WASHINGTON – The White House has formally sent the nomination of Michael Griffin to be the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, as the department nears the creation of that office on Feb 1.
Meanwhile, the Senate appears set to allow Ellen Lord to become the undersecretary of acquisition and sustainment without needing a new hearing.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act required the Pentagon to split the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L) into two organizations come Feb 1. The undersecretary of research and engineering (R&E) will focus on developing future technologies, while the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment (A&S) will have a day-to-day focus on existing systems.
In October, Griffin was announced as the intended nominee to be deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics, serving under AT&L head Ellen Lord. However, given that AT&L ceases to exist in roughly six weeks, it appears the White House decided to simply announce Griffin for his intended job as R&E head rather than bother with confirming him for the lesser role.
Griffin, the former NASA administrator under President George. W. Bush, is expected to have a hearing sometime in January.
Notably, there is a growing sense on the Hill that Lord should not have to go through a reconfirmation process for the A&S job, based on the logic that she was already successfully confirmed for an AT&L job that included both the A&S and R&E jobs together; hence, shifting her over should not require a whole new hearing.
That would seem to be a reversal of the Hill’s read of a 2017 NDAA provision that altered existing language that would have allowed the AT&L to slide over to the R&E spot without a new hearing. However, it now appears that language is being interpreted as a change simply to allow the AT&L to also become the A&S, as Lord will be.
Barring a push from the White House for an extra hearing – unlikely, as Lord was always intended to become A&S – she will simply step into her new title come Feb. 1.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.