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Donley Welcomes the New Professional Challenge of Old Job

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Mike Donley is an example of the way Washington should work.

Donley, a consummate defense expert, is one of those rare people who have been appointed to national security positions by both Democratic and Republican presidents. He served as the Defense Department's director of administration and management in the Bush Administration and as the Air Force Secretary under President Obama.

And now he is back with DOD serving for the second time as the director of administration and management. He says he is engaged in "worthy work" as the department moves forward.

A man speaks to military personnel.
Michael Donley
Then-Air Force Secretary Michael Donley speaks to base leaders at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in 2012.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Wolf
VIRIN: 120521-F-NZ143-116C

Donley started his service in the Army and continued in civilian jobs with the Senate Armed Services Committee, DOD, the National Security Council and more. Throughout his career he has worked with many current defense leaders. "We are truly fortunate that Secretary Donley agreed to return to the Pentagon to serve as the director of administration and management," Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in a written statement. "He embodies our core values of duty, integrity and honor. As we emerge from the pandemic and look forward to modernizing how we manage the department, we will benefit from his decades of expertise across multiple administrations. I look forward to working closely with him."

He hadn't expected to come back to the department. "I was watching this from a distance," he said during an interview in his E-Ring office. 

In this community, no matter where we work, we share that deep commitment to serving the nation's defense and our men and women in uniform. It's always a privilege to be part of this mission."
Mike Donley

Donley had been involved in discussions between the department and Capitol Hill on establishing the DOD chief management officer position in 2005. "I've always been interested in how does one manage one of the world's largest enterprises. It's a huge challenge for a secretary and deputy secretary of defense," he said. 

When he was administration and management director the first time he learned a lot about a wide range of management areas. Congress established the chief management officer position, but then shut it down at the end of 2020. "There was a fair amount of turmoil associated with that, and it just looked to me like there was going to be a challenge to put things back together in some fashion," he said.

And many of the duties performed by the chief of management did not go away when the position disappeared. "Now there is a challenge to figure out where all the pieces go, and how the intention of the Congress and the department in creating this additional level of oversight across the department would be implemented," Donley said. 

He had discussions with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks about the situation and he suggested some people who could do the administration and management job. "She eventually turned the discussion around and asked if I would do it. So I said, 'Yes,'" Donley said.

A man answers questions as another man looks on.
Donley and Welsh
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III answers a reporter's question as then-Air Force Secretary Michael Donley looks on during a State of the Air Force press briefing at the Pentagon in 2013.
Photo By: James Varhegyi
VIRIN: 130111-F-FC975-150C

Donley advises the secretary and deputy secretary on organization and management aspects of the department. He also oversees a wide range of administrative, logistical and technological support for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and associated agencies and offices. Finally, Donley is responsible for running the Pentagon reservation. 

The job is not going to be the same as it was in his first iteration. The elimination of the position of chief management officer is one reason, technology is another and necessity is a third. The CMO functions need to continue, and the office may pick up those for at least a time, Donley said. Once there is time to study them, the functions may go to another DOD agency [or] to one of the services, he said. New technologies often mandate new methods of doing things, and that, too, causes changes. 

The professional challenge is one part of the reason that Donley came back to DOD. "The people is the other part about coming back," he said. 

Many of those who worked with him originally have retired or moved on to other jobs, but there were a number of career civil servants whom he had worked with and trusted who are still in the organization. "It was good to see many people when I came back into the building," he said. "I know they are committed to the DOD mission, and that is something that unites really everybody in this building. In this community, no matter where we work, we share that deep commitment to serving the nation's defense and our men and women in uniform. It's always a privilege to be part of this mission."

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