Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that President Barack Obama had accepted his recommendation and nominated as his top deputy a female mathematician with a strong background as a military budget analyst.
Christine H. Fox will replace Ash Carter, who was to serve his last day as the No. 2 leader of the Pentagon on Wednesday. Until her Senate confirmation, she will be acting deputy secretary of defense.
Praising Fox as "a brilliant defense thinker and proven manager," Hagel said she "helped identify the challenges, choices and opportunities for reform facing the department during this period of unprecedented budget uncertainty."
Fox had worked as the Pentagon's director of cost assessment and program evaluation for four years. Her elevation makes Fox the highest-ranked civilian woman at the Pentagon.
Fox, who holds undergraduate and Master's degrees in mathematics from George Mason University in Virginia, has been a military analyst focused on operations at the Pentagon and at the Center for Naval Analyses, a non-profit think tank in Alexandria, Va.
After the Feb. 1, 2003, Columbia space shuttle disaster, Fox was a member of a NASA task force that certified steps necessary for the United States to resume manned space flight after a nearly 30-month suspension with the July 26, 2005, launch of the Discovery shuttle.
"She will be able to help me shape our priorities from day one because she knows the intricacies of the department's budget, programs and operations better than anyone," Hagel said.
At an emotional farewell ceremony Monday, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Carter had returned one-fifth of his salary in solidarity with Pentagon workers who were temporarily furloughed during the partial government shutdown in October.
"We did respect his willingness to put skin in the game, to be personally invested and to think big when many around him were thinking small," Dempsey said.
The ceremony was closed to independent reporters. It was reported by the American Forces Press Service, a media arm of the Defense Department.
Carter served as deputy secretary since October 2011, but had two stints at the Pentagon in a variety of posts, working under 11 defense chiefs.
"Throughout his career, Ash Carter has shown again and again that he can translate his high ideals into better, more efficient, more effective ways of doing business for our department, for our people and for our country," Hagel said.
Hagel presented Carter with the Pentagon's two highest civilian service awards.
Carter bowed out with stinging criticism of Congress. The Pentagon can handle funding cuts after a decade of record growth after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he said, but the partisan budget battles of the last two years have hampered it.
Along with other federal agencies, the Defense Department is entering its second year of broad, forced spending reductions under a system called sequestration.
"It's unsafe because it affects the readiness of the forces that would respond to contingencies," Carter said.
"It's dispiriting to and unworthy of the patriots -- military and civilian -- who serve this government," he said. "Most seriously, it embarrasses us in front of friends and allies -- and also potential opponents. A great and strong nation needs a working government."