Ash Carter’s announcement last week that he is stepping down in December as US deputy defense secretary should come as no surprise. But it raises the stakes for his replacement.
In his five years in the Pentagon, Carter performed two of the department’s toughest jobs under three different bosses — launching the overdue process of streamlining the Defense Department to become more efficient and earning universal respect.
When the president tapped Chuck Hagel to become the administration’s third defense secretary (following Robert Gates and Leon Panetta), Carter committed to another year in office, providing stability through the transfer.
Now the time has come to identify a replacement, one with similar attributes to Carter: policy and analytical savvy, along with technical expertise and acquisition and financial acumen.
These are critical requirements for a department facing strategic and budgetary pressures that haven’t been seen in decades.
Being the chief operating officer of the US government’s largest department — and one of the world’s most complex organizations — is daunting and demands a candidate with the gravitas to move impervious military and civilian bureaucracies, shepherding them both to a leaner future while enforcing necessary discipline along the way.
The new deputy must recognize the job is about inspiring the organization to change, while also managing the daily blocking and tackling to keep the massive machine moving forward. Progress won’t be achieved in a few broad strokes; it will take thousands of individual cuts and pivots to carry the Defense Department into a future that maintains maximum capability despite fewer resources.