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U.S. Air Force finance chief named to Pentagon weapons post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama this week nominated Jamie Morin, the Air Force's chief financial officer, to head the Pentagon office that forecasts the costs of major weapons systems and plays a critical role in whether they live or die.

Morin, 38, went to the Air Force in June 2009 after working for six years as the senior defense analyst on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. As Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Financial Management & Comptroller), he oversees the Air Force's annual budget of $110 billion and its military and civilian workforce of 700,000.

He also served as acting undersecretary of the Air Force for 10 months until April 29, leading the service's efforts to implement budget cuts mandated under the process known as sequestration while protecting military readiness and high priority programs such as the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet and Boeing Co's KC-46 refueling plane.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Morin would head the Pentagon's office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), an agency that will play a central role in determining how the Pentagon will achieve the $500 billion in budget cuts required over the next decade under the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The previous director, Christine Fox, retired at the end of June after serving as a key adviser to three defense secretaries.

The new job would put Morin in charge of a wide range of responsibilities, including ensuring the costs of classified and unclassified weapons programs; developing and improving analytical tools to analyze national security planning; and assessing the effects of Pentagon spending on the U.S. economy.

CAPE provides independent assessments of the costs of major weapons programs, a role that often has it at odds with the military services and big arms manufacturers.

Morin said he was honored to be nominated for what analysts call one of the Pentagon's toughest jobs at a time when the U.S. military must cut its planned spending by $500 billion over the next decade, on top of $487 billion in cuts already planned for roughly the same period.

"It's a remarkable opportunity at a critical time for the Department of Defense and the nation," Morin said in a statement released by the Air Force.

Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Morin would bring a great deal of experience and insight to the CAPE job.

"He's the perfect guy for the job at the perfect time," Harrison said, noting that Morin had already refereed some big policy debates during his time at the Air Force.

"He was involved in all the big discussions, he knows the issues," Harrison said. "He's got the brain power to bring to the table."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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