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What is the purpose of the Secretary of Defense?

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The Secretary of Defense is the second in command of the U.S. armed forces and one of the most essential roles in the president’s cabinet. The current Defense Secretary is retired four-star General Llyod Austin.

The position was created by the National Security Act of 1947, following the end of World War II and at the start of the Cold War. Before the law, the duties of the Defense Security were given to the Secretary of War, one of the oldest cabinet positions dating back to George Washington’s administration. The Department of War and the overseeing secretary were transformed into the Defense Department. 

The Secretary of Defense has to seek approval from a simple majority of the Senate and be a non-active duty military service member. A minimum of seven years as a civilian is required for former military personnel. 

What does the Secretary of Defense do?

The primary duty of the Secretary of Defense is to oversee the U.S. armed forces, including the navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard and Army. He or she also manages the various intelligence operations within the Defense Department, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, and reports findings to the National Security Council at the White House.

The chief executive of the Pentagon is the Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin. 
(REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo)

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The defense secretary is the president’s main defense policy architect and oversees classified military initiatives. During times of war or military operations, the defense security works closely with the White House to ensure the military’s operational success. 

Who does the Secretary of Defense report to?

The Secretary of Defense sits on the presidential cabinet and therefore reports directly to the commander and chief of the U.S. Armed forces – the president of the United States. 

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Who controls the Pentagon?

The Pentagon is the epicenter for all military branches and acts as the nation’s military headquarters. Therefore, the Secretary of Defense has the most senior control of the Pentagon. 

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