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DoD personnel chief Conaton resigns

Jan. 3, 2013 - 03:00PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 3, 2013 - 03:00PM  |  
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The Pentagon's personnel chief has resigned after less than a year in the job, citing her desire to return to private life.

Erin C. Conaton, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, sent a letter Dec. 31 to members of her staff that stated: "I believe this is a good moment for me to return to private life and to continue to contribute to our national security from outside government."

Conaton, 42, has been on medical leave since mid-October, after being in the job since June.

Pentagon spokesman George Little confirmed that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had received Conaton's letter indicating her intentions earlier this week. "He is grateful for her service and for her commitment to our service members and their families; he wishes her the best as she moves to the next phase of her career," Little said in an email.

Jessica Wright is acting undersecretary until President Obama names a replacement, Little said. Wright, a retired Army major general and former adjutant general of Pennsylvania and commander of the state's National Guard, has been serving as acting undersecretary during Conaton's medical leave, while also serving as acting principal deputy in the personnel and readiness office. She was previously confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs on May 24.

The personnel and readiness directorate, which has oversight of a broad range of programs directly affecting service members and their families, has undergone significant turbulence in recent years. One Defense Department source noted that the directorate has had about eight leaders at the helm in the past four years, counting those who served in an acting capacity between permanent undersecretaries.

Conaton, who previously served as undersecretary of the Air Force, succeeded retired Marine Maj. Gen. Clifford Stanley in the personnel and readiness directorate. Stanley resigned amid staff turmoil and allegations that he was an ineffective manager, neglected programs for wounded warriors, and spent lavishly on a Pentagon conference room.

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