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United States
Secretary of Defense
United States Department of Defense Seal.svg
Official Seal
Robert Gates

since December 18, 2006
Formation September 19, 1947
Succession Sixth

The United States Secretary of Defense (SecDef) is the head of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), concerned with the armed services and military matters. This position roughly corresponds to Minister of defense in other countries. The role of the Secretary of Defense is to be the principal defense policy advisor to the President and is responsible for the formulation of general defense policy related to all matters of direct and primary concern to the DoD, and for the execution of approved policy.[1] The Secretary is appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate, and is a member of the Cabinet. By statute (10 U.S.C. § 113) the secretary must be a civilian who has not served in the active component of the armed forces for at least seven years.[2] The Secretary of Defense is sixth in the presidential line of succession. The Secretary of Defense earns a salary of $191,300 per year.



The position was created in 1947, newly created Air Force were merged into the new National Military Establishment. In the same massive reorganization, the Secretary of War was replaced by the Secretary of the Army and, along with the Secretary of the Navy and the new Secretary of the Air Force, became nominally placed under the Secretary of Defense. In 1949, the National Military Establishment was renamed the Department of Defense, which remains the current name of the department and the Secretaries of the Military Departments were removed from the Cabinet and the National Security Council.

Standard of the Secretary of Defense


In the U.S. Armed Forces, the Secretary of Defense is often referred to as SecDef or SD. The Secretary of Defense and the President together constitute the National Command Authorities (NCA),[3] which has sole authority to launch strategic nuclear weapons. All nuclear weapons are governed by this dual-authority - both must concur before a strategic nuclear strike may be ordered.

The Secretary's staff element is called the Office of the Secretary of Defense and is composed of a Deputy Secretary of Defense and five Under Secretaries of Defense in the fields of Acquisition, Technology & Logistics; Comptroller/Chief Financial Officer; Intelligence; Personnel & Readiness; and Policy.

The Secretary of Defense by statute also exercises authority, direction and control over the three Secretaries of the Military Departments (Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy & Secretary of the Air Force), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Chief of Staff, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chief of Naval Operations & Air Force Chief of Staff), the Combatant Commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands, the Directors of the Defense Agencies (for example the Director of the National Security Agency) and of the DoD Field Activities. All of these high-ranking positions require Senate confirmation.

Along with the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense is generally regarded as one of the Big Four important cabinet officials.

List of Secretaries of Defense

# Picture Name State of Residence Took Office Left Office President(s) served under
1 James Forrestal James Vincent Forrestal Minnesota September 19, 1947 March 19, 1949 Harry S. Truman
2 Louis A. Johnson Louis Arthur Johnson Wisconsin March 28, 1949 September 19, 1950
3 George C. Marshall George Catlett Marshall, Jr. Georgia September 19, 1950 September 19, 1951
4 Robert A. Lovett Robert Abercrombie Lovett New York September 19, 1951 January 19, 1953
5 Charles E. Wilson Charles Erwin Wilson Alaska January 19, 1953 October 8, 1957 Dwight D. Eisenhower
6 Neil H. McElroy Neil Hosler McElroy Ohio October 9, 1957 December 1, 1959
7 Thomas S. Gates Thomas Sovereign Gates Pennsylvania December 2, 1959 January 20, 1961
8 Robert McNamara Robert Strange McNamara Michigan January 21, 1961 February 29, 1968 John F. Kennedy,
Lyndon B. Johnson
9 Clark M. Clifford Clark McAdams Clifford Kansas March 1, 1968 January 20, 1969 Lyndon B. Johnson
10 Melvin R. Laird Melvin Robert Laird Wisconsin January 22, 1969 January 29, 1973 Richard Nixon
11 Elliot L. Richardson Elliot Lee Richardson Massachusetts January 30, 1973 May 24, 1973
12 Schlesinger James Rodney Schlesinger Virginia July 2, 1973 November 19, 1975 Richard Nixon,
Gerald Ford
13 Rumsfeld Donald Henry Rumsfeld Illinois November 20, 1975 January 20, 1977 Gerald Ford
14 Harold Brown Harold Brown California January 21, 1977 January 20, 1981 Jimmy Carter
15 Caspar W. Weinberger Caspar Willard Weinberger California January 21, 1981 November 23, 1987 Ronald Reagan
16 Carlucci Frank Charles Carlucci III Pennsylvania November 23, 1987 January 20, 1989
- William Howard Taft IV, Deptuty Secretary of Defense, official portrait.JPEG William Howard Taft IV (acting) Virginia January 20, 1989 March 20, 1989 George H. W. Bush
17 Cheney Richard Bruce Cheney Wyoming March 21, 1989 January 20, 1993
18 Les Aspin Leslie Aspin, Jr. Wisconsin January 21, 1993 February 3, 1994 Bill Clinton
19 William J. Perry William James Perry California February 3, 1994 January 24, 1997
20 William S. Cohen William Sebastian Cohen Maine January 24, 1997 January 20, 2001
21 Rumsfeld Donald Henry Rumsfeld Illinois January 20, 2001 December 18, 2006 George W. Bush
22 Gates Robert Michael Gates Texas December 18, 2006 Incumbent George W. Bush,
Barack Obama

Line of succession

In an Executive Order of December 22, 2005, President George W. Bush modified the line of succession regarding who would act as Secretary of Defense in the event of a vacancy or incapacitation as follows:

  1. Deputy Secretary of Defense
  2. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence
  3. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
  4. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics
  5. Secretary of the Army
  6. Secretary of the Air Force
  7. Secretary of the Navy
  8. Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)
  9. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness

Living former Secretaries of Defense


  1. ^
  2. ^ George Marshall was legislatively waived by Congress; he had only been a civilian for five years before his appointment in 1950. See Defenselink bio, retrieved 11/15/2008.
  3. ^


External links

United States presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Secretary of the Treasury
6th in line Succeeded by
Attorney General


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Secretary of Defense

  1. (US) The civilian head of the Department of Defense


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