- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ashton Carter is expected to cruise to confirmation as the Obama administration’s fourth defense secretary in just six years, even as Republicans prepare to use his confirmation hearing to hammer the president’s national security policy for lacking organization and vision.

Several lawmakers have slammed President Obama for the high turnover at the helm of the Pentagon amid the myriad international crises, from the Islamic State’s rise to Russia’s aggression to heightened muscle flexing by the Chinese military.

But Mr. Carter has received only praise from key players in the GOP’s national security matrix, most notably from Sen. John McCain, incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who will preside over confirmation hearings early next year.

Mr. McCain has made no bones about his plan to use the process as a forum to air Republican distaste for Mr. Obama. The goal, according to a statement released by the senator’s office Friday, will be to “fully ventilate all of the issues around the administration’s feckless foreign policy.”

But the Arizona Republican took care to praise Mr. Carter directly, calling him “a highly competent, experienced, hard-working, and committed public servant.”

A career physicist and native of Pennsylvania, Mr. Carter, 60, has spent years working both inside the Pentagon and in the private sector as a weapons industry expert. He’s won respect over the years by staying out of the media spotlight and serving as a back-channel budget operator at the Pentagon, despite working only in Democratic administrations.

While he has no uniformed military experience, he first served under President Clinton as an assistant secretary of defense. Later, after spending years in the private sector, Mr. Carter was tapped by President Obama in 2009 to serve as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics — the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer. He was promoted to deputy secretary of defense in 2011 and served in the post until last year.

Mr. Carter acted as the Pentagon’s chief operating officer, leading a major restructuring of the contentious and expensive F-35 fighter program — a process that one senior Pentagon official described to The Washington Times as “heated.”

Mr. Carter approached it and other issues “clear eyed” and used “rigorous analysis” to make “hard decisions,” according to the official.

That he has survived without making significant enemies on Capitol Hill may be the best testament to his reputation as an operator who listens to both sides of the aisle on divisive budget issues.

But it may also speak to his status as a longtime Washington insider and to the revolving-door nature of Mr. Carter’s history with the Defense Department.

He needed a special waiver to join the Pentagon back in 2009 because of his work in the defense contracting industry. The Times reported in 2011 that Mr. Carter received almost as much money from defense consulting work as he did from Harvard University, where he worked as a professor, before he joined the Obama administration.

While teaching at Harvard, he earned $238,235 from Jan. 1, 2008, through March 18, 2009, when he signed a financial disclosure before taking a job at the Pentagon. Over the same period, he received $65,000 from the Mitre Corp., which manages federally funded research and development centers and consults for the Defense Department, and more than $100,000 from Global Technology Partners, a defense consulting firm.

Mr. Carter also reported earning $20,000 in consulting fees from Goldman Sachs and received $10,000 from Raytheon for what was described on Mr. Carter’s ethics form as “meeting fee and memoranda.”

In 2011, a White House spokeswoman said Mr. Carter had recused himself for two years from participating in matters involving Harvard because he resigned his tenured position there in 2011.But such background seems unlikely to become an issue for Republican senators, who could upend Mr. Carter’s nomination.

Even Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a frequent Obama administration critic, said in a statement last week: “I can’t imagine that he’s going to have opposition to his confirmation.”

And Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, has said he’s committed to giving Mr. Carter a fair consideration.

Dave Boyer, Jim McElhatton and Maggie Ybarra contributed to this report.

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