New Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan Calls China His Top Priority

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to members of the Military Reporters and Editors Association during their annual convention at the Navy League Building in Arlington, Va., Oct. 26, 2018. (DoD/U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to members of the Military Reporters and Editors Association during their annual convention at the Navy League Building in Arlington, Va., Oct. 26, 2018. (DoD/U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the military service chiefs Wednesday that dealing with China would be his top priority. He also announced that Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist would take on his former duties as Deputy Defense Secretary.

In a closed-door meeting with the military service chiefs and undersecretaries of defense on his first full day as acting secretary, Shanahan said he would focus on implementing the National Defense Strategy drafted by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and approved by President Donald Trump, according to a defense official who spoke on grounds of anonymity.

The strategy singled out China and Russia as the main threats to U.S. national security, as opposed to the counter-terrorism focus of past formulas for the overall direction of the Defense Department.

At the meeting, Shanahan indicated that China would be his top priority. "While we are focused on ongoing operations, Acting Secretary Shanahan told the team to remember China, China, China," the defense official said.

In announcing Norquist as the Pentagon's new No. 2, Shanahan said the Department of Defense "chief financial officer and comptroller for the past 19 months ... has had insight into virtually every tenet of this department," according to the official.

"I have the greatest confidence in his abilities to lead a phenomenally talented team while performing the duties as deputy secretary of defense," Shanahan said, according to the official.

In his tenure as comptroller, Norquist presided last year over the first-ever audit of the Defense Department. In a news conference following the audit results' release, Norquist said he would give all the military branches a failing grade in their accounting procedures, but added that this was to be expected in a first-time audit.

Following the meeting, Shanahan's spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino said the new acting secretary, a former Boeing executive, would steer clear of all matters concerning the aerospace firm.

"Under his ethics agreement, Mr. Shanahan has recused himself for the duration of his service in the Department of Defense from participating in matters in which the Boeing Company is a party," Buccino said in a statement.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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