Biden to Nominate Former Pentagon Official Frank Kendall to Top Air Force Post

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Frank Kendall
Then Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall addresses reporters during a press briefing May 22, 2013, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. (DoD/Sgt. Aaron Hostutler)

President Joe Biden plans to nominate Frank Kendall, a former top Pentagon official, to be the next Air Force secretary, the White House announced Tuesday.

Defense News first reported the news of Kendall's expected nomination.

Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force captain, has also been nominated to be the under secretary of the service, the White House said. Jones, an intelligence officer who deployed to Iraq and is openly gay, ran as a Democrat for Congress in 2018 and again in 2020.

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John Roth is currently the acting Air Force secretary. Barbara Barrett, who served as the fourth female Air Force secretary and succeeded Heather Wilson, was the last person to officially fill the role.

Kendall currently holds a number of positions, including senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the White House said.

“Frank Kendall has deep understanding of the Pentagon and acquisition in particular. With a flat budget, tension on roles and missions, and growing competition in the Pacific, he is well prepared for the role," Wilson said.

"Frank Kendall is exactly the kind of public servant we need at the helm of the Air Force at a time when the service is navigating so many unique challenges, including effective acquisition to meet our nation's future threats," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "With more than 40 years of experience in defense and national security, and with a particular focus on acquisition policy during his tenure in the Obama administration, I cannot think of a better, more equipped leader to tackle these issues head on."

Smith also praised Biden's nomination of Jones, who would be "the first woman of color to serve as Under Secretary of the Air Force, marking yet another historic nomination as the Biden-Harris administration continues to prove their commitment to building a diverse Department of Defense that reflects the American population."

Kendall spent 10 years on active duty and retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Army Reserve. Under the Obama administration, he served as the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics at the Pentagon between 2012 and 2017. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and also received a degree in aerospace engineering from the California Institute of Technology and a law degree from Georgetown University.

Kendall was instrumental in facilitating an expensive overhaul of the Pentagon's military health system in 2015. The Defense Department that year awarded a $4.3 billion contract to a team that included Leidos Inc. and Cerner Corp. to modernize the military's digital medical records system.

The program, known as MHS Genesis, is being introduced gradually across the DoD health system. The Department of Veterans Affairs later contracted with the Cerner team to use the same system. The VA launched its version last fall in eastern Washington; the program is currently on hold while the department reviews issues with the initial rollout.

Kendall at the time said he spent more time on the health IT program than any other during his tenure -- even over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which remains the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program.

The former acquisition chief is best known for his "Better Buying Power" reform effort, aimed at streamlining and improving how the Pentagon buys equipment and weapons, including better cybersecurity protections for next-generation systems that rely heavily on software.

Kendall later joined the consulting firm Renaissance Strategies; in 2017, he became a Leidos board member.

The news of the nomination comes more than a week after the Biden administration announced it intends to nominate Christine Wormuth, a former top Defense Department official, as the first female Army secretary.

Wormuth, currently director of the Rand International Security and Defense Policy Center, served as under secretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration from 2014 to 2016. In January, she led the Biden-Harris Defense Agency Review Team.

The Biden administration has yet to name its pick for the Navy's top civilian post.

-- Stephen Losey and Patricia Kime contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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