Accountability is at the heart of managing the Defense Department, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 31.
Hagel, President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed retiring Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, provided eight hours of testimony to the Senate panel.
Senators asked Hagel how he will manage the largest institution in the United States.
Hagel said you don’t really manage the department, you lead it.
“It’s not about me. The secretary of defense, he leads, he advises the president, but it’s really about the people who have the accountability and the responsibility to manage every aspect of our defense apparatus,” Hagel said.
The department has roughly 50 presidential appointees, so that leaves most of the day-to-day management to officers and senior civilians, and those officials must be accountable, he said.
“We’re all accountable, and the emphasis on accountability I don’t think could ever be overstated,” Hagel said.
It is important to give managers the resources they need and the flexibility to make the best use of them, he said.
“You give them direction and expectations … but not to the point where you don’t want their input and their ability to be flexible with their management,” Hagel said. “I think that’s the … key to anything, but surely it is the key to something as large as the Department of Defense.”
Hagel said he has a lot of learning to do if he is confirmed as the next defense secretary.
“I will be the leader. I’ll be responsible. I’ll be accountable,” he said. “But I’ve got to rely on the right teams, the right people, bring those people together.”