WASHINGTON — President Trump’s nominee for Air Force secretary is headed to the Senate for a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee, its chairman told Defense News on Thursday.
Heather Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico named in January, follows two service secretary nominees who dropped out. Two months into the Trump administration, the top jobs at Pentagon are largely filled with acting officials.
SASC Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said the committee has officially received her nomination paperwork from the White House and the committee plans to hold a hearing as soon as next week.
As of Thursday, the only official nominee for the department is Wilson for Air Force secretary, beyond Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Trump has however named people a half-dozen senior posts that would require Senate confirmation, including Patrick Shanahan, senior vice president of supply chain operations for Boeing, for the department’s No. 2 spot.
The Defense Department’s stringent requirements against conflicts of interest snared Trump’s other service secretary nominees, who dropped out over business entanglements: Army secretary nominee Vincent Viola, a billionaire Army veteran, and Navy secretary pick Philip Bilden, Hong Kong-based financier.
Earlier this month, Mattis withdrew retired senior diplomat Anne Patterson from consideration for the Pentagon's top policy job after rumors of a potential Senate fight.
Wilson, an Air Force Academy graduate who served in Congress from 1998-2009, is the president of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, in Rapid City. She also was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, where she studied international relations and earned masters and doctoral degrees.
She has faced ethics scrutiny in the past. In 2013, the Energy Department inspector general found a company Wilson ran collected a half-million dollars from four of the department’s facilities with no evidence of the work. Wilson refuted the charges, and the government was reportedly repaid $442,877 of the $464,203.
In 2015, Lockheed Martin
paid $4.7 million to settle charges that it used government money illegally to lobby federal officials for an extension of its contract to run Sandia National Laboratories. Wilson was allegedly paid $226,000 to write up the strategy to extend the long-term, no-bid contract, which Lockheed has held since 1993 — though she denied wrongdoing at the time.
On Thursday, McCain said he was unaware of her ethical issues.
“I’ve known her for a long time, she was a House member,” McCain said, adding: “I hadn’t looked at her background.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, chair of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, said in a statement that she would ask Wilson, as she did Mattis, whether she would prioritize cuts to government waste — and "cite any data found that may indicate it wouldn’t be made a priority.”
“I have concerns with any reports of wasting taxpayer dollars, and though I had a good meeting with Heather Wilson, I have many questions to ask her in the committee confirmation process," Ernst said.