Obama Officially Announces Nominees for National Security Team

December 4, 2008

Government Relations Update - Defense

This week, during a highly anticipated press conference, President-elect Obama unveiled a national security team that by and large represents significant change, but also a level of continuity that comes with Obama’s decision to make Secretary of Defense Robert Gates the first Pentagon chief to continue serving under a newly-elected president.

Joining Gates on the podium were cabinet nominees Senator Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder (Attorney General) and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (Department of Homeland Security). Additionally, Obama announced that retired Marine General James L. Jones is his choice for national security advisor, while former Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice is the nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

During a Pentagon briefing that followed Obama’s announcement, Secretary Gates expressed support for the president-elect’s goal of a “responsible” drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq based on the military assessments on the ground, reiterating that U.S. commanders have already begun analyzing “the potential for accelerating the drawdown from Iraq.” However, in response to lingering questions of the likelihood for inner-conflict on national security issues, Gates stated that he has “no intention of being a caretaker secretary” in the incoming Obama administration. “The president-elect has made it pretty clear that he wanted a team of people around him who would tell him what they thought and give him their best advice,” said Gates.

However, the Washington Post reported that despite the continuity of leadership at the Pentagon, senior defense and transition officials expect wholesale changes to occur amongst Gates’ top deputies, especially at the undersecretary level. On Tuesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England announced that he will step down “some time” after the January 20 inauguration to allow for a requisite transition period to occur. Replacement possibilities include Obama campaign advisor and former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, along with Obama’s DoD transition team leader Michele A. Flournoy. Similar resignation announcements are predicted for Under Secretaries Eric S. Edelman (Policy), John J. Young Jr. (Acquisition), Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. (Intelligence) and David S.C. Chu (Personnel and Readiness).

New NSC Post To Focus on Weapons Proliferation

It was recently reported that President-elect Obama plans to create a new national security post, which will focus upon the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). According to the Boston Globe, the role will entail coordinating efforts to “prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear or biological weapons” and “thwarting a catastrophic attack.” This news coincides with the official release of a report issued by the congressionally-chartered Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, who warn in stark terms that “America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing” and recommends the creation of a similar WMD post.

The nine-member commission—led by former Senators Bob Graham (D-FL) and James M. Talent (R-MO)—also recommends a broad restructuring of government coordination and oversight for the prevention of nuclear and biological attacks. One of these proposals includes the empowerment of congressional Homeland Security committees as the lone oversight committees for WMD proliferation, along with the creation of a new Intelligence Appropriations Subcommittee that will possess funding jurisdiction over national and military intelligence.

The Obama transition team currently maintains close ties to the report’s findings, as Wendy Sherman, Obama's “team leader” for national security, and Richard Verma, a member of Obama's defense transition team, served as panel members of the bipartisan commission.

Gates Confirms Development of FY09 War Supplemental Funding Request

On Tuesday, Secretary Gates confirmed last week's press reports that his department is currently drafting a supplemental funding request to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the rest of Fiscal Year 2009. Although Gates refused to identify the exact funding figure contained within the pending supplemental, it has been speculated that the request will add around $80 billion to the $65.9 billion that Congress has already approved for FY09. Gates said he intends to send the completed request to Capitol Hill during the next few weeks, in order for the 111th Congress to take up the legislation prior to June, when current war funding is expected to run out.

JET Team Evaluates Joint Strike Fighter Program

According to Inside Defense, this Fall, a Joint Estimate Team (JET)—a group of independent military cost analysts—concluded that the DoD’s Joint Strike Fighter is currently under funded by $15 billion and will require two more years of testing and development.

In response to the JET’s evaluation, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England distributed a classified memo on October 31 directing the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to add $480 million for FY10 testing as a method of temporarily allaying the JSF’s funding shortfalls. Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics John J. Young Jr. said that England’s decision came after top Pentagon officials were presented with two cost estimates—one from the JSF Joint Program Office and one from the JET—which contained dissimilar estimates. Young believes that England made a “prudent” decision, considering that divergent data was presented and that funding the JSF Program at the JET’s estimate would have required locating additional funding resources by either cutting or terminating existing weapon systems development.

NOC Draft Calls For Increase in Amphibious Ships for Both Navy and Marine Corps

A working draft of the 2008 Naval Operations Concept (NOC)—a Navy document that serves as a guideline for the service’s tactical, operational, and policy platforms—calls for an increase of amphibious ships within the Navy’s fleet, according to Inside the Navy.

The October 30 draft document contains 10 chapters, one of which describes a Navy force structure that is necessary to support major combat operations through the use of a forward global presence—a key element to a comprehensive maritime strategy signed off on by top Naval officers in October of 2007. Although the draft document calls for increasing the minimum Marine Corps fleet of 33 amphibious ships to an optimal fleet of 42 ships, a source close to Inside the Navy said the most recent working draft tentatively lowered the number to 38.

The 2008 NOC was originally slated for public release by the end of 2008, but a Navy Spokesman said that no timeline currently exists.

Notice: The purpose of this newsletter is to identify select developments that may be of interest to readers. The information contained herein is abridged and summarized from various sources, the accuracy and completeness of which cannot be assured. The Advisory should not be construed as legal advice or opinion, and is not a substitute for the advice of counsel.