Officials Promise Smooth Military Leadership Transition
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2008 The Defense Department is doing everything possible to ensure a smooth transition as the next presidential administration takes control of the military in January, officials assured civilian business, academic and local government leaders.
The November election will usher in the United States’ first change of administration during wartime in 40 years, Deputy Defense Secretary told participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference during the group’s orientation visit yesterday.
The business of defending the country and its interests transcends politics, England told the leaders, who visited the Pentagon before setting out for a weeklong trip through the U.S. European Command area of operations.
“This is serious biz that we are about; it is not political,” he said. “We have one mission -- protecting and defending the nation -- and that is what everybody does.”
The Defense Department has been working for the past year to ensure the political transition goes smoothly so no “hiccups” divert focus from that mission, England said. “We have been focused on it,” he said. “We are determined to make this as smooth as we can.”
The Joit Staff’s director of operations agreed. “We owe that to our troops, and we owe that to the American people, particularly now, with a war going on,” Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton said.
Toward that end, transition task forces throughout the department are preparing continuity plans for the new administration, Robert T. Hastings Jr., principal assistant deputy secretary of defense for public affairs, told the group.
“We have gone as far as preparing a budget to hand to the next leadership of this department,” he said. Whether to submit that budget, alter it, or come up with a new one altogether will be up to the new leaders.
“But when they come through the door, the homework is done and they will have available to them all resources they need to make decisions [about their] … first budget,” Hastings said. “We are pretty proud of the fact that the political leadership of this department will leave it in as good shape as we found it.”
Earlier this year, England told department managers their leadership will be critical in ensuring a smooth transition during the administration change. “Regardless of what administration comes in, there [will be] a disruptive period,” he said, with the exodus of current leaders and influx of new ones.
But England said, the department is committed to minimizing any disruption, particularly in light of two ongoing wars and other operations around the world.
“I don’t want to hand any bowls of spaghetti over to the next administration,” he said at a May conference.
Hastings reiterated that message this week to the JCOC participants. “We haven’t had to change the civilian leadership of this department during wartime since Vietnam, and we are approaching that with all seriousness,” he said. “Those troops in the field deserve leadership back here that is not disrupted. And we will continue to provide them that support.”
The first U.S. defense secretary, James V. Forrestal, created the JCOC in 1948 to introduce civilian "movers and shakers" with little or no military exposure to the workings of the armed forces. Nearly six decades later, it remains the Defense Department's premier civic leader program.