Senate Confirms Frank Kendall to Lead Air Force

Frank Kendall III, President Joe Biden's nominee to be secretary of the Air Force, appears for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

The Senate on Monday confirmed President Joe Biden’s pick to be the next top civilian to lead the U.S. Air Force. 

Despite facing several holds during the confirmation process, senators ultimately voted to confirm Frank Kendall as the service’s 26th Air Force secretary. Kendall, 72, will replace John Roth, who 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 fill the role with Senate approval. 

The latest move fills two of three military service positions. Christine Wormuth was confirmed as the first female Army secretary in May; Carlos Del Toro, nominated to lead the Navy, still awaits a vote. 

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Kendall’s nomination gained momentum after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., earlier this month lifted her hold upon reaching an agreement that Kendall would stay out of the defense industry for an extended period of time after his work at the Pentagon. Biden nominated Kendall for the position in April

Kendall and Heidi Shyu, recently confirmed as the Pentagon's research and development chief, agreed to avoid working for defense firms for four years after their turns in the administration, up from the two years mandated by law, an aide familiar with the protocol told on July 13. 

Additionally, they agreed to recuse themselves from any decisions that involve their former employers -- both had worked for Raytheon Technologies -- during their government service.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week also included Warren’s recusal amendment in its version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

Under the Obama administration, Kendall served as the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics at the Pentagon between 2012 and 2017. He was previously the vice president of engineering at Raytheon.

In January, Warren received a similar pledge from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to recuse himself from any work related to Raytheon, where he was a member of the board of directors.

"This is precisely the kind of thing that senators should be doing to ensure that we shore up our system to make sure that there's integrity, and that there isn't even the perception that people are going to be using their public service to advance their own personal financial interests," said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.

"We don't even want the appearance that decisions are being made because of who someone's prior employers were," Smithberger said in an interview earlier this month. 

Sens. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, reportedly also had put holds on Kendall's nomination for differing reasons. 

Air Force Magazine reported Peters, for example, held up Kendall's nomination over the future of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter international training center, which was awarded to Arkansas' Ebbing Air National Guard Base over Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan.

Kendall spent 10 years on active duty and retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Army Reserve. 

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Warren Extracts Agreement for Nominees to Refuse Defense Industry Work for 4 Years

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