The Washington Post

Yoda still standing: Office of Pentagon futurist Andrew Marshall, 92, survives budget ax

Yoda has won a new lease on life at the Pentagon, although his independence will be curtailed.

Yoda is the nom de guerre for Andrew W. Marshall, the 92-year-old futurist who directs the Pentagon’s obliquely named internal think tank, the Office of Net Assessment. A fixture in national-security circles since the dawn of the Cold War, Marshall contemplates military strategy and apocalyptic scenarios that could emerge in the decades to come.

Cutbacks at the Pentagon, however, had endangered Marshall’s own future and security. Defense Department leaders were considering whether to shutter or scale back his office, prompting a backlash among his influential acolytes on Capitol Hill, in think tanks and elsewhere in the federal government.

On Wednesday, after a broad review of spending in the upper reaches of the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Office of Net Assessment would be preserved. But he said Marshall’s fiefdom would be realigned on the bureaucratic flow chart so that Yoda would have to report to the undersecretary of defense for policy, instead of directly to the defense secretary.

“This change will better ensure that its long-range comparative analyses inform and influence . . . overall strategy and policy,” Hagel said.

Andrew W. Marshall, director of the United States Department of Defense's Office of Net Assessment. (U.S. Department of Defense) (U.S. Department of Defense/U.S. Department of Defense)

Advocates for Marshall had argued that maintaining his independence was critical to ensuring that his ideas would flourish and not be undermined by ideological rivals. But skeptics said it was difficult to scrutinize the intellectual value of his reports, most of which are classified, because of his reluctance to share them with others in the department.

Either way, Marshall was more fortunate than others who did not dodge the budget ax. Hagel unveiled a plan to cut 200 jobs from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, shrinking his front office from 2,400 employees to 2,200 by 2019.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.

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