Pentagon insiders say the race to succeed Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn in the Pentagon’s second most important job has narrowed to three contenders: Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Ashton Carter; Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy; and Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson. Each of the three is said to enjoy support from factions within the White House. For instance, Carter is believed to have the backing of national security advisor Thomas Donilon, as well as former defense secretary William Perry, under whom he served in the Clinton Administration.
Earlier speculation that former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki or Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus might be under consideration for the deputy’s job has faded. Shinseki heads the Department of Veterans Affairs, and there is little precedent for a cabinet secretary stepping down to take a sub-cabinet position. Mabus has run a tight ship at the Navy Department and might be a logical candidate to succeed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta after next year’s election — if Obama wins — but the deputy secretary’s job would arguably be a step down for him too that does not take full advantage of his political skills.
The one issue that might trip up current candidates for the job is lack of managerial experience, because the deputy secretary is in effect the chief operating officer of the Defense Department. Congress is pressing the administration to select a deputy secretary with experience running a company or some other sizable organization, since the Pentagon oversees a sprawling military establishment that spends two billion dollars per day. Secretary Panetta is widely viewed as a political figure rather than a nuts-and-bolts manager who will not remain in office long after the 2012 election.
Some insiders say Ms. Flournoy is so highly regarded within the administration that if she is denied the deputy’s job, she will probably be offered the first service secretary’s job that opens up. She also seems well suited to a top job at the Department of State. There have been persistent rumors that Dr. Carter might be a candidate to run the Department of Energy, since he is a physicist who understands the science of energy policy far better than most political appointees. If Carter departs his current job as defense acquisition chief, he is expected to be replaced by his deputy, Frank Kendell, or Navy acquisition head Sean Stackley.
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