Senate considers nominees for Pentagon posts

By Lisa Daniel: American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — Two of President Barack Obama’s nominees for key Defense Department posts appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee today as part of their confirmation process.

Michael G. Vickers, nominated to be undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Jo Ann Rooney, the president’s choice to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, both pledged to support Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ “efficiency initiatives” to cut unnecessary expenditures and redirect the savings to support the wars and warfighters and their families.

Vickers has been assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict since 2007. In that time, he noted, his office saved money by paring down joint intelligence operations centers, which had grown to include thousands of personnel at every command, as well as streamlining other efforts.

“Intelligence is very important, … but it’s also an area that the American people and Congress invest a lot of treasure, so we have to make sure it’s as efficient as possible,” he said.

On Afghanistan, he echoed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ frequently stated concern that the United States cannot repeat the mistake of becoming disengaged to the point that terrorists are given safe haven in the country.

“The core element of our policy is to deny any sanctuary to terrorists,” he said.

Intelligence shows discord among insurgents in Afghanistan who have been told to fight through the harsh winter there while their leaders hole up in Pakistan.

“A lot of local (insurgent) commanders have been voting with their feet, essentially saying ‘I’ve had enough of this,’” Vickers said. He added that insurgents join the fight for many reasons, often related to economics more than ideology, and therefore are more willing to walk away than the leaders.

Vickers told the senators that one of his biggest challenges if he’s confirmed will be ensuring that intelligence information is properly protected while it’s shared as widely as possible.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is working toward persistent surveillance in Afghanistan, Vickers said, and information sharing has been a challenge among the 50 nations there, partly because 29 different networks for sharing information existed until recently.

“There is an inherent tension between this responsibility and need to know, to protecting our sources, while making sure we get timely information into the hands of our warfighters,” he said.

Vickers also acknowledged that many insurgents return to the fight after being captured. Of about 600 who have been held at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at least 150 have returned to the fight, often in elevated positions, he said.

Vickers called such recidivism “a vexing problem with no obvious solution.”

“The paths they take are based on the circumstances of their release,” he said, adding that it happens in multiple countries, including Pakistan and Yemen.

If she’s confirmed as the Pentagon’s No. 2 leader for personnel and readiness, Rooney said, her challenges would include ensuring that compensation, training, health care and other support to service members and civilians are properly aligned in an era of tightening budgets.

Rooney, whose most recent position was as the president of Mount Ida College in Massachusetts, is an attorney with a long career in the private sector and academia. She said she has proven her ability to transition between diverse sectors, noting that she was a business executive before transitioning to academic leadership roles.