The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A former assistant defense secretary and House staffer is President Barack Obama’s pick to be the next secretary of the Air Force, the White House said Thursday.
Obama is nominating Deborah Lee James, an executive at the defense contractor Science Applications International Corp., to head the Air Force, where she would replace Michael Donley, who stepped down in June after being in the job for five years.
If confirmed by the Senate, she would be one of the few women to serve as the senior civilian leader of an armed services branch.
James’ nomination comes as the Air Force is dealing with a sexual assault scandal, spending cuts and other challenges.
While increased instances of sexual assault and harassment have been spread widely across the services, the Air Force came under fire from congressional lawmakers this year after a senior officer overturned a guilty verdict in an assault case. A bipartisan group in the Senate is pursuing an ambitious effort to overhaul the military justice system and impede the increasing number of sexual assaults.
“I look forward to working with her to keep our Air Force the very best in the world and to keep faith with our extraordinary Air Force personnel and their families,” Obama said in a statement.
If confirmed by the Senate, James will succeed previous Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley, who’d served as Air Force’s top civilian for the past five years. Donley retired June 21 after 35 years of service.
Eric Fanning, undersecretary of the Air Force, is serving as acting Air Force Secretary until Donley’s replacement is confirmed.
James is president of the technology and engineering sector at Science Applications International Corporation, a position she has held since 2013. From 2004 to 2013, she was the senior vice president of the C4IT Business Unit and then the executive vice president of communications and government affairs at SAIC.
From 2000 to 2001, James was the executive vice president and chief operating officer at Business Executives for National Security. From 1998 to 2000, she was the vice president with the international operations and marketing division at United Technologies. From 1993 to 1998, James served as the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs at the Department of Defense. She began her career in national security as a professional staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives on the House Armed Services Committee from 1983 to 1993.
James is currently a committee member of the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, an Advisory Board Member of the Women in Military Service Memorial Foundation’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Campaign, and an advisory board member of The Citadel School of Engineering. James received a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. from Columbia University.