Beyond operational issues such as the wars overseas or Pentagon-related homeland defense, many issues have yet to be identified, officials say. Gates and Mullen are concerned that security intelligence is not waylaid by the changeover. Gates has asked political appointees in the Pentagon to stay through to the new administration.
But it will take more than just good planning inside the Pentagon, analysts say. Experts say Congress must expedite the nominations of new appointees to critical national security jobs.
Michele Flournoy, a former Pentagon official under President Clinton, worries that the "nobody home phenomenon" that occurs between administrations might put the country in a perilous state. Ms. Flournoy and Richard Armitage, a former State Department deputy secretary under President George W. Bush, are pushing for the new presidential nominee to provide a list of critical appointees within a month of being elected – December 1 of this year – so that Congress can act upon them quickly.
They also believe that all national security personnel should be kept in place until their replacements can be sworn in. Typically, political appointees begin to leave toward the end of an administration, leaving a void that normally has only a small effect.
But it will be largely up to Congress to put its partisan differences aside, she says. "They all talk about wanting a smooth transition, they all say the right things," says Flournoy. "The question is, are they willing to put their money where their mouth is … to make it work."
It will also be incumbent upon the new administration, regardless of political stripe, to approach the Pentagon carefully, says one retired senior military official who was on active duty when President Clinton won the White House as well as when President George Bush won it eight years later.