The Pentagon said it was prepared to begin briefing the president-elect’s team immediately, stressing the importance of a smooth wartime transition, as the US voted for a new president Tuesday.
“If somebody were to show up here tomorrow, we would start working with them tomorrow,” said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
Changes of US administrations historically are periods of heightened risk, but wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an ever present danger of attack by Al-Qaeda make an orderly transition crucial this year.
Whitman said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has undertaken “pretty unprecedented early preparations to minimize disruption while ensuring we provide the most comprehensive guidance possible.”
A Pentagon task force has identified and is highlighting the most important events, milestones and actions that the new administration will face in the first 90 days, he said.
Among them are troop rotations and the presentation of the 2010 defense budget, which is due to go to Congress in February, just weeks after the new president — Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama — moves into the White House. The others were not disclosed.
“Obviously, they (the incoming administration) will give immediate attention to whatever it is they want to, whatever their priorities are,” Whitman said.
“But there are some things that in the natural course of this department have to be addressed, like the budget, or you’re not going to have money,” he said.
Work space and computers have been set aside in the Pentagon for as many as two dozen people assigned by the new president to manage the transition.
Transition team members must receive security clearances, but Whitman said that can be done quickly for at least small numbers of people that typically make up the initial teams.
There are at least 215 political appointees at the Pentagon who will be replaced in the transition.
About 50 are presidentially appointed positions that require Senate confirmation, which can move slowly.
Gates has polled members of the outgoing team to see who would be prepared to stay on in a new administration until their replacement can be confirmed.
A number of them have agreed to stay on, if asked, but other key positions are already vacant.