By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 30, 2005
There is a new pecking order at the Pentagon should Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld not be able to perform his duties, one that favors his inner circle and pushes the three service secretaries further down the line of succession.
The new list -- approved by President Bush last week -- still has Rumsfeld's top deputy as his replacement should the defense secretary die or resign. But it now puts the undersecretaries for intelligence, policy and acquisition next in line, bumping the secretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy into the following slots.
The secretary of the Army has traditionally been No. 3.
While the change does not have much of an impact on day-to-day matters, military experts said it does highlight Rumsfeld's interest in keeping his top advisers in line to run the department in the event of a catastrophe. Pentagon officials have said the move keeps defense policymakers who are responsible for broad departmental issues at the top of the line, moving down those civilian leaders who have specific concentrations on one of the services.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that the moves allow people who are "in a position to have a broader perspective on the department overall" to take over the entire Defense Department if needed. He said while the service secretaries have deep knowledge, they are more narrowly focused on military matters such as training and equipping troops.
"It's a sensible choice because the undersecretaries will have a department-wide view of their responsibilities that would be missing from the service-secretary outlooks," Loren B. Thompson, an expert at the Lexington Institute, said. "They have shifted the line of succession from people who run particular parts of the Pentagon to policymakers who see the entire defense posture."
Thompson said senior administration officials are preoccupied with what would happen in the event a large-scale attack -- such as a nuclear explosion -- were to occur in Washington, and that matters of succession have become an important topic. "It has as much urgency today as it did during the Cold War," he said.
The move gives Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary for intelligence, second billing after acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, who has not been confirmed as deputy secretary. England gave up his position as secretary of the Navy yesterday after serving in both roles for the past eight months, according to the Pentagon. Donald C. Winter is scheduled to be sworn in as Navy secretary on Tuesday.
Michael E. O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution, said Rumsfeld often pays attention to such "symbolic issues" as a way to send a message, in this case that his undersecretaries effectively outrank the service secretaries.
"Rumsfeld doesn't do things randomly," O'Hanlon said. "His inner circle is the key group."
As far as daily business, the change does not have much of an effect on the Pentagon.
Edwin Dorn, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and a former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said he came close to being tapped to be in charge of the Pentagon when his position was low in succession during a holiday when people were away -- but someone of higher rank stepped in.
Dorn said the change in succession intrigues him because the relatively new intelligence position appears to outrank everyone else, and he wondered if the department is trying to emphasize intelligence matters over ground forces.
"Obviously Rumsfeld believes intelligence is more important than war fighting," Dorn said.