Deborah Lee James
Deborah Roche Lee James (born November 25, 1958) is the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force. James has 30 years of senior homeland and national security experience in the U.S. federal government and the private sector. Prior to be named Secretary of the Air Force, she served as President of Science Applications International Corporation's Technical and Engineering Sector, where she was responsible for 8,700 employees and more than $2 billion in revenue. James is the second woman (after Sheila Widnall 1993-1997) appointed to be the Secretary of the Air Force.
James was born in New Jersey in 1958. She earned her B.A. (1979) in Comparative Area Studies from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She later earned her Masters Degree (1981) in International Affairs from Columbia University in New York City.
Secretary of the Air Force
James was confirmed as 23rd Secretary of the Air Force on Dec. 13, 2013, and was appointed to the position Dec. 20, 2013 (11). In this position she is responsible for the affairs of the Department of the Air Force, including organizing, training, equipping and providing for the welfare of its more than 690,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen and their families. The first days in office saw her dealing with a service that was reeling from the impact of Budget sequestration in 2013, continued troubles with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, and a drug and cheating scandal with the LGM-30 Minuteman force.
Attention on the Nuclear Enterprise
Three weeks after assuming her duties as Secretary news came that there was a significant cheating event in the ranks of the nation’s ICBM force. James responded with transparency with the media about the situation ensuring that “this was a failure of some of our Airmen; it was not a failure of the nuclear mission.” (17)
Over the next year, James visited the three Air Force bases that operate intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, with a determination to work with both Airmen and other senior Air Force leaders to provide fixes to the challenges faced. James has cited USAF inattention to the nuclear mission, to the point of using a simple test score as "a top differentiator, if not the sole differentiator on who gets promoted."
The establishment of the Force Improvement Program, an aggressive grass-roots feedback program designed to quickly provide senior Air Force leaders with actionable recommendations for improvement through one-on-one interviews and surveys, identified more than 300 recommendations for improving the nuclear force (1).
Some of the immediate improvements included funds to upgrade launch control centers, the underground bunkers where missileers and support staff serve 36-hour shifts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, more helicopter support to transport Airmen to LCCs, additional manpower to help alleviate the strain on the force and extra pay to attract and keep people in key missile related career fields (2).
Additionally James oversaw the establishment of the Nuclear Deterrence Operations Medal which is awarded to Airmen as they perform nuclear deterrence operations, providing safe, secure and effective deterrence for our nation, with the most powerful weapons in our nation's arsenal (3, 4).
Addressing Congressional Mandates on Force Size
With a congressional mandate to reduce the size of the force James decided to make cuts to meet the mandated end strength quickly in one-two fiscal years versus over five years in order to alleviate some uncertainty for Airmen (7). Force management is never an easy process and there were some missteps and James said she heard the concerns that the downsizing was straining the force from Airmen loud and clear during her travels. James confirmed that the Air Force was able to achieve force size and shape goals in fiscal year 2014 alleviating the need to conduct involuntary force management programs in fiscal year 2015. This was announced during her online town hall meeting when she told Airmen she heard their concerns and listened and “enough is enough” with regards to involuntary force management boards (6). The Air Force began fiscal 2014 with 330,700 active-duty airmen, and by Nov. 6, its end strength had dropped to 316,500. The Air Force is now the smallest it has ever been since its establishment in 1947 (6).
James has focused much of her time as Secretary on the next generation of Airmen. In March 2015 she announced nine initiatives that will help attract, recruit, develop and retain the largest pool of talent to ensure the best 21st century Air Force. These initiatives include:
• Career Path Tool — a revamped web-based mentor-matching capability, like match.com and a skill finder, like Craigslist. “By improving our ability to mentor, we hope to nurture and sustain an airman's growth throughout the course of their entire career," James said.
• Diversity and inclusion requirements for career field development team chairs. "Specifically, we will be asking them to conduct analyses to address barriers that may be now preventing some of our airmen from reaching their highest levels of performance," James said.
• Guidance, to promotion boards. "This year, in addition to seeking officers demonstrating commitment to the welfare of our airmen and to our core values, I am using my authority to instruct board members to find officers who have demonstrated that they will nurture and lead in a diverse and inclusive Air Force culture," James said
• Career Intermission Program. Already underway, the program allows "top performing airmen the flexibility to transfer from active duty to the IRR, the Individual Ready Reserve for one to three years and come back to us without losing their place in line for promotion in order that they be able to meet personal or professional needs and alleviate some work-life concerns," James said.
• Increased pool of female officer applicants. "Despite this deep talent pool, our female officer applicants currently comprise only about 25 percent of our applicant pool. I'm one who thinks we ought to be able to do better. We want our officer accession sources to go after a 30 percent female applicant pool in the future," James said.\
• Reserve Officer Training Corps Rated Height Screening Initiative. Current pilot candidates must meet the standard of a standing height of 64 to 77 inches, and sitting height of 34 to 40 inches. Waivers are currently only available to Air Force Academy cadets, but James would expand waiver opportunities to ROTC cadets. "We estimate that approximately 900 women will now have the opportunity to more easily compete to be a pilot and to be able to get access to that waiver process over the next five years," James said.
• Identify and encourage enlisted personnel to apply for Officer Training School. "We're looking for enlisted members who have demonstrated the ability, specifically, to nurture and lead in a diverse and inclusive Air Force culture, and of course, those who are eligible to attend. We will encourage this diverse talent pool to apply for the more than 500 OTS slots and provide the tools and opportunities to do so."
• Increase current six-month Post-Pregnancy Deployment Deferment to 12 months. The goal is to alleviate the strain on "some of our talented airmen [who choose] to leave the Air Force as they struggle to balance deployments and family issues, and this is especially true soon after childbirth," James said.
• Institute and standardize the use of civilian hiring panels for GS-14, GS-15 and equivalent positions. "Our senior civilians, just like our military leaders, can benefit from diverse backgrounds, experiences, demographics and perspectives in order to provide innovative leadership, vision, and execution of missions within our Air Force," James said.
The process to certify SpaceX as a national security launch provider began in June 2013 with the signing of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) (15). In April 2014 Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, filed a protest against the Air Force because of its decision to award a block buy contract to ULA as a sole source deal (16). James directed an independent review panel to review the process for certifying SpaceX in January 2015 and as a result of this review, the Air Force and SpaceX revised the original CRDA to adopt these recommendations (12). Certification was completed in May 2015 with SpaceX eligible to compete for its first launch mission in June 2015 (15).
As the Executive Agent for Space, James knows well that space is vitally important. The space domain is changing rapidly and the Pentagon plans to spend an extra $5 billion over the next five years to protect its satellites (19).
Air Force Support to ISIL Operations
In August 2014 the Air Force began a type of air campaign it is perhaps most well known as it began operations supporting the overall campaign to combat ISIL. The Air Force’s air campaign has been decisive in critical areas: preventing ISIS from massing forces on a large scale and limiting its freedom of movement, disrupting the group's ability to communicate with each other and command forces in battle, and working to impact ISIS's financing. Air power's targeted actions disrupted ISIL's command and control, their logistics and infrastructure, and their freedom of movement. (20)
Nepal Earthquake Response
Within 36 hours of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake occurring April 25, 2015 in Nepal, two U.S. Air Force C-17’s were en route transporting urban search and rescue teams and thousands of pounds of supplies from USAID (21). James shared images of the C-17’s on her Facebook page going viral with more than 1.6 million impressions and 56 thousand likes, comments and shares. Over the next month the Air Force would send more than 50 Airmen to support relief operations.
RPA Manning Improvements
James has acknowledged that the Air Force is a force under strain and one of the most impacted forces specifically are those that support remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operations. RPA operations have surged nine times over the last eight years. With increased operations tempo, expiring active duty service commitments and reductions to the force, the current environment has resulted in projections reflecting more RPA pilots departing the service than the Air Force is able to produce as replacements via the training pipeline. Balancing Air Force ISR capability with finite resources remains a top priority for James so she worked to get monthly incentive pay beginning in January 2015, which was previously not permitted for RPA pilots, to be authorized (22). James signed a memo increasing the monthly flight pay for 18X RPA pilots from a maximum of $650 to $1,500 per month if they stay in the RPA community beyond their six-year commitment after completion of undergraduate RPA training (23).
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