He’ll immediately confront crucial billion-dollar decisions. (“Chief, what should we do about the F-35”?) The Joint Chiefs will have their own opinions on these, which they’ve had lots of time to hone. Oh, and these decisions affect thousands of jobs in congressional districts across the United States, so Congress will weigh in as well. Often.
Did we say these decisions also involve the nation’s very security? And that Hagel is in the nation’s chain of command, meaning he’s also got some responsibility for formulating policy and directing the operations of US troops now in harm’s way, wherever they are?
All this is why some SecDefs appear happy to spend time on morale-boosting visits to foreign bases, while underlings run things back in Washington.
In addition to the weight of the job, Hagel will face a number of problems particular to him.
The 'sequester.' The big automatic budget cuts known as sequestration look almost certain to take effect Friday. That means Hagel could be grappling with a semi-crisis within days as he loses $46 billion of his budget.
The Senate. Part of the job of secretary of Defense is dealing with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and military appropriations subcommittees. Right now, Hagel’s got problems with the Senate part of this equation. His nomination passed SASC by only 14 to 11, and his performance at his confirmation hearing was unimpressive, at best.