Obama National Security Nominees Seek Senate Approval

January 15, 2009

Government Relations Update - Defense

With Inauguration Day looming, President-elect Obama’s cabinet and department nominees converged on Capitol Hill this week, seeking the blessing of Senators who appeared to relish in the opportunity to gain insight into the Obama administration’s policy objectives.

During the most highly anticipated confirmation hearing, Senator Hillary Clinton sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday to discuss the incoming administration’s overarching foreign policy vision, along with an assortment of national security issues that will prove critical to U.S. military operations around the globe. Addressing proposed troop increases in Afghanistan, Clinton assured lawmakers that Obama’s national security team will initiate a comprehensive policy review of Afghanistan to define the role of an expanded military presence as part of a broader regional strategy.

Throughout the nomination hearing, Senator Clinton also underscored the Obama administration’s position that U.S. military force will be complemented with vigorous diplomatic activity and civilian development, a strategy referred to as "smart power." Clinton’s comments suggest that the ongoing debate between the DoD and the Department of State over civilian reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere will likely continue into the new administration.

A handful of Obama’s top DoD nominees—all former Clinton administration officials—also appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today in hopes of receiving a seamless confirmation, including the following:

  • Deputy Secretary of Defense, William J. Lynn IIILynn served as DoD comptroller from 1997-2001 and is currently the senior vice president of government operations at Raytheon.
  • Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer, Robert F. Hale—Hale served as the Air Force assistant secretary for financial management from 1994-2001 and is currently the executive director of the American Society of Military Comptrollers.
  • Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michèle Flournoy—Flournoy is the co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, a centrist think-tank that focuses upon national security issues.
  • DoD General Counsel, Jeh Charles Johnson—Johnson formerly served as general counsel to the Air Force, and is currently a partner in the New York City law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

If confirmed, Lynn, Hale, and Flourney will play pivotal roles in assisting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates formulate DoD funding priorities during the upcoming budget cycle. Senate confirmation of all four nominees is expected—as it also is for Department of Homeland Security Secretary nominee Janet Napolitano whose confirmation hearing occurred today in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Although Secretary Gates does not require Senate confirmation, he is scheduled to appear in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 27 to discuss DoD challenges.

Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Delays on the Horizon

On Tuesday, Peter Orszag, Obama’s nominee to head the White House's Office of Management and Budget, testified to the Senate Budget Committee that a preliminary Fiscal Year 2010 budget outline will likely be submitted "in mid- to late February," providing further substantiation to rumors that Obama will not send Congress a formal budget request until April.

This leaves Pentagon budget planners with additional time to assess military spending priorities within the DoD’s annual budget request, especially big-ticket items such as the F-22 Raptor, the C-17 Globemaster and the Air Force’s KC-X refueling tanker program. Although, former DoD undersecretary for acquisition Paul G. Kapinski told reporters this week that retaining American defense jobs will likely supersede any efforts to pare back on costly DoD weapons programs, given the current U.S. economy.

DoD Transition Update

It was confirmed this week that both Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Navy Secretary Donald Winter will temporarily remain on board in their current positions. Donley will be Air Force Secretary for an unspecified period, while Winter is scheduled to depart as Navy Secretary by March 13, or when a successor has been confirmed, according to a Navy spokeswoman.

Additionally, Secretary Gates has requested that Army Secretary Pete Geren remain in his post until a successor is confirmed.