By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 22, 2005
The new civilian leadership team that has moved into place under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over the past few months is shaping up to be less ideological, more balanced and more attuned to Congress than the first-term group it has succeeded, according to defense analysts and lawmakers.
Although Rumsfeld has resisted calls from some in Congress and elsewhere to resign over his handling of the Iraq conflict, his deputy and several top advisers responsible for policy, procurement and management of his inner office have departed. Gone are Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's previous number two civilian, and Douglas J. Feith, the former policy chief -- both prominent neoconservative figures who helped craft the administration's approach to Iraq and who became public targets for critics of the invasion and decisions affecting its aftermath.
After four years in which the Pentagon often found itself enmeshed in controversy over such issues as the use of a preemptive strike, the quality of prewar intelligence and the treatment of detainees, the new team members by contrast have drawn little political fire as they transition into their new jobs.
Gordon England, who has taken Wolfowitz's place as deputy, still faces the ongoing challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has said little publicly about those conflicts or other international policy questions since taking office in May. Instead, he has focused on more parochial Pentagon priorities, most notably the streamlining of the department's business practices and the refashioning of the armed forces to deal with less conventional missions.
Eric Edelman, who this month succeeded Feith as policy chief, also has little public record of engagement in Washington's ideological battles but comes with a reputation as a skilled career diplomat with an easygoing personality.
And Robert Rangel, a longtime congressional insider who was staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, recently started operating as Rumsfeld's chief of staff and using his Capitol Hill expertise to help smooth the way for Pentagon initiatives. In one sign of a fresh push to work more closely with lawmakers, Rumsfeld hosted the senior Democrat on the House committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), at a private breakfast last month, the first time the two men had dined one-on-one, according to Skelton.
"It's not so much the quality of the people in the new team, since the old team also had a fair amount of ability," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution. "Rather, it's a matter of balance. There's a better balance than before, when the neocons appeared to dominate."
Staff restructurings are customary at the start of second terms in Washington, and several defense officials cautioned against viewing the Pentagon's senior personnel changes as signaling any basic shift in course. Indeed, Rumsfeld's new picks appear to reflect as much a premium on familiarity, loyalty and trust as anything else.
Lawrence Di Rita, Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, noted that the Pentagon leader has often bemoaned the frequent turnover of civilian as well as military personnel in the department. "If he can promote from within, or bring somebody in who's been part of the operation in some other capacity, he likes to do that," Di Rita said.
England, for instance, served two stints as Navy secretary, with time as the Department of Homeland Security's first deputy chief. Kenneth Krieg, the new undersecretary for acquisition and logistics, is in his third Pentagon job in four years, after positions as the department's top program analyst and executive secretary of a senior-level council.
Even Edelman, who came from the State Department and a posting as ambassador to Turkey, has ties to other senior administration figures. He advised Vice President Cheney on national security matters during the first two years of the administration and served under Wolfowitz at the Pentagon in the early 1990s, when both were in the department's policy branch.
"From a policy perspective, you're not going to see any fundamental changes, nothing beyond some little stick-and-rudder movements," said an administration official involved in defense policy who is not authorized to speak for attribution.
Still, the shape of the new team seems to point to some significant shifts in emphasis and style.
England, in particular, has made clear his intention to return to the traditional model of a deputy who oversees the daily operations of the Pentagon. These management tasks never were the strong suit of Wolfowitz, a former academic and defense policy specialist who left the Defense Department in June to become president of the World Bank.
A veteran of the aerospace industry -- he held executive positions with General Dynamics Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. -- England has declared the Pentagon's existing systems for buying weapons overly complex and has signaled his determination to restructure the process. He set up a committee to recommend changes by November.
"Gordon England has believed since he was in industry that the acquisition system is broken," said Loren B. Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an advocacy group. "If given the opportunity, he'll push to change almost every aspect of the way the Pentagon does business because he believes billions of dollars are being wasted."
Additionally, England has taken charge of a broad review this year of Pentagon force levels and weapons, an effort mandated by Congress every four years. He has narrowed the list of issues under consideration to about a dozen major decision areas and warned the military services -- nervous about losing pet projects -- that there will be no sacred-cow programs, according to several participants.
"In the past, we've said the burden is on making the case for change through analysis," said one associate authorized to speak only on the condition of anonymity. "He realizes you sometimes make the change on the basis of whatever information is available."
For all the recent staff changes, 12 of the 47 Pentagon jobs that require Senate approval remain unfilled. Among the most prominent vacancies, neither the Air Force nor Navy has a permanent secretary, and the Army still lacks an undersecretary.
Filling such positions has proved a chronic problem in recent years, with 15 to 25 percent of the available slots going empty, according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Part of the blame rests with policy disputes in which senators have put holds on some nominations. An argument over release of Iraq-related documents had blocked Edelman's confirmation, as well as that of Peter Flory for assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Bush used his recess authority to install both officials this month.
England's confirmation was caught up in a dispute about a long-standing congressional requirement that Pentagon officials with pensions from former private employers buy a special insurance policy to protect the future value of their benefits and thus guard against potential conflicts of interest while in office. Just as this hurdle appeared to be cleared this month with a decision by Sens. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) to move England's nomination out of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) put a hold on it.
A spokesman for the senator said Snowe's action was prompted by objections to a range of shipbuilding and base-closing decisions by England during his time as Navy secretary. He has been serving as "acting" deputy defense secretary.
The administration has contributed to the vacancy problem by being slow to send some names to the Senate. Di Rita withdrew his nomination as assistant secretary for public affairs after being stalled in the Senate for a year, but expects to be nominated for Army undersecretary. He said the appointments process is hampered by redundant vetting and other systemic inefficiencies.
"It tends to be everybody doing the same things multiple times, and I'm not sure how much value is added at each level of the process," he said.
Last week, the White House announced that Bush intends to nominate Michael Wynne to be secretary of the Air Force, despite earlier Senate refusal to confirm him as the Pentagon's acquisition chief amid a swirl of Air Force weapons-buying scandals. The White House also reported plans to name Northrop Grumman Corp. executive Donald C. Winter as secretary of the Navy.