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Bush administration doomsday line of Pentagon succession

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The Bush administration's doomsday line of Pentagon succession within the Department of Defense was changed on December 22, 2005, when President George W. Bush issued an Executive Order "Providing An Order of Succession Within the Department of Defense", dropping the "three military service chiefs" and pushing them "beneath three civilian undersecretaries in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's inner circle," the Associated Press's Lolita C. Baldor reported December 29, 2005.

  • The second spot, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, is currently vacant. It is anticipated that it will be filled "without congressional approval" through a Bush recess appointment of Gordon R. England, who has not been confirmed by the Senate. Donald C. Winter, who has been approved by the Senate, will replace England as Secretary of the Navy.
  • The third spot behind Rumsfeld was filled by the Pentagon's intelligence chief, and "Rumsfeld ally," Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. The Secretary of the Army, "which long held the No. 3 spot, was dropped to sixth."
  • Former Ambassador Eric S. Edelman, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and Kenneth Krieg, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, "hold the fourth and fifth positions."

"The changes, announced last week, are the second in six months and mirror the administration's new emphasis on intelligence gathering versus combat in 21st century warfighting," Baldor wrote. "Technically, the line of succession is assigned to specific positions, rather than the current individuals holding those jobs. But in its current incarnation, the doomsday plan moves to near the top three undersecretaries who are Rumsfeld loyalists and who previously worked for Vice President Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary."

"Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert with the American Enterprise Institute, said the changes make it easier for the administration to assert political control and could lead to more narrow-minded decisions," Baldor wrote. "'It continues to devalue the services as institutions,' said Mr. Donnelly."

"The new succession order bumps the Navy secretary to near the bottom of the line of succession -- eighth behind the deputy, the three Pentagon undersecretaries and the Army and Air Force secretaries. The Army secretary historically has been third in line, right behind the deputy secretary," Baldor wrote.

Order of Succession

According to the December 22, 2005, executive order, the order of succession is as follows:

  1. Deputy Secretary of Defense
  2. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence
  3. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
  4. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
  5. Secretary of the Army
  6. Secretary of the Air Force
  7. Secretary of the Navy
  8. Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)
  9. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
  10. General Counsel of the Department of Defense, the Assistant Secretaries of Defense, and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation
  11. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Material Readiness and the Director of Defense Research and Engineering
  12. Under Secretaries of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force
  13. Assistant Secretaries of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and General Counsels of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force

Note that, according to the executive order, anyone filling a post in an "acting" capacity will not move up in the line of succession. However, "the President retains discretion, to the extent permitted by law, to depart from this order in designating an acting Secretary" and that "Executive Order No. 13000 of April 24, 1996, and the President's memorandum of June 2, 2005, entitled: 'Order of Succession of Officers to Act as Secretary of Defense,' are hereby revoked."

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