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DepSecDef Lynn Going; Navy Sec Mabus Rises as Likely Pick

Posted by Colin Clark on

Washington: Few people doubted that Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn might go when Leon Panetta was announced as the Pentagon’s new leader. Then Lynn stayed for a bit and word went out that he would be with us for at least a while.

Then an official announcement went out today suddenly announcing Lynn’s pending departure, complete with the obligatory words of thanks from his new boss, Leon Panetta. Two nonpartisan sources with excellent Pentagon contacts said they were surprised by Lynn’s departure. One said that Panetta wanted a longer commitment from Lynn than he was willing to make. After all, if you’ve got the somewhat depressing job of presiding over significant military spending cuts for the foreseeable future, you at least want a deputy to share the pain.

It looks as if Lynn will stay until his successor is anointed and confirmed.

So the question of the day becomes, who will succeed Lynn. It will not be John Hamre, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former deputy. One of our two nonpartisan sources said it probably will not be someone who needs Senate confirmation. With the weighty policy issues currently facing the administration, this source said the last thing White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley is likely to want is the prospect of a bruising confirmation that could lead to questions about the Obama administration’s Afghan withdrawal plans or just how much it plans to cut from the Pentagon budget.

One name was mentioned by two sources, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. The former governor of Mississippi, Mabus impressed the White House with his management of the Gulf Coast rehabilitation following the explosion and subsequent oil leaks from BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig. He was mentioned repeatedly as a possible candidate for Defense Secretary. And Mabus wins praise from some for his strong management of the Navy. While he received strong detailed support from his undersecretary, Robert Work, Mabus has helped bring under control the Navy’s long-troubled shipbuilding efforts and he helped at least begin to solve serious challenges facing the service’s aviation community, said Loren Thompson, defense consultant and analyst at the Lexington Institute. (Thompson is also a member of Breaking Defense’s Board of Contributors.)

A very well-informed Democrat, who led the last round of defense budget cuts from inside the Clinton White House, did not have any likely candidates to hand. But Gordon Adams, a professor at American University who also works with the Stimson Center, did offer a few descriptions of the right kind of person.

“It has to be the right kind of person; not the right person,” he said. “They need to be
someone with lots of energy — not about to retire — and a boffo manager.” Those criteria would rule out most defense industry executives, Defense Science Board head Paul Kaminski and a host of other smart, senior defense types. Mabus

A congressional aide professed not to know any current names. The two people mentioned by most of our sources were Michele Flournoy, undersecretary for policy, and Ash Carter, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. Several of our sources expressed concern about both of them, saying they lacked the broad management skills needed by a DepSecDef — especially in a Pentagon facing at least $400 billion in cuts over the next decade.

“Michele Flournoy has relatively thin management experience and you need those skills if you’re going to make substantial spending cuts,” said Thompson. “If the White House picks a person with relatively thin management abilities that tells you most of the management efficiencies are not going to materialize.”

For those may not know, the deputy runs the Pentagon day to day and is historically charged with making most of the really big acquisition decisions.

What do you think?