U.S. Lawmakers Mixed on Former Boeing Exec. as Acting Defense Secretary

By Vivienne Machi | January 4, 2019
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Then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan talks with Airmen during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 19, 2018. ASC18 is a professional development conference that offers an opportunity for Department of Defense personnel to participate in forums, seminars, speeches and workshops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s past as a senior Boeing [BA] executive has some Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) members concerned over potential ethics issues, while others feel his defense industry experience is a plus.

Shanahan, who was sworn in as deputy defense secretary in July 2017 and became acting defense secretary Jan 1. after President Trump removed retired Marine Gen. James Mattis from the post, has recused himself from any matters involving Boeing for the remainder of his time at the Pentagon (Defense Daily, Jan. 2). That excludes him from dealing with the CH-47 Chinook, AH-64 Apache, Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey and the Air Force's new program to replace its UH-1 Hueys with a militarized version of the AW139. He also will be left out of  fixed-wing programs like the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker, the new T-X trainer replacement and the Navy's MQ-25 aerial refueling drone.


Boeing also has a stake in the SB-1 Defiant compound helicopter, one of two competitors participating in the Army's Joint Multirole Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program.

That has assuaged unease over potential ethics issues from some senators, while others said Jan. 3 that they remain concerned.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who chairs the emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee, said she had no concerns about Shanahan’s past at Boeing affecting his current position.

“I have met with the acting secretary a number of times,” she told reporters. “We have had briefings in classified sessions together, one on one. He is well qualified, he knows what he’s doing, and I have no concerns whatsoever.”

SASC Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told Defense Daily that Shanahan’s past at Boeing “complicates his job significantly” due to the company’s position as a major defense contractor.

Reed noted that he believes Shanahan is “very sincere in his commitment” to the Pentagon and his post, but “he might have to avoid making decisions which typically are made by a secretary of defense.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sits on SASC’s seapower, airland and cybersecurity subcommittees, said he is concerned about Shanahan’s “connection with the defense industry and his close connection with contractors,” but did not want to speculate on how the acting defense secretary would fare if Trump nominated him for the position.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the committee’s emerging threats and capabilities, seapower and readiness and management support subcommittees, said she hasn’t seen any issues over the last two years of Shanahan’s tenure at the Pentagon that have caused her concern.

“He has been in a position under former Secretary Mattis to … understand how the department runs and to make good decisions,” she added. “Hopefully that will continue.”

SASC Cybersecurity Subcommittee Chair Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said Shanahan has “done well” at the Pentagon and he would not have an objection to him being considered for the official defense secretary position.

“As long as he is clearly identifying where there may be a conflict, then he can work his way around those areas,” Rounds told reporters. “But I would rather have somebody with lots of experience than somebody who comes in brand new and makes the mistakes of somebody without any experience.”

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