In 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates turned to Michael Donley to take over as Air Force secretary after Gates took the unprecedented step of firing the Air Force's secretary and chief of staff following the discoveries of two accidents involving nuclear weapons.
Five years later, and shortly after Donley ended his term as Air Force secretary, another defense secretary is turning to him to hopefully clean up a mess. This time Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants Donley to reduce the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) headquarters staff by 20 percent over the next five years.
Donley will report to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and offer recommendations to follow through on Hagel's order to cut the staff by 20 percent.
Questions do exist regarding the selection of Donley. Hagel said he wanted a leader "from outside DoD who is deeply knowledgeable about the defense enterprise and eminently qualified to direct implementation of the OSD reductions."
Donley's knowledge of the system is unquestioned, but does Donley have the separation from the Pentagon to be able to objectively cut positions within the Defense Department staff? He's worked within the Pentagon for the past five years and developed those relationships. Will he be able to separate himself from those relationships after leaving his post at the Pentagon only a few months ago.
The Pentagon has continued to grow, especially the headquarter's staffs. A Defense News report highlighted the 15 percent growth from 2010 to 2012.
The budget cuts have forced the Defense Department to find places to cut the fat. Considering the forthcoming drops in force strength, continuing to build up the corresponding headquarters staffs didn't make sense. It will be Donley and his team's responsibility to make the recommendations to make those cuts.
It's a dirty job similar to the one he had when trying to clean up the nuclear mess in the Air Force that he faced when taking over as its secretary in 2008.