Updated 12/20/16 with comment from Flournoy.
WASHINGTON – With retired Ret. Gen. James Mattis viewed as a lock to become the next sSecretary of dDefense, the question now turns to who will make up the rest of his team.
To be clear: there is nothing DC likes more than playing the name game, and that triples during a presidential transition. For the Pentagon, the process is even more opaque this year given the number of Republican national security experts who are frozen out for signing "Never Trump" letters. In addition, much of the decision making is being driven by Trump himself, adding a degree of uncertainty in the names being bandied about.
However, there is some value in the wisdom-of-crowd model and so Defense News contacted a number of individuals with ties to the defense world to feel out who might make up the rest of the Trump defense team.
To start with, who are defense observers looking at to be Mattis’ number two?
The most common name that has come out in reporting is
, who served as Air Force Secretary from 2005 to 2008 before being forced out by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Ostensibly, the firing was because of a series of mishaps with the nuclear mission, but defenders of Wynne have indicated Gates was looking for an excuse to fire the Air Force leadership. Wynne has been out of the Pentagon since his firing, but the 72 year old would bring organizational knowledge to Mattis’s team.
However, one source said Wynne has yet to actually be contacted by the Trump team and described the speculation around him as just that – speculation.
If Trump and Mattis look to someone with business credentials but no Pentagon experience, one name that was floated is
, president of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. (On Friday afternoon, Bloomberg reported McCormick is the front runner for the deputy spot.) A former Army officer who served in the Gulf War, McCormick would likely fit into the COO model of a deputy, focusing on internal systems while Mattis provides the outward facing voice for the department.
Two observers suggested
, Lockheed Martin’s senior vice president for Washington Operations and former Special Assistant to Gates. Rangel was also a staff director on the House Armed Services Committee, which means he would have experience navigating landmines both in the Pentagon and on the Hill.
While capable, Rangel would be an odd fit for Trump’s "drain the swamp" mantra, which has largely focused on closing the revolving door between government service and lobbying.
Easily the most surprising name among those mentioned, floated by two individuals, is
, the current head of the Center for a New American Security and the woman almost universally agreed upon as the Secretary of Defense choice from a Hillary Clinton administration. However, the sense is that while there has been some basic reach out to her from the Trump team, Flournoy would not accept the job if formally offered it.
After publication of this piece, Kurt Campbell, Chairman of the' Board of Directors for CNAS, issued a statement that Flournoy would be staying at the think thank.
"Given recent media speculation, we wanted to clarify that Michèle Flournoy will remain CEO of CNAS, a position in which she has exceeded our highest expectations," Campbell said. "She has the utmost respect for General James Mattis. While she had several conversations with General Mattis about how she could support his success as the nominee for Secretary of Defense, she has no plans to return to government service at this time."
And of course there is always the possibility, floated by several individuals as a hypothetical, that current deputy
could be asked to stay on, at least in the short term. Given the unprecedented nature of a Continuing Resolution through the end of April in a transition year, in the midst of ongoing military operations versus the Islamic State, there is an argument to be made that stability and continuity is needed in the building.
Below the deputy secretary level, things get even murkier. No names for Undersecretary of Acquisition, Technology & Logistics– the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer – seem to have any traction, an issue complicated by Congress’ decision to split that office into two new offices come 2018. And the service secretary picture is cloudy at best, particularly for the Army.
The one name everyone seems to feel confident in is Rep.
for Secretary of the Navy. A longtime advocate for the Navy on the Hill, Forbes was redistricted and lost his primary in June, leaving him without a job come January. Over the last year, Forbes emerged as a top advisor on military issues for Trump, and helped craft the defense plan unveiled in the campaign’s final days.
For Air Force secretary, a number of names have been thrown about.
Two sources highlighted
, former Ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush. Barrett has a longstanding interest in aerospace issues, sitting on the boards of the RAND and Aerospace Corporations (where she also serves with former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley), and acting as a former member of the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board.
The owner of Montana’s Triple Creek Guest Ranch, Barrett was nominated as Secretary of the Air Force in 2003, but never confirmed for the role. She was a reliably Republican donor in 2016, although she does not appear to have given directly to the Trump campaign.
Another rumored name is Republican Congressman
, who represents Oklahoma’s 1
district. Bridenstine, who serves on both the House Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee, has carved out a niche by focusing heavily on space policy during his four years in office. That interest could be scratched with the role, as last year the Pentagon essentially turned the Air Force Secretary into the top civilian role for military space issues. However, there is heavy speculation around Bridenstine as a potential NASA administrator.
, Chairman and CEO of Airbus Group, was also floated by one rumormonger. A 1964 graduate from the Air Force Academy, McArtor was a combat pilot during the Vietnam War and later flew with the Thunderbirds. Like Barrett, McArtor donated to Republicans in the 2016 cycle but not directly to the Trump campaign.