After months of feverish speculation about who would succeed Ash Carter as the
Pentagon's No. 2, former Marine colonel and current think tank chief Bob Work appears
to have won the job and gone into pre-nomination mode, declining invitations to
give speeches or take part in other public events -- a sure sign in Washington
that someone's about to get the nod.
chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, will be
nominated by the White House as the new deputy secretary of defense by the end
of the week, possibly Thursday, U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. That will leave Work with one of the most difficult
jobs imaginable: slashing the Pentagon's bloated budget and pushing back
against the powerful lawmakers and senior military officials who will do all
they can to preserve the status quo.
will have three things on his plate, said Jim
Stavridis, a retired four-star admiral who now serves as the dean of Tufts
University's Fletcher School: "The budget, the budget and the budget."
earned a reputation as a careful analyst and a hands-on manager who is well
suited to running the day-to-day operations of the Pentagon during a time of
fundamental changes to its missions and resources. He has shown a willingness
to make controversial decisions like supporting the killing of an advanced
vehicle cherished by his fellow Marines.
same time, those who know him say Work can be quick to cut off debate and
resistant to hearing opposing views. At CNAS, which has long prided itself for
being staffed by strong personalities who enjoy intellectual jousting, Work has
been seen as ponderous and occasionally closed off from his staff. As one
individual who knows Work put it: "He's boring even as a defense
left the Pentagon last year after serving as the Navy's No. 2 civilian, which
put him in charge of overseeing the Marine Corps and the Navy's ships,
aircraft, and personnel. He'll now need to do that on a much broader scale and
at a much more difficult moment. Work's primary mission will be to take a
Pentagon budget that has been on a wartime footing for more than a dozen years
and transform it into a leaner force without losing fundamental military
capabilities. Generations of defense leaders have talked about doing just that.
This time around, with the Pentagon budget facing serious cuts, Work will
actually have to put that mantra into practice.
extensive paper trail may make for some interesting exchanges during his
confirmation hearing, possibly as early as next week. During his long career,
Work has taken clear positions on a variety of controversial weapons systems,
leaving him with potential adversaries on both sides of the aisle.
for example, has long been a strong advocate of the troubled Littoral Combat
Ship, or LCS, which, according to leaks to the media ahead of the budget release
next month, will be slashed from 52 ships to 32. He will have to essentially
defend a cut he didn't make -- and may not even support.
"The only thing standing in the way of success for LCS would be a lack
of imagination and hard work," Work wrote in the study, The Littoral Combat Ship: How
We Got Here, and Why. "After fleet operators
get their hands on the ships and refine old operational and logistical support
concepts and develop new ones, there is little reason to think the ship will
not be an important contributor to 21st century Total Force Battle
He has also been critical of the controversial
Joint Strike Fighter, another controversial program whose costs have
skyrocketed even as its mission and exact capabilities remain unclear. Like the
LCS, the warplane has vocal supporters across Capitol Hill who will likely do
all they can to save it from further cuts.
Work was commissioned as a Marine officer in
1974 and spent 27 years in the Corps before retiring and becoming an analyst at
the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, where he specialized in
maritime defense issues. The Obama administration brought him back to the
Pentagon as the undersecretary of the Navy, one of the most powerful positions
in the Defense Department.
Work quickly won a reputation for doing careful,
methodical analysis of the biggest issues facing the service, but wasn't
afraid to cut inefficient or unpopular programs. Although then-Defense
Secretary Robert Gates is credited with cutting the Marines' cherished
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, or EFV, Work was seen as one of the prime
advocates for eliminating the amphibious truck. The former Marine colonel was
then effectively in a "joint" job, and some believed he made too
much of a point to establish his independence from the Marine Corps.
"He spent a lot of time making sure no one
thought he was a former Marine," one officer quipped to FP.
will also have to help guide the Pentagon as it reevaluates its exact needs
after more than 12 years of war -- and looks to a future likely to be dominated
by drones, robots, and other advanced weaponry.
for the department, it's an issue he has already thought about. Work co-wrote a recent study with CNAS colleague Shawn
Brimley, a former senior Pentagon official, on the future of warfare. The
report, 20YY: Preparing for War in the
Robotic Age, argues that the nature of warfare, the cost of personnel, and
the threat from non-state actors like al Qaeda will require the U.S. to rely
more heavily on unmanned and robotic systems.
point, citing Tyler Cowen's Average Is
Over: America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, the two write: "Cowen observes that we take as a matter of faith that computers will
beat humans in games of knowledge and insight. Cowen points out, however, that
the most successful chess champions are not machines or humans but rather
human-machine teams working together in what is called 'free play' chess." They continue: "In a future war-fighting
regime dominated by guided munitions and unmanned and autonomous systems, those
who master 'free play' combat by harnessing the relative cognitive advantages
of both humans and machines will likely dominate the battlefield as well."
To some, Work is known for being an unflappable
analyst and project manager who has a reputation for soberly studying an issue
before making a final decision, those who know him told FP. And he does,
Stavridis said, without ever raising his voice. "Bob Work is steady, he's
calm, and he's analytic," Stavridis told FP.
Stavridis and Work served together as aides to
then-Navy Secretary Richard Danzig in the late 1990s; Stavridis was the Navy
aide and Work was the Marine one. The two have known each other since 1989.
Danzig, meanwhile, served as the chairman of the CNAS board until recently and
was instrumental in Work's appointment to run the think tank.
"[Work] does not operate on emotion, he
operates on the numbers and then he applies his own intelligence to the numbers
to make, I think, excellent recommendations," Stavridis said.
leaked out for the Pentagon slot weeks ago, but the nomination has taken far
longer than had been expected. That fueled speculation inside and outside the
department that the administration had chosen to delay his nomination until
after Christine Fox, now filling the deputy job on a temporary basis, could
complete much of the number-crunching and program-cutting before the rollout of
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's first defense budget in March.
Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said she
"doesn't wear rose-colored glasses for anyone in this town" but sees
Work as a good choice for the job. Eaglen said the position shouldn't go to
anyone with a strong partisan background, but said she felt confident that Work
wouldn't use the job to advance a political agenda. "He's incredibly
smart, he's proved himself to be very capable," she told FP.
will be inevitable growing pains as Work settles into the job as Hagel's deputy.
Carter, who left the Pentagon in January 2014, had been given a long leash by
his first boss, Leon Panetta. Panetta was seen as a hands-off manager, and he encouraged
Carter to play a larger role. When Hagel arrived in February 2013, by contrast,
he returned Carter to the much more conventional deputy's role of running the
Pentagon's day-to-day operations. Defense officials have said Hagel has been
increasing latitude to pick his own people for top jobs. Work, unlike Carter,
will be a personal Hagel choice.
will likely receive a warm reception on Capitol Hill. Rep. Randy Forbes, a
member of the House Armed Services Committee, welcomed the "rumor"
that Work would be nominated while acknowledging the White House hadn't formally
"proven himself to be one of the country's most thoughtful strategists and
defense thinkers," Forbes, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement to
leadership on numerous issues, including the future structure of the Navy and
Marine Corps and the impact of game-changing technologies, is well-known and
Garcia, the assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, has
seen a different side of Work. The two men agreed one of them would visit the wounded
at Bethesda Naval Hospital at least once a month. Work, Garcia said, also had
also a guy with a true appreciation for bad B-movie action flicks," Garcia
told FP in an e-mail, citing 2011's Battle: Los Angeles as an example. "I look forward to having
him back in the building."
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