Air Force Gets Second Female Secretary

James brings a mix of public and private sector experience to the role.

This May 7, 2013 photo provided by Science Applications International Corporation shows Deborah Lee James, President of the Technical and Engineering Sector at SAIC, in Virginia. President Barack Obama is nominating the former assistant defense secretary and House staffer as secretary of the Air Force. The White House said Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, that James is Obama's pick to replace Michael Donley, who retired in June. If confirmed by the Senate, she would be one of the few women to serve as the senior civilian leader of an armed services branch. (AP Photo/SAIC)
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Dec. 13, 2013, 5:18 a.m.

The Air Force has its 23rd sec­ret­ary after the Sen­ate con­firmed De­borah Lee James by a 79 to 6 vote on Fri­day.

She is the second fe­male sec­ret­ary for the mil­it­ary branch, which has been un­der Con­gres­sion­al scru­tiny this year for its hand­ling of sexu­al as­saults.

James touched on the is­sue dur­ing her con­firm­a­tion hear­ing, telling mem­bers of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, “Com­mand is an hon­or and a priv­ilege in this coun­try, it’s not an en­ti­tle­ment, and those who do not live up to our val­ues simply need to be re­moved from that com­mand,” she said, the Mil­it­ary Times re­ports.

She used ques­tions sub­mit­ted to the com­mit­tee in ad­vance of her Septem­ber hear­ing to speak out against a pro­pos­al by Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, D-N.Y., that would over­haul how the mil­it­ary handles sexu­al as­saults and oth­er ma­jor crim­in­al cases. James noted that she had “not found suf­fi­cient evid­ence” that sug­ges­ted Gil­librand’s re­com­mend­a­tions would “im­prove sexu­al as­sault re­sponse or ac­count­ab­il­ity pro­cesses.”

Her nom­in­a­tion was mo­ment­ar­ily stalled by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who wanted an­swers from the Air Force about the fate of the A-10 air­craft. The New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­an lif­ted her hold in mid-Oc­to­ber.

She was ori­gin­ally ex­pec­ted to be voted on earli­er this week as part of a slate of nom­in­a­tions that star­ted on Tues­day, but Re­pub­lic­ans have dragged out the pro­cess largely us­ing the de­bate time to dis­cuss the de­cision to go nuc­le­ar be­fore Thanks­giv­ing and the Af­ford­able Care Act.

James brings a vast ar­ray of ex­per­i­ence with her. She spent a dec­ade work­ing for the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, be­fore serving as the as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of De­fense for re­serve af­fairs. She also has private-sec­tor cre­den­tials, spend­ing time at United Tech­no­lo­gies and Busi­ness Ex­ec­ut­ives for Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity.

James, who has served as the pres­id­ent of the tech­no­logy and en­gin­eer­ing sec­tor at Sci­ence Ap­plic­a­tions In­ter­na­tion­al Cor­por­a­tion since Feb­ru­ary, re­places Mi­chael Don­ley, who resigned in June after five years of ser­vice.

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