Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn will step down later this summer, the Pentagon announced Thursday, clearing the way for new Defense Department chief Leon Panetta to pick his own No. 2.
Lynn informed new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta of his intentions late last week; at Panetta’s request, Lynn will remain as deputy until a successor is in place.
“Bill Lynn has provided outstanding advice and counsel to this department and to the nation over the course of his long career,” Panetta said in a statement released Thursday. “I will rely on his experience and expertise during this transition period. His service will be greatly missed.”
In the same statement, Lynn called it a “privilege” to be the No. 2 at the Pentagon “during such a challenging time.”
The Associated Press first reported Lynn’s decision to step down from the post, which he has held since February 2009.
Lawmakers and the White House say substantial defense cuts are coming as part of a debt-ceiling deal. For that reason, analysts say, Panetta will need to select a No. 2 who has a proven track record as a chief operating officer.
“If the military is headed into a prolonged erosion of its purchasing power, that is all the more reason to have an effective manager in the No. 2 job,” Lexington Institute analyst and industry consultant Loren Thompson wrote recently. “The deputy secretary’s job traditionally has been regarded as the closest thing the Pentagon has to a chief operating officer, so the search for whoever will next fill that position needs to begin with an assessment of the management credentials that various candidates bring to the table.”
Thompson noted that Gates often assigned “most of the tough tasks to his chief of staff, Robert Rangel, rather than Lynn.”
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “Those allegations are absolutely absurd and false.”
He added that Lynn not only handled all of the responsibilities under the purview of his deputy secretary post, but others as well, including cybersecurity, space policy and wounded warrior care issues.
Before becoming the No. 2 civilian at the Pentagon, Lynn was senior vice president for government operations and strategy at Raytheon. His nomination raised eyebrows at the time because of President Obama’s pledge not to place lobbyists in top administration jobs.
During the Clinton administration, Lynn was Pentagon comptroller from 1997 until 2001 and director of the Defense Department’s powerful Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E) directorate before that, from 1993 until 1997.
This article was amended at 7:35 p.m.