Trump team to meet with Pentagon, what that means for Carter’s legacy

The Pentagon officials will likely meet with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team sometime this week to prepare for the shift of power in mid-January, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said.

The meeting marks a period of uncertainty for a slew of Defense Department initiatives Carter rolled out over the past year and a half, including the Pentagon’s efforts to court innovative startups and the military services’ plans to attract more diverse talent to their ranks.

“We have procedures in place, but the transition team hasn’t arrived at the Pentagon yet. These practices, by the way, were settled upon weeks ago before the election was concluded. This is normal,” Carter said, during a Nov. 14 discussion hosted by The Atlantic in Washington. The transition team “has not come yet. They are expected, I think, sometime this week.”

Carter said DoD is ready to welcome and help the new administration transition in.

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“This has been going on for 240 years. I, myself, have witnessed transitions in the past,” Carter said. He commended his senior leadership for standing apart from the political process.

This summer Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work asked the Defense Business Board to share its private sector knowledge of management transitions and use them to assess the presidential transition of power.

“These opinions and recommendations should offer advice on the unique challenges and opportunities of a management position within an enterprise as vast and diverse as the” Defense Department,” the memo stated.

Work is the Pentagon’s lead on the presidential transition.

“I’m going to be central to the transition, so I’m going to be able to personally talk with the transition team and explain to them what we have pursued and why we pursued it and let them make their own decisions,” Work said last summer.

While the Pentagon is planning to work with the transition team, some of  Carter’s legacy may be in jeopardy if Trump reverses the initiatives Carter put in place.

During his tenure, Carter doubled down on the Third Offset Strategy and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), a Silicon Valley-based headquarters aimed at reaching out to innovative startups.

Some lawmakers are critical of DIUx.

The House version of the 2017 defense authorization bill states the House Armed Services Committee is concerned by DoD’s “pinpoint focus” on one geographic region and the dedication of significant funding at such a nascent period of the development of the organization.

“The committee is concerned that outreach is proceeding without sufficient attention being paid to breaking down the barriers that have traditionally prevented nontraditional contractors from supporting defense needs, like lengthy contracting processes and the inability to transition technologies,” the bill states.

It goes on to say DIUx may have insufficient oversight and coordination with laboratories and engineering centers.

DoD is trying to give the next administration a lot of options on where to take the Third Offset Strategy.

“We thought rail guns were something we were really going to go after, but it turns out that powder guns firing the same hypervelocity projectiles gets you almost as much as you would get out of the electromagnetic rail gun, but it’s something we can do much faster,” Work said. “We are going to say [to the next administration] ‘Look, we believe this is the place where you want to put your money, but we’re going to have enough money in there for both the electromagnetic rail gun and the powder gun.’ So if the new administration says ‘No really the electromagnetic rail gun is the way I want to go,’ knock yourself out, we’ve set you up for success.”

Another area where Carter may see his legacy stripped away is in the Force of the Future initiative. The program tried to make military life more accommodating to top talent by increasing maternity leave, creating longer daycare hours and loosening some service restrictions.

Republican members of Congress were skeptical of the initiative.

“Many of these Force of the Future proposals appear to be solutions in search of a problem,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, during a February hearing. “I find it deeply disturbing that you are proposing to add expensive fringe benefits allegedly aimed at retention during a time when we are asking 3,000 excellent Army captains to leave the service who would have otherwise chosen to remain on active duty. From my perspective, this initiative has been an outrageous waste of official time and resources during a period of severe fiscal constraints. It illustrates the worst aspects of a bloated and inefficient defense organization.”

Trump can stop the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the military’s recent acceptance of transgender service members with a single policy change. Almost all of the Force of the Future initiatives were conducted through executive power.

Read the latest news about the incoming administration on our Tracking the Transition page.

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