WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump did not ultimately change the course of either the Pentagon’s Air Force One replacement or JEDI cloud computing programs, the Pentagon’s outgoing acquisition chief said Tuesday.
Ellen Lord, who will exit office at noon on Wednesday as the Trump administration comes to a close, told a group of reporters that despite reported pressures and public statements from the president, Trump’s influence on defense acquisition programs was extremely small.
In 2017, Trump claimed that he had personally shaved a billion dollars in costs off the plane, something the White House later walked back to merely “millions” in savings. In the end, Trump’s influence was largely cosmetic, Lord said.
“The president had a lot of interest on a few programs. I don’t think he influenced the programmatics,” Lord said. “What he was interested in was the presidential aircraft. I was in the Oval for a meeting on that. But he, frankly, was focused on performance and the look of the aircraft, the color scheme and so forth.”
Trump’s focus on changing the color scheme for the Air Force One replacement began in 2018 with the president seeking to alter the traditional baby blue color scheme, in use since the administration of John F. Kennedy, with a replacement scheme more in line with the American flag he floated as a proposal.
Lord added that the AF1 replacement program is “executing well,” but deferred to the Air Force for more details.
The JEDI contract, seen as the backbone of the department’s move into cloud computing, has been dogged by allegations of influence by the president. Potentially worth $10 billion over 10 years, the contract was awarded to Microsoft in October 2019. Amazon protested the award in the Court of Federal Claims and won a temporary restraining order in March preventing the DoD and Microsoft from building out the cloud infrastructure after the court decided that Amazon Web Services was likely to show that DoD erred in its technical evaluation.
As part of its protest, Amazon collected a list of statements Trump had made about Bezos or the contract directly. But asked if she saw any presidential influence in the JEDI contract, Lord answered simply, “no,” a rare monosyllabic answer from the outgoing official.
Lord also did not address whether Trump influenced the F-35 in any way. Even before taking office, Trump targeted the stealth fighter in a way highly unusual for a president, tweeting as president-elect that costs on the plane were “out of control.” Trump also began directly calling the then-head of the F-35 program, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, directly, an unprecedented level of direct contact between a program manager and the commander in chief. And as recently as May, Trump publicly questioned the fighter’s production strategy of having parts made by international partners, a key design on the F-35 program.
Lord was the rare long-serving political appointee at the Trump Pentagon, having joined the department in 2017. A former industry executive, she said that she has no immediate plans for the future aside from “catch up on some sleep and reintroduce myself to family and friends, and then I’ll decide what’s next.”
Andrew Eversden with C4ISRNET contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta is 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.