WASHINGTON ― President Joe Biden’s nominee for Pentagon acquisition chief, Bill LaPlante, will have his Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing next week, according to a Senate aide.

The panel will host LaPlante, a former Air Force acquisition chief, on Tuesday, March 22. The administration has faced a lengthy delay in filling the role of undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, a key position in the Pentagon’s race to compete with China technologically.

Biden nominated LaPlante, now the chief executive of Draper Laboratory, for undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, or A&S, in late November, but his nomination wasn’t received in the Senate until late February.

If confirmed, LaPlante would be the face of the Defense Department to industry, which wants the Pentagon to embrace new buying authorities to quickly purchase and field cutting-edge tech. Industry groups said they have felt the leadership vacuum as they’ve dealt with supply chain problems and budget gridlock.

“The primary conduit for industry with the Department of Defense is A&S, and the fact you don’t have these political positions filled is just terribly challenging for industry. You don’t get the guidance, the strategy and the leadership,” National Defense Industrial Association President Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle told Defense News in December.

“One of the key jobs of A&S is to telegraph to industry that government’s willing to take a little risk and not be so risk averse, because we all know you have to take risks to have that kind of agility and speed.”

Part of the delay is that Michael Brown, first nominated for the job in April, withdrew his nomination in July amid an inspector general investigation into his leadership at the Defense Innovation Unit.

As SASC pushes to confirm nominees, the confirmation hearing will also be for Erik Raven, the majority clerk for the Senate Appropriations Committee who was nominated for Navy undersecretary, the sea service’s No. 2 civilian job. The others are Marvin Adams, the nominee for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy director of defense programs, and Tia Johnson, nominated for an Armed Forces Court of Appeals judgeship.

Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.

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