Heather Wilson Confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force

Heather Wilson Confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force

Former Congresswoman Heather Wilson has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the next Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF).  The vote was 76-22.

Wilson was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month, but an unnamed Senator reportedly put a hold on her confirmation vote pending answers about a military installation in his or her state.  Apparently the answers were received and the vote was scheduled for today (May 8).

Wilson graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1982 with a bachelor of science degree.  She then earned masters and doctorate degrees in international relations as a Rhodes Scholar at England’s Oxford University.  She served as a Captain in Europe and then joined the White House National Security Council staff under President George H.W. Bush.  A decade later, in 1998, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico’s 1st district and served there until 2009.  In 2008, she had decided to run for the Senate, but lost in the primary.  She ran again for the Senate in 2012, but lost in the general election.  She has been President of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City, SD since 2013, the first female President of the University.

Heather WIlson.  Photo credit: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology website.

Wilson will succeed Deborah Lee James as SecAF, who left at the end of the Obama Administration.   Lisa Disbrow, a retired Air Force Reserve Colonel with 30 years of national security experience including serving as a senior systems engineer at the National Reconnaissance Office, has been Acting SecAF since James’s departure.

Wilson is the first service secretary to be confirmed in the Trump Administration.  The original nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because of financial entanglements.  President Trump then nominated Mark Green to be Secretary of the Army, but he withdrew last week because of criticism over comments he is said to have made that were offensive to the LGBT community and Muslims.  He denies the remarks, but said his nomination had become a distraction.

The Air Force is the major military service that builds and operates satellites and acquires launches for them.  It has been DOD’s “executive agent” for space for many years, but an attempt was made during the Obama Administration to better coordinate space activities throughout DOD by creating the position of Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA).  As SecAF, James was named to that position in October 2015 in addition to her other duties.   It is difficult to assess the office’s effectiveness in such a short period of time, but DOD continues to be criticized for not being organized effectively to deal with space matters.  It is not clear if the PDSA position will survive or if it will be abolished in the Trump Administration.

During her March 30 confirmation hearing before SASC, she said she was looking forward to serving in that position, however.  “One of the things I’m most looking forward to about this job is being the, potentially, the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense with respect to space and chairing the Defense Space Council.  There is no question that space will be a contested domain in any future conflict.”   She added that she was a member of the House Intelligence Committee when China launched its anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007 “and I don’t expect that things have slowed down since then.”


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