Ash Carter May Join Obama Team

Pentagon offical turned Harvard professor could return to his previous post

Harvard Kennedy School professor Ashton B. Carter may return to the Pentagon after nearly a decade in academia.

Carter, the former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under the Clinton administration, is expected to be named to the Pentagon’s top acquisition and technology job as early as this week, Reuters reports.

The announcement would come as a flurry of Harvard professors—including many of Carter’s colleagues at the Kennedy School—prepare to head south for Washington to join the Obama administration.

News of Carter’s likely appointment was met with approval at the Kennedy School, where many of his colleagues pointed to both his Pentagon experience and his academic credentials as key assets he will bring to the job.

Former deputy secretary of defense John P. White—who is now a lecturer at the Kennedy School—met Carter during their White House years in the mid-1990s, and expressed his enthusiasm for the pick in an interview yesterday.

White explained that the Department of Defense needs someone in the top acquisition post who not only understands how to drive the policies that guide the nation’s acquisition capabilities, but also possesses the “strong will” to make the necessary policy changes.

“Ash can do that—no question about it,” White said, adding that Carter has “just the right skill set” and experience to rein in the over-budgeted programs.

But White also acknowledged that Carter would face many challenges in this new position.

“We have huge acquisition problems,” he said. “Almost all of our major weapons programs and related programs are overscheduled and over-budgeted.”

During his time at the Pentagon under the Clinton administration, Carter was responsible for national security policy on arms control in the former Soviet Union and oversight of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and missile defense programs.

Carter now co-directs the Preventive Defense Project—a collaborative research effort between Harvard and Stanford—with former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry.

Former Dean of the Kennedy School Joseph S. Nye, who has been offered the position of U.S. ambassador to Japan, lauded the likely nomination as a “terrific choice.”

Nye, who worked with Carter at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, noted his unique background as an asset to the position—a physicist by training, Carter received a doctorate from Oxford University where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.

“We don’t often have a physicist who understands policy,” Nye said. “He’s a great scientist and policy maker.”

—Staff writer June Wu can be reached at junewu@fas.harvard.edu.