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Deputy defense secretary nominated during ‘very challenging time’

WASHINGTON — Robert O. Work, a retired Marine and former Navy official, was nominated Friday to be deputy defense secretary, a key job as the Pentagon faces budget cuts and ethics troubles.

If confirmed by the Senate, Work would focus on day-to-day budget and policy decisions, leaving to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and other high-profile problems, officials said.

Hagel called Work a highly respected expert on the budget, technology and military affairs, and told a news conference that Work would be returning to the Pentagon “at a very, very challenging time.”

Work was known as a careful analyst on budget and weapons acquisition issues when he served as undersecretary of the Navy from 2009 to 2013.

Now chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, a centrist Washington think tank, Work is expected to be confirmed quickly. The Senate Armed Services Committee scheduled a hearing on his nomination for Feb. 13.

The Pentagon has largely completed its budget request for fiscal year 2015 and plans to announce details in early March.

Work faces the challenge of cutting about $10 billion a year or more from the planned Pentagon budget for years to come, the result of mandatory reductions that Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to in 2012.

That could require reducing or retiring major weapons systems, including the A-10 attack plane, the U2 spy plane, F-18 fighter squadrons, and potentially retiring one or more of the Navy’s 10 aircraft carriers.

The Army and Marines also face steep reductions in manpower, which could strain both services if new conflicts arise.

Hagel signaled Friday he would take the lead on addressing misconduct and ethics problems in the military, spurred by a spate of new cases in recent weeks.

“Some of our people are falling short,” Hagel told reporters. “We’re going to fix it.”

Hagel said he would appoint a senior general to his staff to oversee efforts to address misconduct in the military. Hagel said it was not clear whether the current cases reflected problems caused by more than a decade of war, or came to light only because the Pentagon was looking more closely now that the wars are ending.

“We need to find out, ‘Is there a deep, wide problem?” Hagel said. “I don’t know. We intend to find out.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, denied that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had led to a loosening of ethical standards.

“It is not the war that has caused this,” he said. “It is the pace, and our failure to understand that at that pace, we were neglecting the tools” the military has long used to police its own conduct.

The Air Force is investigating up to 92 officers who are responsible for nuclear-armed missiles at a Montana air base for alleged cheating on proficiency tests.

The Navy separately has announced that as many as 30 sailors at a South Carolina base may have cheated on tests to qualify as instructors for operating nuclear reactors aboard submarines and aircraft carriers.

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