Obama to choose Hale for Pentagon position

Robert Hale is emerging as President-elect Obama’s top choice to become the Pentagon’s chief accountant.

Hale, who is currently the executive director of the American Society of Military Comptrollers (ASMC), is expected to be named comptroller of the Pentagon, where he’d head the office that manages the world’s largest military budget, according to sources familiar with the Obama transition team selection process.

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As comptroller, Hale will not only have a strong hand in putting together the Obama Pentagon’s budget, but would also defend funding requests before Congress alongside the secretary of Defense.

The Obama transition team has not officially announced the selection, and Hale refused to comment on any dealings with the president-elect’s transition team when The Hill contacted him at the ASMC on Wednesday.

The Obama transition team also declined to comment.

Hale was the Air Force’s comptroller — his official title was Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Financial Management and Comptroller) — from 1994 to 2001. He would join a growing list of former Clinton administration officials who have been asked to serve the incoming Obama administration.

As the Air Force comptroller, Hale was responsible for formulating, justifying and executing annual budgets of more than $70 billion. The Pentagon’s budget is almost nine times that size. Hale would take on the defense budget at a time of economic turmoil and growing challenges to the way the Pentagon buys its weapons.

Those who have worked with Hale over the years say he would be a good choice to run the Pentagon’s finances and described him as a “hands-on” person with a depth of experience in budget matters both in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. Those who know him have called him a responsive and supportive financial manager.

The Defense Business Board, a high-level Pentagon advisory panel, suggested in an October report that the comptroller should have a leading role in all financial matters affecting the Pentagon, and not just have to get budget requests through the congressional process. The board suggested that the position should be renamed the “undersecretary of defense, chief financial officer and comptroller.”

Before managing the Air Force’s financial accounts, Hale headed the national security division at the Congressional Budget Office for 12 years. According to his biography on the ASMC website, Hale was a senior fellow and head of the acquisition and grants management group at LMI — a consulting firm working mainly with the federal government. Hale also served on the Defense Business Board under former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

He was a member of the Task Force on the Future of Military Healthcare, which terminated in June after issuing a report on how to balance a cost-effective but high-quality healthcare system for military members and their families.

Hale also serves as a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Early in his career, Hale spent about three years as an active-duty Navy officer and served as a staff analyst and study director at the Center for Naval Analyses. He has a Stanford University degree in mathematics and statistics; holds a master’s degree in operations research from Stanford and an M.B.A. from George Washington University.

Hale has emerged from a shortlist of candidates that included David Morrison, a former longtime defense appropriations staff member in the House and Senate, and Charlie Houy, Sen. Daniel Inouye’s (D-Hawaii) right hand on the Appropriations Defense panel, who is slated to take on responsibility for the entire Appropriations Committee, now chaired by Inouye.

If nominated, Hale would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has played a large role in selecting those serving under him. When it was announced he chose to stay on to serve President-elect Obama, Gates said the transition team would be consulting him on choices for subordinate positions. The selection process that led to Hale was no exception, according to sources.

The same is true for the impending official selection of William Lynn as deputy secretary of Defense.

Lynn is a government operations executive at defense contractor Raytheon who, like Hale, served in the Clinton Pentagon. He was the Pentagon’s comptroller from 1997 to 2001. He also worked for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Other candidates who were considered for the job were John Hamre, who leads the Center for Strategic and International Studies and already was deputy secretary of Defense under Clinton, and Richard Danzig, a former secretary of the Navy and close national security adviser to Obama. Danzig’s name was often mentioned as the likely successor to Gates after serving in the No. 2 spot.