Senate Confirms Barbara Barrett as Secretary of the Air Force

Senate Confirms Barbara Barrett as Secretary of the Air Force

Today the Senate confirmed Barbara Barrett to be the new Secretary of the Air Force, succeeding Heather Wilson who resigned in May. President Trump tweeted his intention to nominate her before Wilson left, but did not formally submit it to Congress until last month.  During her confirmation hearing she supported creation of a Space Force as a sixth military service and highlighted the importance of space assets not only to national security, but to all Americans.

The vote was 85-7, with Senators Blumenthal, Duckworth, Gillibrand, Markey, Merkeley, Smith and Wyden, all Democrats, voting no.

Barbara Barrett, incoming Secretary of the Air Force, testifying at her nomination hearing, September 12, 2019.

Barrett, 68, is owner of the Triple Creek Ranch, a luxury ranch resort, in Darby, Montana. An instrument-rated pilot, she is the first civilian woman to land an F/A-18 Hornet on an aircraft carrier according to a June 2018 profile in Arizona’s Chamber Business News.  She was inducted into the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013.

She has had three stints in the U.S. government already as vice chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board (1982-1985), deputy administrator of the FAA (1987-1988), and U.S Ambassador to Finland (2008-2009).

Her space-related experience includes serving as chairman of the Aerospace Corporation’s Board of Trustees from 2013-2017; a member of the Board of Trustees of RAND Corporation and of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA; and a Life Director of the Space Foundation.  Barrett is sometimes introduced as an astronaut, though that refers only to the fact that she trained in Russia for four months as a backup to Cirque de Soleil’s Guy Laliberté for his 2009 flight as a spaceflight participant on Soyuz TMA-16.  She has a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s of public administration, and a law degree (J.D.) all from Arizona State University.

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) enthusiastically introduced her at the September 12 Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) confirmation hearing as “a fellow Arizonan and personal friend.” McSally, the first American woman combat pilot and the first woman to command an Air Force Fighter Squadron, said Barrett was instrumental in the “paradigm shift” of expanding air combat roles for women when she was a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

The hearing focused primarily on non-space issues, but Barrett did strongly support President Trump’s proposal to create a Space Force as part of the Air Force and vowed to ensure it focused on capabilities, not bureaucracy. She called it “overdue” and a “key imperative” if she was confirmed.   She also agreed with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) on the need to establish a set of international rules that can be enforced to protect investments in space.

SASC and its House counterpart are still negotiating the final version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that will spell out whatever the Space Force or Space Corps will look like.  The Senate calls it Space Force in concert with the Administration, but the House kept the name Space Corps, which is what it proposed and passed two years ago.  There are other differences in their approaches to creating the new service that are different yet again from Trump’s proposal, but it is widely expected that the final version of the bill will establish something along those lines.

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