- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is asking many of the Bush administration’s 250 Pentagon political appointees to remain on the job until the incoming Obama administration finds replacements — a move designed to prevent a leadership vacuum with U.S. troops engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The unusual request by Mr. Gates, whom President-elect Barack Obama has asked to continue in his Cabinet post, ensures that key policy positions will not be left to “acting” subordinates as typically occurs when political appointees are directed to resign during a presidential transition.

“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 a Friday e-mail.

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

Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, confirmed that Mr. Gates wants to retain temporarily most political appointees, saying nearly all of the service secretaries and undersecretaries will remain until Senate confirmation of their successors, which can take months. He declined to identify who will be asked to leave.

“It is his top priority to ensure a smooth transition,” said Mr. Morrell, who is also staying on.

Other federal agencies, including state, justice and homeland security are not keeping political appointees.

The Pentagon was scheduled to notify those it would ask to leave at the close of business Monday. At least three officials were notified Monday in an e-mail that they had to vacate their offices by Jan. 20. Deputy of Defense Secretary Gordon England and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric S. Edelman already have announced that they plan to depart by Jan. 20.

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

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

“To the extent you are willing and in a position to continue to serve, I am deeply appreciative,” Mr. Gates said in the e-mail. “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.”

About 40 Pentagon positions require Senate confirmation, including the undersecretaries, 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.

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,” and he 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.

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