Senate derails Hight's nomination as DISA director

Marriage to executive in charge of business development at Northrop Grumman raises conflict-of-interest concerns.

The Senate apparently sidelined on Tuesday the nomination of Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight as head of the Defense Information Systems Agency because her husband works for a major Defense contractor, according to sources including the Defense Department.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Hight, who currently serves as DISA's vice director, was slated to take command when the agency's current director, Air Force Lt. Gen Charles Croom, retires in July. President Bush nominated Hight for the post on Feb. 5, but the Senate Armed Services Committee scuttled her nomination at the insistence of a panel member, Defense and industry sources said.

The member, whom sources did not identify, was concerned that Hight would be in charge of a major Defense agency that purchases billions of dollars in information technology hardware and services while married to a top executive managing business development at Northrop Grumman. The company is the third-largest contractor at Defense, according to a ranking of Defense contractors compiled annually by Government Executive.

Hight's husband, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Gary Salisbury, is vice president of business development and sales for Northrop Grumman's mission systems sector, defense mission systems division. The mission systems sector integrates complex, tactical, operational and strategic mission critical systems and has 17,000 employees and $6 billion in annual revenues.

While on active duty, Salisbury served as commander of DISA's interoperability and engineering organization from 1997 to 2000. He succeeded Croom in 2000 as director of command, control and communications systems at the Europe Command, which he held until his retirement in 2003.

The Senate's decision to shelve Hight's nomination was "a real tragedy," said Bernie Skoch, a consultant with Suss Consulting in Jenkintown, Pa., and a retired Air Force general who served a tour at DISA. She "would have brought fresh perspectives to the DISA job," he said. Hight would have been the first Navy director since DISA was formed as well as its first female leader.

Skoch said he believed that Hight and Salisbury could have kept their professional lives separate from their personal lives.

Defense is scrambling to find a replacement, but sources said the cancellation of Hight's nomination could not have come at a worse time, because Croom intends to retire on July 22 and the search for a new nominee comes just before Congress heads into its summer recess. Hight will continue in her job as vice director and nominal head of the agency until a replacement is nominated and confirmed, Defense and industry sources said.

The Armed Services Committee did not respond to questions by deadline. A Defense spokesman, the Navy and DISA did not respond to a query either.