The Senate last night confirmed Robert Work as the next deputy secretary of defense, which will allow him to join the looming battles with Congress over pay, Tricare fees, new weapons systems and the rebalance of forces to the Pacific.
Work's confirmation by voice vote in the Senate came three months after he was nominated by President Obama for the No. 2 post at the Pentagon.
The 27-year Marine Corps veteran and former undersecretary of the Navy survived a rocky confirmation hearing where he clashed with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., over Work's support for the Littoral Combat Ship.
McCain was angered when Work said he was unfamiliar with a report critical of the LCS. McCain said he was "stunned" that Work hadn't read the report.
"This again makes me wonder about your qualifications because the one thing that we are plagued with is significant overruns and lack of capability," McCain said at the hearing.
Work's confirmation will permit the retirement of Christine Fox, who had been serving as acting deputy secretary. Fox drew fire from veterans groups for her support of the Defense Department's proposals to slow the growth of military pay and for reforming Tricare.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that "all of us at DoD owe a deep debt to Christine Fox, who stepped in to serve as the acting deputy secretary of defense during this period of transition." Fox had replaced Ashton Carter, who retired last year.
Hagel called the 61-year-old Work "an admired and tested leader, with a distinguished career of public service, including during his time as an officer in the Marine Corps and as undersecretary of the Navy."
The defense industry will be closely watching Work's oversight of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. In July 2011, Work questioned whether the Navy's F-35 program could be reduced in favor of more unmanned systems.
After retiring from the Marines as a colonel, Work joined the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), first as the senior fellow for maritime affairs, and later as the vice president for strategic studies. He was Navy undersecretary from 2009-2013.
Work has been the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, another Washington D.C. think tank, since stepping down as the Navy's under secretary.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.