Robert Gates, the former CIA director who is President George W Bush's choice to replace Donald H Rumsfeld as defence secretary, probably will assume the Pentagon post before year's end if he is confirmed by the Senate as expected, officials have said.
Eric Ruff, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Monday Gates will have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee early next week, with a vote by the full Senate expected by December 12 or 13.
In preparation for the hearing, Gates is being briefed by senior Pentagon officials, Ruff said.
Even if Gates were confirmed as expected, it remains unclear when he would be sworn in to his new duties, Ruff said.
"It's somewhat of a fluid situation," he said.
Another administration official, who would discuss the Gates matter only on condition of anonymity, said that if confirmation goes as expected, Gates would be sworn in well before the end of the year. No date is set.
Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation and Gates' nomination on November 8, the day after elections in which the voters turned over control of Congress to the Democrats from Bush's Republicans.
Iraq, and by extension Rumsfeld, were considered major reasons for the voters' rebellion.
Ruff said Gates, president of Texas A&M University, might have university business to attend to in the days after his confirmation hearing, but it was unclear whether this would delay his swearing-in.
There as been speculation that the Pentagon transition would be put off until the end of December in order to give Rumsfeld the distinction of being the longest-serving secretary of defence since the post was created in 1947.