Last week the Associated Press reported that according to an unnamed senior administration official, Secretary Gates personally recommended CIA Director Leon Panetta as his replacement six months ago. Like his predecessor Panetta will be instructed by the White House to cut $400 billion in defense spending over the next twelve years. Due to the fiscal climate and his budget cutting background, it is easy to see why most assume that Panetta’s agenda is to drastically cut Pentagon spending - namely pay and benefits.
Many in the military retiree community have been up in arms due to recent statements by current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that cutting $400 billion will require reducing TRICARE program costs and military pay.
Panetta has indicated that he believes that reducing troops may be in order, but he has yet to publically weigh-in on the benefits and compensation issue.
Panetta earned a reputation for his ability to slash budgets while serving in Congress and later in the Clinton White House. However, he is also known for his pragmatism and willingness to make concessions and resolve disputes without his ego getting in the way.
According to the AP article, Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment sees him as a potential advocate for the Pentagon.
"I think having him on the DoD side of the budget battle now will be a real asset to DoD. He knows how Office of Management and Budget works, knows the inner workings of the budget process at the White House. So I think he will be better equipped to negotiate DoD's top line budget than any of the other candidates" who were considered, Harrison said.
Being an advocate for the DoD is not the same as being an advocate for the troops or retirees.
So what does this mean for the troops? Only time will tell.