In the coming weeks, Hagel is expected to get briefings on a broad range of defense issues, including extensive information on the budget. The Pentagon is facing a reduction of nearly $500 billion over a decade in projected spending, part of the budget deal that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011. An additional $110 billion in cuts to military and domestic programs will automatically kick in at the beginning of March if no congressional budget deal has been reached.
Many defense officials were meeting Hagel for the first time this week but said they were impressed with his passion for national security policy and his desire to take the job.
Both Panetta and his predecessor, Robert Gates, were pressed into service and made it well-known during their tenures that they were eager to eventually get back to their home states.
Gates, a former CIA director who had retired after 27 years of public service, famously carried a countdown clock with him that showed how many days remained in the Bush administration. And he agreed to stay on after Obama was elected only after getting a personal plea from the president.
Panetta also had retired from public service but returned to Washington at Obama's request in order to take the helm of the CIA in 2009. With Gates eager to leave the Pentagon and go home to Washington state, Panetta agreed 18 months ago to step in as defense chief. But he commutes home to California nearly every weekend and has spoken longingly of returning to his walnut farm in Carmel.