Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that transgender service members will continue to serve in the military while the Pentagon conducts a study of how to implement President Trump's directive that would ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. A memo signed by President Trump on Friday that reinstated the policy gave Mattis six months to come up with a plan to implement the ban.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Mattis said he would establish a panel of experts from within the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security to "to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president's direction."
"Panel members will bring mature experience, most notably in combat and deployed operations, and seasoned judgment to this task," said Mattis. "The panel will assemble and thoroughly analyze all pertinent data, quantifiable and non-quantifiable."
Mattis said he would provide his advice to President Trump on how to implement his policy after the panel came up with recommendatinos. "In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place," said Mattis.
The move temporarily leaves in place the policy that allows transgender service members to serve openly in the military until the panel concludes its study.
In late July, President Trump surprised Pentagon officials with tweets that stated his intent to reinstate the ban on transgender persons serving in the military that had been lifted in June 2016 by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
On Friday, President Trump signed a memo that provided policy guidance to the Pentagon about on the ban, as well as keeping in place restriction that do not allow openly transgender persons from joining the military and ended resourcing for gender reassignment surgeries with the exception of those individuals whose procedures are already underway to protect the health of the individual
The memo gave Mattis until February 21, 2018 to come up with an implementation plan for reinstating the ban on transgender persons in the military. It would also let him "determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military. Until the Secretary has made that determination, no action may be taken against such individuals under the policy" outlined in the memo.
The memo cited steps consistent with "military effectiveness and lethality, budgetary constraints, and applicable law" for implementing the plan. But it also seemed to provide Mattis with flexibility in determining how to interpret those terms.
On Friday, a senior White House official declined to state to reporters what specific factors Mattis could use to determine the future of transgender service members who had been serving openly since the ban was overturned in 2016.
The Pentagon does not track how many transgender service members there are in the military, but about 250 service members were either transitioning genders or had changed their genders in personnel records.
A 2016 Rand study estimated there might be between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender service members on active duty.
In announcing the study, Mattis said "Our focus must always be on what is best for the military's combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield."
"I expect to issue interim guidance to the force concerning the president's direction, including any necessary interim adjustments to procedures, to ensure the continued combat readiness of the force until our final policy on this subject is issued," he added.