WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pentagon budget chief Robert Hale, the department's longest-serving comptroller since the 1950s, has decided to step down after a five-year tenure that spanned a shift from peak wartime spending to shrinking budgets in a period of fiscal uncertainty.
The Pentagon confirmed Hale's decision to leave on Friday after the White House - in a note to Congress on Thursday - nominated his top deputy, Michael McCord, to replace him as undersecretary of defense (comptroller).
Hale issued a statement on Friday praising McCord's nomination and saying he would remain in the job until the confirmation process was completed. The Pentagon is expected on March 4 to unveil the 2015 fiscal year defense budget, which would be Hale's sixth rollout if he is still in office.
"Having been in this job for about five years - longer than any DoD (Defense Department) comptroller since the 1950s - I know it is getting close to the time when I should pursue other opportunities and challenges," Hale said in the statement.
"When the time does come to leave ... I will do so with decidedly mixed feelings," he added. "With the help of a large number of outstanding men and women ... we have guided this department through some very turbulent times while also making progress on key initiatives."
Jim McAleese, a Virginia-based defense consultant, said McCord was a good choice to replace Hale, whose tenure he said was characterized by deep knowledge, candor, transparency and energy.
"Mike is the only one who can seamlessly replace Bob Hale at this critical juncture," McAleese said. "He has been steeped in the DoD budget and programs for the past four years."
The first Defense Department comptroller, Wilfred J. McNeil, served for 10 years from 1949 to 1959. Since then most comptrollers have served less than four years in the challenging post, which is responsible for the largest budget of any federal department.
Since being appointed by President Barack Obama in January 2009, Hale has overseen an annual Pentagon budget of some $600 billion.
His tenure saw the peak in wartime spending in the early part of the Obama administration, followed by congressionally mandated cuts that aimed to shrink planned defense spending by nearly $1 trillion over a decade.
During the 2013 fiscal year, after months of delay and uncertainty, congressionally mandated budget cuts went into effect midway through the year, forcing the department to put most civilian workers on temporary unpaid leave.
The Pentagon continues to face spending cutbacks, but officials say a two-year budget deal approved by Congress earlier this year has eliminated some of the uncertainty and given the department the ability to more effectively manage the decline in its spending.
(Reporting by David Alexander and Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Gunna Dickson)