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.