There is so much behind-the-scenes speculation about who the next Deputy Secretary of Defense will be that I suppose we need to take seriously the possibility current incumbent Bill Lynn is departing. I haven’t been a Lynn booster in the past, but it’s a bit odd to be letting go of a seasoned deputy just as a new defense secretary is arriving for what most observers agree will be a brief tour. The possibility of a Lynn departure presumably means that whatever led defense secretary Robert Gates to withhold from him the latitude usually accorded a deputy secretary is also influencing Panetta’s plans. Gates gave most of the tough tasks to his chief of staff, Robert Rangel, rather than Lynn.
I don’t have a preferred candidate for the deputy secretary’s position if Mr. Lynn goes, but I do have an opinion. Any department that spends two billion dollars per day needs to have a strong manager in the number-two job — especially when the person in the number-one job is likely to leave before he fully understands the department’s internal processes. What the Pentagon doesn’t need is weak managers in both of the top jobs.
It may be that White House insiders think a pliable Panetta will let the Office of Management and Budget determine Pentagon priorities for the next two years. Maybe it should, since defense spending is far above what the government’s current fiscal circumstances can sustain. But if the military is headed into a prolonged erosion of its purchasing power, that is all the more reason to have an effective manager in the number-two job. The deputy secretary’s job traditionally has been regarded as the closest thing the Pentagon has to a chief operating officer, so the search for whoever will next fill that position needs to begin with an assessment of the management credentials that various candidates bring to the table.
Find Archived Articles: