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Boeing exec, Russia cynic among Trump's picks for top DoD posts

March 16, 2017 (Photo Credit: Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has announced his nominees to fill five of the top spots at the Pentagon, including naming a Boeing vice president to be deputy secretary of defense.

The six appointees represent the first major wave of nominees and would fill a number of crucial positions that have been empty since the Trump administration took office.

Patrick Shanahan, senior vice president of supply chain operations for Boeing, is Trump’s choice for the number two spot at the Pentagon. Shanahan comes most recently from the commercial side of Boeing, but also served as vice president for both Boeing Missile Defense Systems and the company’s rotorcraft division, giving him oversight on programs like the CH-47 Chinook and the AH-64D Apache. He worked on Boeing's airborne laser program, experience which may come in handy in the Deputy role, which has often featured a focus on new technologies. 

Shahahan represents just the latest link between Trump and Boeing, which has emerged as a favorite company for the new President despite a rocky start to negotiations around the cost of the Air Force One program. After a recent visit to a company plant, the president ended his speech by saying “God bless Boeing.”

The big question now is what the relationship between Shanahan and Mattis will look like. In December, current Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work laid out an explainer of the four types of relationships a Secretary and a Deputy can have, and made the case that Mattis should pick someone to fit the role he envisions for a deputy. 

“They should pick the person for the job they want the deputy to do,” Work said at the time. “I can’t tell you how he should have a deputy, but there are four different models, and you should pick the best athlete for the model that you want. You shouldn’t pick a Paul Wolfowitz, a policy guy, and say I want you to be [David] Packard.”

In a statement, Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher praised Shanahan and said the company fully expects him to bring "continued and strong leadership for the Defense Department as it seeks to adapt to a dynamic and challenging defense environment.”

David Joel Trachtenberg is the nominee for the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. He is President and CEO of Shortwaver Consulting, which focuses on national security issues, a former House Armed Services Committee staffer and, most notably, served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy from 2001 to 2003. He also did a stint as Vice President and head of Strategic Analysis Division at CACI-National Security Research.

In a 2015 editorial for Defense News, Trachtenberg warned that Russia’s “increasingly belligerent, anti-American and dangerously provocative international behavior” are a “cause for alarm,” and urged a re-thinking of America’s nuclear strategy. That is notable, as the Pentagon is gearing up for a major Nuclear Posture Review, which will likely set the Trump administration's nuclear weapons policy starting with the 2019 budget. Stephen Young, a nuclear expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed concerns about Trachtenberg's previous nuclear statements. 

“It is deeply worrying that the person who seems likely to write the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review does not believe in strategic stability," Young said. "If you think we have trouble with Russia now, trying to deploy missile defenses against them is certain to significantly increase those problems.”

The combination of Shanahan and Trachtenberg also would fit in nicely with the Trump administration's goal of increasing missile defense spending.

David Norquist, Trump’s choice to be Pentagon Comptroller, is a partner with Kearney and Company, an accounting firm. He has served in a number of jobs with the federal government over his career, including being named the first Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Homeland Security. Norquist is the brother of noted anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, an influential figure during the Bush years whose budget policies remain a core tenet of Republican leadership in Congress.

Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, said Norquist is a “really solid” pick who “knows the building and can “definitely do the job and do it well.”

Norquist’s deputy would be Elaine McCusker, the current Director, Resources and Analysis, Headquarters U.S. Central Command. She has experience as a staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee and within the Navy. McCusker has been at CENTCOM since 2011, which means she would have worked with Mattis during his time leading that command.

Kenneth Rapuano is Trump’s choice for Assistant Secretary of Defense, Homeland Defense and Global Security. He currently works as the Senior Vice President and Director of the Studies and Analysis Group at the ANSER Corporation, but was White House Deputy Homeland Security Advisor from 2004-2006 and is a former U.S. Marine.

Robert Daigle is Trump’s choice to lead the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), which provides analysis of programs across the defense portfolio. Daigle worked at CAPE in a different capacity during the Bush administration and has served as a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, where he was a key policy guy for HASC head Rep. Mac Thornberry. Eaglen calls him a “terrific pick” and said he is well respected by colleagues on the Hill. 

The six nominees draw heavily from either experience in the George W. Bush administration (Daigle, Norquist, Trachtenberg) or on the Hill (Trachtenber, Norquist, Rapuano and, currently, Daigle all have House experience, while McCusker was a staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee). McCusker is the only nominee to currently hold a job with the Department of Defense.

Until today, there were only two nominees awaiting hearings to fill spots at DoD - Heather Wilson for Air Force Secretary and John Sullivan as general counsel. Two other nominees — Vincent Viola for secretary of the Army and  Philip Bilden for secretary of the Navy — have withdrawn their nominations. 

That Mattis has clashed with the White House over nominees is perhaps the biggest open secret in Washington, with sources putting much of the blame on Trump aide Mira Ricardel, who is in the process of shifting to a new job at the Department of Commerce. 

In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis called the candidates "all highly qualified individuals who were personally recommended by Secretary Mattis to the President for nomination." 

None of the nominees donated directly to Trump’s campaign, according to a Defense News analysis of open-source campaign financing data hosted on OpenSecrets.org. However, it is possible the nominees may have donated through “dark money” groups which hide their donors' names. 

Shanahan’s giving has primarily been to Boeing’s corporate PAC, with only one personal donation -- $500 to Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York – made in the last election cycle. Before then, his political giving was bipartisan, including donating money to democrats like Sen. Patty Murray and former Rep. Norm Dicks.

Norquist was a reliable Republican donor throughout the 2000s, but does not appear to have donated since the 2014 election.  Rapunao last donated to a candidate in 2014. A Robert Daigle living in Virginia donated $2,700 to the Jeb Bush presidential campaign in 2015.

Now that nominees are in place, the next step is to begin the vetting process that will eventually lead to a vote in the Senate. However, that process may take some time, as Senate Armed Services Committee head John McCain, R-.Ariz., has made it clear he wants to do a thorough vetting for every candidate who crosses his desk.

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