12 June 2015

Pentagon Chief Issues New Marching Orders For ‘Yoda’ Office

June 10

It seems the Pentagon’s new Yoda has received his directives from the Jedi Council.

In a June 4 memo labeled “Guidance,” Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter outlined a subtle shift for the Pentagon’s renowned Office of Net Assessment and its new director, retired Air Force Col. Jim Baker. With Carter’s memo, the office, which traditionally looked towards the horizon when it comes to defense concerns, will incorporate more of today’s issues in its analyses.

“This memo accurately reflects Carter’s high interest in the office, but it also reflects Carter’s interest in the here and now,” said Jerry Hendrix, a former Navy captain who worked in the office of Net Assessment under its former director and is now a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.

Baker, who took over the office in May, was preceded by Andrew W. Marshall, who left the Pentagon’s internal think tank at the age of 93. Marshall worked at his post for more than 40 years, and along the way earned the “Star Wars” themed nickname – Yoda – for both his looks and Jedi-master like intelligence when it came to defense issues.

The office, which reports directly to Secretary of Defense and focuses heavily on future threats, has a $10 million budget and, now, according to the memo, will have access to all classified Department of Defense programs. In the memo, Carter outlined his expectations for Baker, echoing the office’s past responsibilities while also adding some new ones.

“The Office of Net Assessment has long been my predecessors’ source of independent, long term, deep thinking about our future,” the memo reads. “That is the legacy I expect you to maintain and upon which I expect you to build.”

Performers dressed as Imperial Stormtroopers characters pose in front of a model of the “Star Wars” character Yoda at the “Cite du Cinema” movie studios in Saint-Denis, near Paris, Feb. 13, 2014. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Yet it is in the memo’s concluding paragraph that Carter highlights what he might mean when it comes to building upon the office’s legacy.

“Finally, help me think about the long-term consequences of near-term policy decisions,” it reads. “Your work remains future focused, but you must ensure the team’s work has present relevance to me.”

Hendrix believes this change has numerous implications for the office’s ability to identify future problems.

“The office will have to balance between the long-term and the near-term challenges,” Hendrix said, adding, “If you measure [the] effectiveness [of the office] on its ability to correctly identify the coming challenges, you’re going to see some drop off as the office changes its focus.”

Other areas that Carter also wants to incorporate or “reinvigorate”, as he puts it in the memo, are putting “a premium on finding opportunities, rather than just challenges” as well as bringing competing views to the table and rebuilding “the connective tissue” between the office and the intelligence community.

With the Carter’s directives, Hendrix noted that the office, and its outlook, will look different in the coming years.

“What is clear is that the net assessment of the past will not be the net assessment of the future,” Hendrix said.

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