Robert O. Work

Robert Orton Work (born January 17, 1953)[1] is an American national security professional who served as the 32nd United States Deputy Secretary of Defense for both the Obama and Trump administrations from 2014 to 2017.[2] Prior to that, Work was the United States Under Secretary of the Navy from 2009 to 2013, and before that served as a colonel in the United States Marine Corps; Work retired in 2001 and worked as a civilian at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) and the George Washington University in various positions relating to military and strategic study.[3] From 2013 to 2014, he was the CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

Robert O. Work
32nd United States Deputy Secretary of Defense
In office
May 1, 2014  July 14, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump
Preceded byAsh Carter
Succeeded byPatrick M. Shanahan
United States Under Secretary of the Navy
In office
May 19, 2009  March 22, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byDionel M. Aviles
Succeeded byJanine A. Davidson
Personal details
Robert Orton Work

(1953-01-17) January 17, 1953
Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.
EducationUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (BS)
University of Southern California (MS)
Naval Postgraduate School (MS)
Johns Hopkins University (MPA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Marine Corps
Years of service1974–2001
Rank Colonel

Early life and education

Work was born in Charlotte, North Carolina.[4] He attended the University of Illinois and earned a B.S. in Biology. Work later earned an M.S. in Systems Management from the University of Southern California; an M.S. in Space System Operations from the Naval Postgraduate School; and a master's degree in International Policy from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Military career

Work's military service began while he was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, where he was a member of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant of the United States Marine Corps in September 1974.

Work spent 27 years in the Marines, holding a variety of positions. He commanded an artillery battery, then an artillery battalion. He rose to become base commander of Camp Fuji; the first head of the Marine Corps' Strategic Initiatives Group, a small analytical group that provided advice directly to the Commandant of the Marine Corps; and, in his highest military posting, as Military Assistant and Special Aide to United States Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig. Work's rank when he retired from the Marines in 2001 was colonel.

Civilian career

He joined the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) as a senior fellow for maritime affairs. He later became the CSBA's vice president for strategic studies. He also took a position as an adjunct professor at George Washington University, teaching defense analysis and roles and missions of the armed forces. During this period, Work wrote and spoke extensively on naval and marine strategy. He also directed and analyzed war games for the Office of Net Assessment and for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He participated in the Quadrennial Defense Review in 2006. Work's work has focused on defense strategy; proposals to restructure the Department of Defense; and maritime affairs.

Under Secretary of the Navy

During the presidential transition of Barack Obama, Work was a member of the Department of Defense Transition Team, focusing on the transition at the United States Department of the Navy. President Barack Obama nominated Work as Under Secretary of the Navy and Work was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 19, 2009.

Work has criticized former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for assuming that the United States would always have an advantage in guided weapons and, as such, be able to quickly defeat any foe.[5]

In July 2011, Work called into question the navy's plans for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, asking if the numbers or types could be reduced in favor of more unmanned systems.[6]

In 2012, after submitting a budget request that reduced submarine construction, Work said that only a submarine could operate in the Taiwan Strait during a conflict with China.[7][8]

In 2013, the Center for a New American Security announced that Work would be their new CEO as of April 22, 2013.[9][10]

Deputy Secretary of Defense

On February 7, 2014, President Obama nominated Work to become Deputy Secretary of Defense.[11][12]

In October 2014, Deputy Secretary Work instructed the Defense Business Board to hire consultants from McKinsey & Company to identify wasteful spending.[13] McKinsey discovered DoD was spending $134 billion, 23% of its total budget, on back-office work, and that the back-office bureaucracy staff of over one million people was nearly as great as the number of active duty troops.[13] On January 22, 2015, the board then voted to recommend adoption of McKinsey's five-year plan to cut $125 billion in waste.[13]

However, after Secretary Chuck Hagel was replaced by Ash Carter the next month, Deputy Secretary Work expressed his concerns that any gain from savings achieved would then be removed from the defense budget by Congress.[13] Under Secretary Frank Kendall III argued that he could not achieve any efficiencies and, instead, that he needed to hire 1,000 more staff.[13] Secretary Carter then replaced the board chairman, classified the McKinsey results as secret, and removed the report from public websites.[13]

When James Mattis became defense secretary in January 2017, he asked Work to remain as deputy in order to complete several tasks, including preparing an amendment for additional funding in fiscal year 2017 and preparing the fiscal year 2018 budget for submittal in May 2017. This may have marked the first time in history when the top three posts at the Pentagon – secretary, deputy secretary, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – were held by Marines.[14]

Awards and accolades

On March 21, 2013, Robert Work was presented with the Navy Distinguished Public Service Medal, the Department of the Navy's highest award for civilians.

At a farewell ceremony in the Pentagon's auditorium on January 13, 2017, outgoing Defense Secretary Carter pinned Work with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Pentagon's highest award for a civilian.[14]

In December 2019 Work was presented with the Swedish Royal Order of the Polar Star by defense minster Peter Hultqvist.[15]

Criticism of Google

After retiring as Deputy Defense Secretary, Work in 2018 criticized Google and its employees for, in his view, stepping into a moral hazard for themselves as not continuing Pentagon's artificial intelligence project while helping the autocratic communist China's AI technology that could be used against the United States in a conflict. He described Google as hypocritical, given it has opened an AI center in China and said "[a]nything that’s going on in the AI center in China is going to the Chinese government and then will ultimately end up in the hands of the Chinese military. I didn’t see any Google employee saying, ‘Hmm, maybe we shouldn't do that.'"[16][17][18][19]


  1. "Nominations Before the Senate Armed Service Committee, First Session, 111th Congress".
  2. "Robert O. Work | U.S. Department of Defense Biography". U. S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  3. This story was written Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shannon Burns; Defense Media Activity-Navy. "Navy Says Farewell to Under Secretary".
  4. S. HRG. 113–611
  5. "Budget Cuts and New Ways of Doing Business Await the Marine Corps – Blog".
  6. Sweetman, Bill. "New Threat To F-35 Joint Strike Fighter." Aviation Week, September 1, 2011.
  7. Parsons, Dan. "Navy Leaders Frustrated by Littoral Combat Ship Naysayers." National Defense Magazine, April 19, 2012.
  8. Shapiro, Michael Welles. "Bill to keep steady funding of Virginia-class subs advances." Daily Press, 26 April 2012.
  9. "Navy Undersecretary Robert Work to step down."
  10. "Robert Work To Head Defense, Security Think Tank". Executive Gov.
  11. McLeary, Paul (7 February 2014). "Senate Committee Confirms Work's Nomination for Pentagon No. 2 Spot". Gannett Government Media. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  12. Garamone, Jim (February 7, 2014). "Obama Nominates Work as Next Deputy Defense Secretary". American Forces Press Service. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  13. Craig Whitlock; Bob Woodward (5 December 2016). "Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste". The Washington Post. p. A1. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  14. Sisk, Richard (February 1, 2017). "Three Marines Leading Pentagon Staying Put for Now". Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  15. Försvarsdep (2019-12-09). "Robert O. Work, fd biträdande försvarsminister, förlänas Nordstjärneorden för arbetet med att fördjupa försvarssamarbetet mellan Sverige och". @ForsvarsdepSv (in Swedish). Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  16. "Former US Defense Official Says Google Has Stepped Into a 'Moral Hazard'". Voice of America. 2018-06-26.
  17. "Ex-Defense Official Blasts Google for Dropping Pentagon's AI Project While Helping China's". Epoch Times. 2018-06-26.
  18. "Where in the World Is Larry Page?". Bloomberg. 2018-09-13.
  19. "The Pentagon must modernize before it's too late". Washington Post. 2018-09-17.
Political offices
Preceded by
Ash Carter
United States Deputy Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
Pat Shanahan
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