DOD's top policy leader to resign

Under secretary of defense for policy stepping down early 2012

The Pentagon’s highest-ranking woman is stepping down as undersecretary of defense for policy, effective sometime in early 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Dec. 12.

Michele Fluornoy has played a critical role in the Defense Department’s presence in southwest Asia, ongoing budget talks and 2010’s Quadrennial Defense Review. She will stay on board long enough to help complete the transition to her yet-unnamed successor, according to a press release announcing her departure.

In an Associated Press report, Fluornoy indicated the pressure of her career on her family was at least part of the reason she's stepping down. "By nature it is an all-consuming job and it does take a toll on the family," she said in that article. Next year she may take an informal role in President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, she said.

“Michele has been an invaluable adviser to me during my six months as secretary of defense, and has been an outstanding departmental leader for nearly three years at a time of great consequence for our nation's defense,” Panetta said in a released statement. “From guiding our strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, to helping set the department's priorities and global posture through the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review as well as the strategy review that has been underway this year, Michele has made a strong and lasting positive imprint on this department and on our nation's security.”

Fluornoy said she is stepping down to focus on family – which includes three children under the age of 14, according to a November Washington Post feature on the California-raised under secretary. She has been in the position since February 2009, according to her bio.

In the AP report, Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution, said Flournoy is contender to become secretary of defense under a future administration. However, he said, "Because she has been so loyal and so careful and so well prepared in sticking to administration thinking publicly, we don't necessarily know what her private thinking or counsel is on issues such as the rise of China and the future of the war on terror."

Prior to her Pentagon stint, Fluornoy was the co-founder and president of the public policy think tank Center for a New American Security. She also was a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as well as a professor at National Defense University, and held other offices within the Pentagon where she worked on strategy and policy.

“Michele is a treasured colleague, and the entire Department of Defense will be sad to see her go, but she has built an incredible team that is a testament to her leadership. I will personally miss her valued counsel, but I understand the stresses and strains that holding senior administration positions can have on families,” Panetta said in the statement. “I’m confident that she will have many years of service in her future.”

That future could, according to the Washington Post feature, include a job as the first female defense secretary.

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