WASHINGTON – The three military service chiefs have been dropped in the Bush administration's doomsday line of Pentagon succession, pushed beneath three civilian undersecretaries in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's inner circle.
A little-noticed holiday week executive order from President Bush moved the Pentagon's intelligence chief to the No. 3 spot in the succession hierarchy behind Rumsfeld. The second spot would be the deputy secretary of defense, but that position currently is vacant. The Army chief, which long held the No. 3 spot, was dropped to sixth.
The changes, announced last week, are the second in six months and mirror the administration's new emphasis on intelligence gathering versus combat in 21st century warfighting.
Technically, the line of succession is assigned to specific positions, rather than the current individuals holding those jobs.
But in its current incarnation, the doomsday plan moves to near the top three undersecretaries who are Rumsfeld loyalists and who previously worked for Vice President Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary.
The changes were recommended, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, because the three undersecretaries have "a broad knowledge and perspective of overall Defense Department operations." The service leaders are more focused on training, equipping and leading a particular military service, said Whitman.
Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert with the American Enterprise Institute, said the changes make it easier for the administration to assert political control and could lead to more narrow-minded decisions.
"It continues to devalue the services as institutions," said Donnelly, saying it will centralize power, and shift it away from the services, where there is generally more military expertise and interest.
Under the new plan, Rumsfeld ally Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary for intelligence, moved up to the third spot while former Ambassador Eric Edelman, the policy undersecretary; and Kenneth Krieg, the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, hold the fourth and fifth positions.
The first to succeed Rumsfeld remains the job of the deputy secretary, a position currently vacant because the Senate has not confirmed Bush's nominee — Navy Secretary Gordon England.
Senators have already approved Donald Winter to be England's replacement as Navy chief, and it is expected that Bush will eventually move England into the No. 2 Pentagon job without congressional approval through what is known as a recess appointment.
Bush tinkered with the succession line last June, temporarily making England, as Navy secretary, the No. 2 in the succession hierarchy until the deputy's job was filled. Last week, Bush changed that, ordering that the acting deputy secretary — also England — would succeed Rumsfeld, until a deputy is appointed.
The new succession order bumps the Navy secretary to near the bottom of the line of succession — eighth behind the deputy, the three Pentagon undersecretaries and the Army and Air Force secretaries.
The Army secretary historically has been third in line, right behind the deputy secretary.
As a precursor to the Defense Department, the Army was once considered the backbone of the nation's military. The Department of War was the country's military agency from 1789 to 1949, when it became the Department of Defense. At that time, the War Office was renamed as the Army, which became a component of the Defense Department.
Since the terrorist attacks, intelligence gathering has taken center stage. Earlier this year, Bush named former ambassador John Negroponte as the country's first director of national intelligence, charged with overseeing the government's 15 highly competitive spy agencies.
And in the spring of 2003, Rumsfeld installed Cambone — one of his closest aides — in the new job of intelligence undersecretary.