretary (Director, Office of Public Information) by Secretary James V. Forrestal in July 1948. After Reorganization Plan No.6 of 30 June 1953 increased the number of assistant secretaries, Defense Directive 5122.1 of September 1953 redesignated the post as Assistant Secretary of Defense (Legislative and Public Affairs) [4]

This position was abolished in February 1957, and functions were divided between two new posts, the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) and an Assistant Secretary of Defense (Legislative Affairs). ASD(PA) was established by Defense Directive 5105.13 of 10 August 1957.[4]

In 1993, the position was changed to Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, by Defense Directive 5122.5. This bureaucratic distinction was dropped after the National Defense Authorization Act for FY1995 (P.L. 103-337) increased the number of assistant secretaries from 10 to 11. The post was subsequently titled Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), referred to as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, and abbreviated as ASD(PA). In October 2015 the position was retitled again, reverting to Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, in response to the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011.

Office Holders[edit]

The table below includes both the various titles of this post over time, as well as all the holders of those offices.

Assistant Secretaries of Defense (Public Affairs)[4]
Name Tenure SecDef(s) Served Under President(s) Served Under
Assistant to the Secretary (Director, Office of Public Information)
Harold B. Hinton July 19, 1948 - March 12, 1949 James V. Forrestal Harry Truman
William Frye March 12, 1949 - February 19, 1950 James V. Forrestal
Louis A. Johnson
Harry Truman
Osgood Roberts (Acting) February 20, 1950 - January 24, 1951 Louis A. Johnson
George C. Marshall
Harry Truman
Clayton Fritchey January 25, 1951 - June 1, 1952 George C. Marshall
Robert A. Lovett
Harry Truman
Andrew H. Berding July 1, 1952 - November 18, 1953 Robert A. Lovett
Charles E. Wilson
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Legislative and Public Affairs)
Frederick A. Seaton September 15, 1953 - February 20, 1955 Charles E. Wilson Dwight Eisenhower
Robert Tripp Ross March 15, 1955 - February 20, 1957 Charles E. Wilson Dwight Eisenhower
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Murray Snyder March 21, 1957 - January 20, 1961 Charles E. Wilson
Neil H. McElroy
Thomas S. Gates
Dwight Eisenhower
Arthur Sylvester January 20, 1961 - February 3, 1967 Robert S. McNamara John F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Philip G. Goulding February 28, 1967 - January 20, 1969 Robert S. McNamara
Clark M. Clifford
Lyndon Johnson
Daniel Z. Henkin January 20, 1969 - May 25, 1969 (Acting)
May 25, 1969 - January 20, 1973
Melvin R. Laird Richard Nixon
Jerry W. Friedheim January 20, 1973 - April 13, 1973 (Acting)
April 13, 1973 - September 20, 1974
Melvin R. Laird
Elliot L. Richardson
James R. Schlesinger
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
William Beecher (Acting) September 21, 1974 - February 11, 1975 James R. Schlesinger Gerald Ford
Joseph Laitin February 12, 1975 - December 19, 1975 James R. Schlesinger
Donald H. Rumsfeld
Gerald Ford
William I. Greener, Jr. December 21, 1975 - July 31, 1976 Donald H. Rumsfeld Gerald Ford
M. Alan Woods August 6, 1976 - January 21, 1977 Donald H. Rumsfeld Gerald Ford
Thomas B. Ross March 7, 1977 - January 20, 1981 Harold Brown Jimmy Carter
Henry E. Catto, Jr. May 22, 1981 - September 16, 1983 Caspar W. Weinberger Ronald Reagan
Benjamin Welles (Acting) September 17, 1983 - November 1, 1983 Caspar W. Weinberger Ronald Reagan
Mary Lou Sheils (Acting) November 2, 1983 - November 22, 1983 Caspar W. Weinberger Ronald Reagan
Michael I. Burch November 23, 1983 - June 22, 1985 Caspar W. Weinberger Ronald Reagan
Fred Hoffman (Acting) June 23, 1985 - October 1, 1985 Caspar W. Weinberger Ronald Reagan
Robert B. Sims October 18, 1985 - September 20, 1987 Caspar W. Weinberger Ronald Reagan
Fred Hoffman (Acting) September 21, 1987 - February 2, 1988 Caspar W. Weinberger
Frank C. Carlucci III
Ronald Reagan
J. Daniel Howard February 3, 1988 - March 21, 1989 Frank C. Carlucci III
William H. Taft IV (Acting)
Ronald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Louis A. "Pete" Williams May 22, 1989 - January 20, 1993 Richard B. Cheney George H. W. Bush
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Vernon A. Guidry, Jr. January 22, 1993 - July 18, 1993 Leslie Aspin, Jr. Bill Clinton
Kathleen deLaski July 19, 1993 - August 5, 1994 Leslie Aspin, Jr.
William J. Perry
Bill Clinton
Kenneth H. Bacon September 20, 1994 - March 29, 1996 William J. Perry Bill Clinton
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Kenneth H. Bacon March 29, 1996 - January 19, 2001 William J. Perry
William S. Cohen
Bill Clinton
Victoria Clarke May 22, 2001 - June 20, 2003 Donald H. Rumsfeld George W. Bush
Lawrence Di Rita (Acting) August 10, 2003 - September 22, 2005 Donald H. Rumsfeld George W. Bush
J. Dorrance Smith[5] January 5, 2006 - January 20, 2009 Donald H. Rumsfeld
Robert M. Gates
George W. Bush
Robert T. Hastings, Jr. (Acting) March 10, 2008 - March 31, 2009 Robert M. Gates George W. Bush
Douglas B. Wilson [6] February 11, 2010 - March 31, 2012 Robert M. Gates Barack Obama
Price Floyd (Performing the Duties of) Dates not established Leon Panetta Barack Obama
Douglas B. Wilson February 11, 2010 - March 21, 2012 Leon Panetta Barack Obama
George Little (Acting) April 1, 2012 - October 8, 2012 Leon Panetta Barack Obama
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
George Little October 9, 2012 - November 15, 2013 Leon Panetta
Chuck Hagel
Barack Obama
Brent Colburn December 18, 2014 - July, 2015 Chuck Hagel
Ashton Carter
Barack Obama
Maura Sullivan July, 2015–present Ashton Carter Barack Obama


Budget Totals[edit]

The annual budget for ASD(PA) is contained in the OSD's budget, under the Defense-Wide Operation and Maintenance (O&M) account.

ASD(PA) Budget, FY 10-12 ($ in thousands) [7]
Line Item FY11 Estimate FY12 Estimate
Assistant Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs 7,253 7,079


External links[edit]