Christine Fox, then-director of the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office; and then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James E. Cartwright Jr.; and Undersecretary of Defense Comptroller Robert F. Hale speak to reporters during a 2010 press conference. (Defense Department)
WASHINGTON — In an unprecedented move, US President Barack Obama has appointed Christine Fox, the Pentagon's former chief program and budget analyst, to serve as acting deputy defense secretary while the search continues for a candidate to fill the position on a full-time basis, defense sources said.
When she replaces Ash Carter, who steps down Wednesday after two years on the job, she will become the senior-most woman to hold a DoD post. After leaving the Pentagon in June she became a senior adviser to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, but remained an unpaid consultant to Carter, allowing her to keep current on DoD issues.
Since the Senate confirmation process typically takes months, it is highly unlikely a replacement would be in place before the end of the year. Bringing back Fox allows other DoD senior officials to remain in their roles at a pivotal time as the Pentagon develops its FY '15 budget and as even steeper defense spending cuts loom and launches the latest Quadrennial Defense Review — in which she will play an integral role.
The search for a full-time, deputy secretary nominee continues and remains a top priority for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a senior defense official said. Former Navy Undersecretary Robert Work, who stepped down earlier this year to become the CEO of the Center for New American Security think tank, is said to be a leading candidate for the deputy secretary position.
Fox served as the director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) for four years, working closely with Hagel on the Pentagon’s Strategic Choices and Management Review earlier this year, where they “developed a strong, effective working relationship,” the senior defense official said.
“Secretary Hagel has deep trust in her judgment,” the senior defense official said. "Of anyone in the defense constellation, she brings the deepest analytical experience, which I think is going to be critical as we have to make tough choices ahead, particularly should sequestration continue.”
The Federal Vacancy Reform Act allows the president to designate a senior agency employee to serve in an acting capacity for any vacated Senate-confirmed position. The law allows the appointment of an official that has previously served in the department 90 days of the past 365 days.
The law allows Fox to serve in an acting capacity for 210 days prior to the submission of a nomination for the position. She can serve for an indefinite period once a nomination is made.
As a formality in advance of becoming the acting deputy defense secretary, Fox on Monday was quietly made a member of the senior executive service within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
While Fox will “have all rights and responsibilities that the deputy secretary of defense would have,” she will not be in the line of succession, the senior defense official said. Army Secretary John McHugh, the senior most service secretary, is first in the line of succession.
Carter refereed to Fox as being “remarkably brilliant” during his Monday farewell ceremony at the Pentagon.
Fox — a former president of the Center for Naval Analyses — will play an integral role in the development of DoD’s 2015 budget proposal and Quadrennial Defense Review.
While at CAPE, Fox worked behind the scenes, rarely speaking at public events or agreeing to interviews with reporters. However, since leaving DoD, she has been much more visible.
Fox spoke out against defense spending cuts through the sequestration process in an opinion article published by Defense News on Sept. 16.
The move of naming an acting deputy secretary is extremely rare. Gordon England served in an acting role from May 2005 until January 2006 while he awaited confirmation. President George W. Bush put England in the job officially though a recess appointment.