Politics & Government

Navy chief Ray Mabus' next job: Defense Secretary?

WASHINGTON _ Is Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus moving up?

Mabus, given high grades for the job, is believed to be on the short list of candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has said he is leaving.

Pentagon insiders have been mentioning Mabus' name to be Pentagon chief in some industry publications, as part of a group that includes CIA Director Leon Panetta and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

"The rumor is that Mabus has been to the White House to discuss the job," said Loren Thompson, a top defense consultant who is chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a Northern Va.-based think tank.

"I have heard numerous people say Mabus would like to have the job. All indications are that Mabus wants the job and he is being considered for the job among a select group of candidates."

On Monday, Mabus was at a Navy League luncheon outside Washington and, asked by reporters whether he was a possible replacement for Gates, said, "I have a wonderful, wonderful job right now, and I will stay in it as long as the president wants me to."

The Navy League is the citizen support group of all the U.S. sea services _ the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and U.S.-flag Merchant Marine.

Thompson said that Mabus was on the list for some very good reasons: "There aren't that many people who can fill the job; you need a certain amount of political stature and management skill."

Gates, a Republican who began his Pentagon service under President George W. Bush, has been an effective administrator who has strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.Pete Geren, a former army secretary, said, "Gates is going to be so hard to replace."

Some Pentagon-watchers give Panetta the inside track with others suggesting that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be a good fit. "Mabus," said Thompson, "is in the mix."

A former Mississippi governor, Mabus was ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Clinton Administration and an early supporter of Barack Obama when he launched his presidential campaign.

In addition to his work as Navy secretary, Mabus led the White House effort to develop a Gulf Coast restoration plan after the BP oil spill last year.