Your Cart

Trump Picks Technocrats, Not Billionaires, For Top Pentagon Posts

Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on

Boeing photo

Patrick Shanahan

WASHINGTON: President Trump will nominate Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan for Deputy Defense Secretary, one of six key Pentagon appointments announced today. All six have extensive service in government or, in Shanahan’s case, the defense industry. That’s a stark departure from the two billionaires with no prior government service Trump initially picked as secretaries of the Army and Navy, Vincent Viola and Philip Bilden, both of whom withdrew.

In contrast to several earlier nominations, the White House made clear these were people picked by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, saying they “were personally recommended by Secretary Mattis to the President for nomination.” The very different backgrounds of these picks suggests Mattis has persuaded a chastened Trump team to seek experienced hands instead of swamp-draining outsiders.

The deputy position is all-important since the deputy traditionally runs the building on a day-to-day basis and is usually point man for big budget and acquisition decisions. It’s difficult not to read this as a major victory for Boeing, especially given Trump’s repeated criticism of Air Force One. You can be sure Lockheed will read this as a possible blow to the F-35 program. But Shanahan will be under such tight scrutiny, given where he’s come from, that it’s not likely he’d make any final decisions about the F-18 or the F-35, since he’d be sure to face ethics and conflict of interest charges.

It will be very interesting to see how top Senate defense lawmaker John McCain, who repeatedly lambasted Boeing during the airborne tanker wars, approaches the idea of a senior defense leader stepping directly into the second most powerful job at the Pentagon. McCain has traditionally been leery of defense executives stepping directly from industry to a Pentagon job.

Air Force photo

A Navy F-35C (upper left) and Hornet (lower right)

Shanahan is arguably Boeing’s top line manager. He became senior vice president for supply chain & operations last April, reporting directly to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. He oversaw the company’s manufacturing and suppliers, a crucial task for a company that thought its Black Diamond advanced manufacturing center could tip the balance in its favor for what became the B-21 project. Shanahan also led the 787 program during a crucial period, helping to right the teetering project.

Shanahan would replace Bob Work, the highest ranking holdover from the Obama administration and chief architect of the Pentagon’s high-tech Third Offset Strategy.

He’s an engineer who’s spent almost his entire adult life — since 1986 — at Boeing, working on everything from commercial airliners and military systems from attack helicopters to missiles, from tilt-rotors to lasers. His skills at managing large, complex technical programs on a budget should come in handy at the Pentagon. Shanahan should complement Mattis, who has extensive experience as a strategic leader, commander and warrior-diplomat but has little experience in the Pentagon’s extensive acquisition enterprise.

David Norquist will be Pentagon Comptroller. He’s a partner with CPA firm Kearney & Company, but he was a defense specialist on the House Appropriations Committee (Congress’s all-powerful money guys), in the Department of the Army, and at the Department of Homeland Security, where he helped clean up DHS’s books as comptroller and chief financial officer. Under Bush, he worked as deputy defense comptroller.

Air Force photo

Elaine McCusker

Norquist’s principal deputy undersecretary will be Elaine McCusker. She’s currently the Resources & Analysis director at US Central Command headquarters, Mattis’s old HQ. She worked previously for the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon Comptroller’s office and the Navy Department, where she was a special assistant for the top-priority Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle program to save troops from roadside bombs. She got her start in government at the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory.

House Armed Services Committee staffer Robert Daigle will head the Pentagon’s famously independent-minded Cost Assessment & Program Evaluation unit. CAPE’s incisive analysis has needled many a non-performing program, making the job in some ways an extension of the acquisition reform and oversight Daigle’s been doing on the Hill. Daigle came to Congress just over a year ago. Before that he served as executive director of the influential Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. He’s not new to acquisition issues, having served in the George W. Bush administration in the Pentagon’s Program Analysis & Evaluation (PA&E) shop. Before and after his executive branch service, he’s worked in various consulting firms and thinktanks, as well as in the US Army.

Kenneth Rapuano will be assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security. He’s been working at the thinktanks ANSER and MITRE, primarily in homeland security-related jobs. He served in the Bush White House as deputy homeland security advisor, in the Department of Energy as deputy undersecretary for counter-terrorism, and as a special assistant in the Pentagon’s international security policy shop. He spent 21 years in the Marine Corps, some active-duty and some reserve, as an infantryman and intelligence officer, with multiple operational deployments.

David Trachtenberg will be principal deputy undersecretary for policy. This may be a really important pick: The person who holds this slot is usually the consigliere to the Defense Secretary. Trachtenberg currently heads national security consulting firm Shortwaver. Before that, he led strategic analysis at CACI National Security Research. He worked on international security policy in the Pentagon (like Rapuano) under Bush and worked on the House Armed Services staff. He’s worked and written extensively on nuclear deterrence, missile defense, and Russia.

What do you think?