Timothy Beyland, the administrative assistant to the secretary of the US Air Force, swears in Deborah L. James as the 23rd Air Force secretary on Dec. 20. (Scott M. Ash/US Air Force)
The US Air Force officially has a new secretary.
Deborah Lee James was sworn in as the 23rd secretary of the Air Force at a private ceremony Friday in the Pentagon. James becomes the second woman to hold the position.
“I think our Air Force is in great shape given that we’ve been living through some difficult times,” James said in an Air Force news release. “I’m enormously optimistic about the future of our Air Force. We have nothing but opportunities to face in the upcoming years.”
Nominated by President Barack Obama on Aug. 1, James’ confirmation was no sure thing. Her nomination was held up by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, over an Air Force plan to cut the fleet of A-10 platforms. After weeks of stalling, Ayotte lifted her hold, paving the way for James’ confirmation Dec. 13 with a vote of 79 to 6.
The new secretary has prior government experience, having served as assistant defense secretary for reserve affairs from 1993 to 1998. Prior to her confirmation, she served as president of the technology and engineering sector at Science Applications International Corp., a role that has since been filled by Doug Wagoner.
With James’ confirmation, Acting Secretary Eric Fanning returns to his confirmed role as service undersecretary. Fanning had been filling the secretary role since the 22nd Air Force secretary, Michael Donley, left his post in June.
Having both James and Fanning in place should alleviate pressure on the Air Force, which has the majority of its civilian leadership positions vacant.
As of Jan. 1, both Daniel Ginsberg, assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, and General Counsel Charles Blanchard will have departed the Pentagon. Jamie Morin, the assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller, is still in place, but his nomination to head up the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation could be moved on at any time, leaving another potential vacancy.
The slot of assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics remains open without a nomination from Obama. The role of assistant secretary for acquisition has been empty since early 2012, although the deputy, William LaPlante, was recently nominated to fill the role