In an interview with Deputy Editor Aaron Mehta, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord provides an update on her office's reorganization and the path ahead for acquisition reform.

WASHINGTON — When the Pentagon split the legacy Acquisition, Technology and Logistics office into two new organizations, it came with a massive reshuffling of personnel.

Now, eight months after the split officially happened, Under Secretary of Research and Engineering Michael Griffin and Under Secretary of Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord are still working to formulate their teams, with several key individuals confirmed or added in just the last few weeks.

Structurally, R&E differs from A&S in a notable way. Instead of having assistant secretary of defense positions — generally the level under the undersecretary and requiring congressional approval — the office is set up with “directors.” Casting those offices in that way means Griffin can quickly hire without the congressional process, something he has already taken advantage of.

Reporting directly to Griffin and his eventual deputy are seven individuals. The Defense Innovation Unit, the Pentagon’s commercial tech hub, has been taken over by former Symantec CEO Michael Brown; the Strategic Capabilities Office, which focuses on taking existing technologies and improving them, is led by longtime Griffin associate Chris Shank; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is led by Steven Walker, who previously served as the group’s deputy director; and Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves continues to lead the Missile Defense Agency.

Two other key roles have been quietly filled in recent weeks. The first, director of research and technology — the office of which oversees research areas such as cyber, microelectronics, quantum sciences, directed energy and machine learning — is being filled by Milan “Mitch” Nikolich.

Nikolich was a board member of the George C. Marshall Institute, a now-defunct conservative think tank that focused on missile defense issues. This would align Nikolich with Griffin, who has made it clear new missile defense technologies are a top priority.

Per his Marshall background, Nikolich took part in several nonproliferation negotiations with Russia, including working on the START II and START III discussions; helped develop the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review; and was part of a congressional board tasked with looking at dangers from electromagnetic pulse weaponry. He also worked at information technology shop CACI.

The other job, director for advanced capabilities, has been filled by James “Jim" Faist. In that role, Faist will oversee the development of new capabilities for networked C3, space, autonomy and hypersonics. He will also manage the development, test and evaluation as well as the mission engineering offices.

Michael Griffin, left, speaks at a 2015 appearance on Capitol Hill. He is the undersecretary of research and engineering at the Pentagon. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Michael Griffin, left, speaks at a 2015 appearance on Capitol Hill. He is the undersecretary of research and engineering at the Pentagon. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Faist comes from an industry background, having worked as an engineer with Northrop Grumman and Harris Corporation, and as an executive with the Schafer Corporation — where Griffin served as chairman and CEO — plus Trident Systems and System Planning Corporation. He also served in the U.S. Air Force as an electronic warfare officer with the F-4D/E Phantom II.

That leaves two other key offices: the deputy undersecretary, Griffin’s No. 2 in the department, and the head of the Strategic Intelligence Analysis Cell.

As an example to the benefit of non-confirmable director spots for R&E, Lisa Porter, the former In-Q-Tel head, was tapped to be the deputy in March and cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, but was stuck awaiting a final Senate vote. On Thursday, the Senate finally confirmed her, 98-1.

And Mike Olmsted, director of net technical assessment, is acting in a temporary capacity leading the analysis cell until a permanent head is named.

While there are a number of spots to be filled on the org chart, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza said those jobs are well on their way to completion.

“Under Secretary Griffin has made determinations for the majority of the Deputy Director (DD), and Assistant Director (AD) positions. The ADs will be tasked with leading the development and execution of modernization road maps, in coordination with the full Department,” Baldanza wrote to Defense News.

“To maintain the privacy of these individuals as they proceed through their hiring processes, we are not yet prepared to release their names,” she continued. “We will be welcoming them to OUSD(R&E) in the coming months.”

Filling out A&S

The lower levels of the A&S structure are more filled out, and the two key empty leadership spots will likely be filled soon.

Both Alan Shaffer, to be Lord’s deputy, and Robert McMahon, to be assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, were voted out of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. They now await a vote in the full Senate and are not expected to encounter any opposition. However, there is a chance that any nominees could be held up by the Supreme Court fight, or simply fall by the wayside as members flee Washington ahead of the election.

Once confirmed, they will join Kevin Fahey, the ASD for acquisition, and Guy Roberts, the ASD for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense, as the chief lieutenants for Lord.

However, while A&S was able to quickly fill key spots, the reorganization effort did not come without pain for Lord’s team.

The Pentagon has been under a congressional requirement to cut headquarters staff for several years, and that requirement included AT&L. Under the plan laid out for the split, the A&S organization absorbed all the projected cuts from the legacy AT&L levels; the R&E organization did not have to find reductions.

Overall, 120 jobs will be cut when A&S is fully stood up. Seventy of those come from the mandatory cuts, while another 50 were related to the split.

It’s unclear what happens to Lucian Niemeyer, the assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment. While he was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 for that role, the A&S reorganization eliminates that seat, with its roles and responsibilities now reporting to the ASD for sustainment.

Asked about Niemeyer’s status, a spokesperson said he would continue to serve in that spot until McMahon is confirmed. However, the Pentagon declined to comment on what happens to Niemeyer afterward.

Joe Gould in Washington contributed to this report.