President Obama's fourth secretary of defense took office Tuesday, bringing in a new team to run the Pentagon for the final two years of the two-term administration.
Despite a snowstorm in Washington that shut down the rest of the federal government, Ash Carter arrived at the Pentagon's River Entrance about 8 a.m. and started his day in a meeting with other top civilian leaders, including Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and the three service secretaries.
Afterward, he met one-on-one with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, according to a defense official.
Carter then traveled across the Potomac River to the White House, where Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office, officially installing Carter in the post that was held for two years by Chuck Hagel.
Carter was scheduled for a one-on-one meeting with President Obama on Tuesday afternoon.
Moments after taking the oath of office, Carter sent an email to the entire Defense Department workforce.
"As we tackle the many threats to our national security, we must never lose sight of our nation's enduring strengths — or of the opportunities to make a brighter future and better world for our children.
"The United States remains the strongest and most resilient nation on earth. Because of you, we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known. We have friends and allies in every corner of the world, while our adversaries have few. We have long possessed the world's most dynamic and innovative economy. And our values, principles, and leadership continue to inspire hope and progress around the world," Carter wrote in the email Tuesday.
Carter, who did not serve in the active-duty military, is taking over the Pentagon's top job after holding several high-level posts under Obama and also under President Clinton. Early in Obama's first term, Carter was the military's top weapons buyer and later served as the Defense Department's No. 2 man under former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Carter will bring in his own team to include a new chief of staff and a new military adviser.
High on his immediate list of priorities will be refining the strategy to defeat the Islamic State militants who have controlled large parts of Iraq for the past year.
Last week, fighting in Iraq came within a few miles of U.S. troops when about 25 militants attacked the perimeter of al-Asad Air Base in Anbar province. About 320 U.S. service members are training and advising Iraqi army forces at al-Asad.
Defense officials say the Iraqis suppressed the attack without assistance from the American forces.
Carter is expected to testify on Capitol Hill soon about the Defense Department's annual budget request that was released in early February. He'll be setting the stage for a big budget battle as the Pentagon seeks $534 billion for next year, significantly more than the $499 billion spending cap imposed by the sequestration law.
If Congress does not reach a new agreement by October, the military could face across-the-board spending cuts similar to those seen in 2013.
The partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill may be one of the biggest issues facing Carter in his new job. Panetta, who held the Pentagon's top post from 2011 to 2013, said recently that problems inside the Capitol Beltway may be the "'biggest national security threat" facing America today.
"It's the — the total dysfunction in Washington, the fact that so little can be done by the Congress," Panetta said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN. "They can't even resolve the issue of homeland security. They can't deal with budgets. They can't deal with immigration reform. They can't deal with infrastructure. They can't deal with other issues."
Carter, in his email to the Defense Department workers and service members, acknowledged the budget challenges ahead.
"We must steer through the turmoil of sequestration, which imposes wasteful uncertainty and risk to our nation's defense," he wrote. "We must balance all parts of our defense budget so that we continue to attract the best people — people like you; so that there are enough of you to defend our interests around the world; and so that you are always well-equipped and well-trained to execute your critical mission.
"To win support from our fellow citizens for the resources we need, we must show that we can make better use of every taxpayer dollar. That means a leaner organization, less overhead, and reforming our business and acquisition practices," Carter wrote.
"It also means embracing the future — and embracing change."
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.