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Panetta Has Work Cut out at Pentagon

Leon Panetta, Photo: CIA.gov

Soon-to-be Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has his work cut out for him.

While current Secretary Robert M. Gates, who retires at the end of the week, has earned accolades for making a dent in many of the important issues facing the Defense Department, others remain.

Gates said recently that when he was asked to stay on in his post by then-President-elect Barack Obama in 2008 — the first time a defense secretary had ever been asked to do so — it “teed up the agenda, once I was given renewed lease to begin tackling these broader issues.”

Now, Panetta, who until being nominated to lead the Pentagon, had served in the Obama administration as CIA director, faces similar challenges and more.

Two of those issues involve troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and continuing efforts to cut DoD spending Lawrence Korb, a high-ranking Reagan administration DoD official, told Federal News Radio in an interview recently.

“The 2013 budget is already into the programming phase and he’s got to start making some cuts there,” said Korb, who is now a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C.

The reductions are all the more imperative, Korb said, because the White House has directed the Pentagon to make $400 billion in cuts to national security spending in addition to departmental cost-savings, known as efficiencies.

“I think you ought to take a look at the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, and start pushing that forward,” he added. “You’re not going to get a lot of savings the first year but in 2014 and 2015, I think you can look there.”

In addition, he recommended reviewing over-budget and under-performing weapons systems, which he identified as the B-22 bomber and F-13 fighter jet.

Panetta may have an advantage in reducing DoD’s budget, Korb suggested, citing Panetta’s stints as Clinton White House budget director and as head of the House Budget Committee.

“Plus, the CIA makes him an ideal candidate for the job because he’s going to be able to hit the ground running,” Korb added. “I mean, he’s not going to have to get up to speed, for example, on Afghanistan or what’s happening with China or Iraq.”

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