DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

BREAKING: White House Taps William LaPlante to be Pentagon's Acquisition Chief

11/30/2021
By Jon Harper
William LaPlante

Photo by Air Force/Scott M. Ash

President Joe Biden will nominate former Air Force acquisition chief William LaPlante to be the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, the White House announced Nov. 30.

LaPlante, who has been tapped to be the next undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, is currently president and CEO of Draper, a nonprofit engineering and innovation company, and is a member of the board of the National Defense Industrial Association. He was previously senior vice president at MITRE Corp., a federally funded research and development center for the Defense Department and the Department of Commerce. Before that, he served as assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics from 2014 to 2017 during the Obama administration where he oversaw the service’s $43 billion acquisition portfolio.

“LaPlante is a seasoned national security leader with nearly four decades of experience in acquisition, technology, sustainment and the defense industrial base,” the White House said in its announcement. “LaPlante has spent much of those decades delivering material as well as conceptual innovations to enhance national security capabilities and efficiency.”

In a statement, NDIA President and CEO Hawk Carlisle said: “Bill would be an outstanding A&S leader. He has a great background and understanding of the industry, which also has a high and deep respect for him. We’ve been honored to have Bill serve on the NDIA board, and if confirmed we know he will take A&S to remarkable heights.”

The Pentagon’s top acquisition post has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since Ellen Lord stepped down in January at the end of the Trump administration. Michael Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit, was nominated for the position by the Biden administration earlier this year but withdrew his nomination in July amid a Defense Department Inspector General investigation into personnel practices at DIU. Gregory Kausner is currently performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Speaking at an Association of Old Crows' symposium in Washington, D.C. about an hour before the White House announcement, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu said: “I’m sure my [new] A&S partner … will be able to work together very collaboratively with us. I can tell you he’s a great guy and I’m really looking forward to working with him. I can’t wait ‘til he goes through this painful vetting process, but once he emerges at the other end you know we’ll be able to work hand in hand.”

It was not immediately clear when the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold LaPlante’s confirmation hearing or when his confirmation will come to a vote.

Arnold Punaro, CEO of the Punaro Group and chairman of NDIA, has been calling on the White House and Senate to nominate and confirm personnel to fill key acquisition posts at the Pentagon, including the undersecretary of defense for A&S.

“The longer these vital posts remain empty, the more fraught the relationship between the Pentagon and industry becomes,” he wrote in a recent LinkedIn post before LaPlante’s nomination was announced. “Given industry's vital role in innovating and producing the cutting edge technologies necessary to maintain American military dominance, I urge our leaders to address this issue.”

Topics: Defense Department

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