Today’s surprise announcement that Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will leave his Pentagon post before the end of the year is another piece of bad news for a department reeling under the successive blows of the government shutdown, massive budget cuts, personnel reductions and scandals of various types. A scholar and academic by training and background, Carter proved himself also to be an excellent manager and leader at the Department of Defense (DoD). He was considered by many to be a Secretary of Defense in waiting, if not for President Obama than in a future Democratic Administration.
As Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. Carter sought to improve the way the Pentagon acquired goods and services. He was the architect of the Better Buying Power Initiative, a somewhat flawed reform effort still to be commended for its insistence that affordability be included as a primary consideration in major program decisions. He also brought high level attention to the often neglected areas of subject of logistics and supply chain management, two areas that account for nearly $200 billion of DoD spending.
As Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Carter had the nearly impossible task of overseeing the day-to-day operations of a department still at war but also beginning the painful process of downsizing. He spent a great deal of his time as the Deputy Secretary ensuring that U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan were properly equipped and supported.
Even had Dr. Carter stayed on, it is unclear how much of a difference he or any individual could make given the circumstances confronting DoD. The magnitude of sequestration mandated budget cuts are simply too large to be managed in a sensible way. The FY 2015 budget now in final development is characterized by knowledgeable sources as too frightening for words. Perhaps Dr. Carter is fated to be the Secretary of Defense who will pick up the broken pieces and rebuild a badly damaged U.S. military.
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