- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has asked most Bush administration political appointees except those targeted for dismissal to stay on in the Pentagon until replaced by the Obama administration in the coming months.

“I have received authorization from the president-elect’s transition team to extend a number of Department of Defense political appointees an invitation to voluntarily remain in their current positions until replaced,” Mr. Gates said in an Dec. 19 e-mail to political appointees.

The chance to stay is “available to all willing political appointees with the exception of those who are contacted individually and told otherwise,” he stated.

Notification of those who must depart was to be done before the close of business Monday. The identity of the dismissed officials could not be learned.

The policy affects some 250 political appointees in the department. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman have already announced they plan to depart by Jan. 20.

Two senior officials expected to stay are John Young, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and James R. Clapper, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

About 40 positions in the Pentagon require Senate confirmation, including the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries and some deputies. The rest do not require a formal presidential nomination and Senate approval and can be made by the defense secretary.

Senate confirmation in some cases can take months and require hearings. In other cases, nominees can be approved within a few weeks of nomination.

Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, confirmed that Mr. Gates wants to retain most political appointees. He said the policy of keeping so many holdover officials is unusual for a transition from a Republican to Democratic administration

The decision to keep the appointees is part of an effort by Mr. Gates to avoid a “leadership vacuum” at a time when the United States in engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Morrell said.

Other federal agencies are not keeping political appointees, including the state, justice and homeland security departments that are planning personnel changes without Bush administration appointees in place.

It is his top priority to ensure a smooth transition, Mr. Morrell said of Mr. Gates.

Mr. Morrell, a deputy assistant secretary who is also staying on, said most of the service secretaries and undersecretaries will be staying, until their replacement is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.

In the past, a change of administration normally involved mass resignations of political appointees between November and January, leaving subordinates in key policy positions as “acting” officials.

Not all the political appointees will be permitted to stay, but Mr. Morrell declined to identify those asked to leave.

“To the extent you are willing and in a position to continue to serve, I am deeply appreciative,” Mr. Gates stated in the email. “However, I encourage you to continue to prudently plan for the transition from DOD employment, as the pace of personnel decisions by the incoming administration is likely to accelerate.”

Mr. Gates said he could not provide “more clarity and guidance” on how long those that wish to become holdovers will be allowed to stay on in their positions.

The secretary said he appreciated the appointees’ willingness to continue “in the interest of providing continuity for this department and for its critical mission to the nation in a time of war.”

Mr. Gates promised to thank each appointee personally in January. “But I still want to take advantage of this note to thank you collectively for all you have done for our country. I wish you and yours happy holidays,” he said.

The note was signed “Bob Gates” and sent by Mr. Gates’ chief of staff, Robert Rangel.