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Names Emerging for U.S. Service Secretary, OSD Positions

Feb. 27, 2013 - 06:00PM   |  
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Now that Chuck Hagel has been confirmed and sworn in as U.S. defense secretary, names are emerging for who might become his top lieutenants as service secretaries and undersecretaries.

Carol DiBattiste and Sheila Cheston, lawyers who served in senior Pentagon posts during the Clinton administration, have emerged as candidates to become Air Force secretary.

The two women have had their names come to light as President Obama has come under fire for a lack of diversity among his nominees and appointees for top administration posts.

The nomination and confirmation of a female service secretary would be significant. Sheila Widnall, who served as Air Force secretary from August 1993 to October 1997, is the only woman to serve as a secretary of a military service.

For months, F. Whitten “Whit” Peters had been the only person said to be a candidate for Air Force secretary. Peters served as the Air Force secretary in the Clinton administration.

In recent weeks, DiBattiste and Cheston have been mentioned in Air Force circles as strong candidates to replace Michael Donley, a George W. Bush administration holdover who has served as Air Force secretary since October 2008. Donley is expected to step down this spring, according to defense sources.

DiBattiste is general counsel and chief administrative officer of online retailer Geeknet. She served as Air Force undersecretary from 1999 to 2001.

Cheston is currently a corporate vice president and general counsel for Northrop Grumman and served as Air Force general counsel from 1995 to 1998.

In the other services, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is expected to remain in his current position, as Obama begins his second term.

Army Secretary John McHugh is expected to step down at some point during Obama’s second term, according to defense sources. Joseph Westphal, the current Army undersecretary, has been mentioned as a candidate to become secretary.

There are also several high-profile vacancies within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The undersecretary of personnel and readiness will play a major role, particularly if the Obama administration puts forth widespread personnel and benefits reforms.

Jessica Wright has been filling this position in an acting capacity since January. Erin Conaton stepped down as the undersecretary billet in December, citing a desire to return to personal life.

DoD also needs a top lawyer. Jeh Johnson stepped down late last year after serving as DoD’s general counsel since 2009. Robert Taylor, the No. 2 lawyer at DoD, is currently Pentagon’s acting general counsel.

Another vacant position is the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering. The position, which reports to the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, has been vacant since Zachary Lemnios stepped down in November 2012.

The majority of the high-profile undersecretaries plan to remain in place.

This includes: Michael Vickers, undersecretary for intelligence; James Miller, undersecretary for policy; Frank Kendall, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics; and Robert Hale, the Pentagon comptroller.

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