Senate Considers Nominees for Pentagon Posts

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2011 — Two of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nees for key Defense Depart­ment posts appeared before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today as part of their con­fir­ma­tion process.
Michael G. Vick­ers, nom­i­nat­ed to be under­sec­re­tary of defense for intel­li­gence, and Jo Ann Rooney, the president’s choice to be prin­ci­pal deputy under­sec­re­tary of defense for per­son­nel and readi­ness, both pledged to sup­port Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ “effi­cien­cy ini­tia­tives” to cut unnec­es­sary expen­di­tures and redi­rect the sav­ings to sup­port the wars and warfight­ers and their fam­i­lies.

Vick­ers has been assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for spe­cial oper­a­tions and low-inten­si­ty con­flict since 2007. In that time, he not­ed, his office saved mon­ey by par­ing down joint intel­li­gence oper­a­tions cen­ters, which had grown to include thou­sands of per­son­nel at every com­mand, as well as stream­lin­ing oth­er efforts.

“Intel­li­gence is very impor­tant, … but it’s also an area that the Amer­i­can peo­ple and Con­gress invest a lot of trea­sure, so we have to make sure it’s as effi­cient as pos­si­ble,” he said.

On Afghanistan, he echoed Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ fre­quent­ly stat­ed con­cern that the Unit­ed States can­not repeat the mis­take of becom­ing dis­en­gaged to the point that ter­ror­ists are giv­en safe haven in the coun­try.

“The core ele­ment of our pol­i­cy is to deny any sanc­tu­ary to ter­ror­ists,” he said.

Intel­li­gence shows dis­cord among insur­gents in Afghanistan who have been told to fight through the harsh win­ter there while their lead­ers hole up in Pak­istan.

“A lot of local [insur­gent] com­man­ders have been vot­ing with their feet, essen­tial­ly say­ing ‘I’ve had enough of this,’” Vick­ers said. He added that insur­gents join the fight for many rea­sons, often relat­ed to eco­nom­ics more than ide­ol­o­gy, and there­fore are more will­ing to walk away than the lead­ers.

Vick­ers told the sen­a­tors that one of his biggest chal­lenges if he’s con­firmed will be ensur­ing that intel­li­gence infor­ma­tion is prop­er­ly pro­tect­ed while it’s shared as wide­ly as pos­si­ble.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is work­ing toward per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance in Afghanistan, Vick­ers said, and infor­ma­tion shar­ing has been a chal­lenge among the 50 nations there, part­ly because 29 dif­fer­ent net­works for shar­ing infor­ma­tion exist­ed until recent­ly.

“There is an inher­ent ten­sion between this respon­si­bil­i­ty and need to know, to pro­tect­ing our sources, while mak­ing sure we get time­ly infor­ma­tion into the hands of our warfight­ers,” he said.

Vick­ers also acknowl­edged that many insur­gents return to the fight after being cap­tured. Of about 600 who have been held at the deten­tion cen­ter in Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, at least 150 have returned to the fight, often in ele­vat­ed posi­tions, he said.

Vick­ers called such recidi­vism “a vex­ing prob­lem with no obvi­ous solu­tion.”

“The paths they take are based on the cir­cum­stances of their release,” he said, adding that it hap­pens in mul­ti­ple coun­tries, includ­ing Pak­istan and Yemen.

If she’s con­firmed as the Pentagon’s No. 2 leader for per­son­nel and readi­ness, Rooney said, her chal­lenges would include ensur­ing that com­pen­sa­tion, train­ing, health care and oth­er sup­port to ser­vice mem­bers and civil­ians are prop­er­ly aligned in an era of tight­en­ing bud­gets.

Rooney, whose most recent posi­tion was as the pres­i­dent of Mount Ida Col­lege in Mass­a­chu­setts, is an attor­ney with a long career in the pri­vate sec­tor and acad­e­mia. She said she has proven her abil­i­ty to tran­si­tion between diverse sec­tors, not­ing that she was a busi­ness exec­u­tive before tran­si­tion­ing to aca­d­e­m­ic lead­er­ship roles.

“The way I assim­i­lat­ed into that cul­ture was to be a per­pet­u­al stu­dent, which is what I would do here. … My expe­ri­ence in the past shows I def­i­nite­ly can make that trans­for­ma­tion and dive in with pas­sion to learn that new role,” she said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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