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Former Pentagon budget expert named acting deputy secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday named the former head of the Pentagon office for cost assessments as acting deputy secretary of defense while the search continues for a permanent replacement for departing Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter.

Christine Fox, the former director of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, will be the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the Defense Department. She will formally take over as acting deputy defense secretary on Thursday, Hagel said.

"Christine ... is a brilliant defense thinker and proven manager," Hagel said in a statement, noting that she had helped to lead his Strategic Choices and Management Review earlier this year looking at how best to tackle the huge budget cuts facing the Pentagon.

"She helped identify the challenges, choices and opportunities for reform facing the department during this period of unprecedented budget uncertainty," Hagel said. "She knows the intricacies of the department's budgets, programs and global operations better than anyone."

The Pentagon is struggling with how to implement nearly $1 trillion in cuts to projected defense spending over the next decade.

The selection of Fox as acting deputy defense secretary will enable Hagel to fill the key post with someone who is already familiar with the issues until a permanent replacement for Carter can be found and confirmed.

Fox, who was the inspiration for the lead female character in the movie "Top Gun," left the Pentagon earlier this year after finishing Hagel's strategic review and has been working since then as a senior adviser to Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, a senior defense official said.

The White House and Pentagon are continuing to evaluate candidates as a permanent replacement for Carter, whose last day is Wednesday, the senior defense official said. Fox has indicated she is not interested in assuming the job permanently, the official said.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Bill Trott)

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