Defense Business Board Relaunches After Pentagon Review

Then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and her husband, Frank Beatty, depart her farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Jan. 11, 2017.

Then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and her husband, Frank Beatty, depart her farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Jan. 11, 2017. U.S. Air Force / Scott M. Ash

Former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James named chair of the diverse advisory board.

The Biden administration has reassembled one of the Pentagon’s most influential advisory boards with a diverse group of business leaders, seven months after it was disbanded.

Earlier this month, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks swore in the Defense Business Board’s chair Deborah Lee James, the former U.S. Air Force secretary and SAIC executive. Other members include three retired four-star generals. James is the first woman to lead the panel.

“It's a new way to serve and be involved,” James said in an interview last week. James said she was not speaking on behalf of the Defense Department or the Business Board.

The Defense Business Board is re-launching with 17 new members. It’s the most diverse group assembled in the board’s 20-year history: Seven women and nine people of color have been named to the panel. 

In February, Biden administration suspended all of the Pentagon’s advisory boards in the wake of a number of 11th-hour appointments by the Trump administration. The Defense Business Board is the first to be reconstituted.

The board members other than James have not been sworn in yet, as they complete paperwork and other administrative tasks. Notable members include former United CEO Oscar Munoz; former Northrop Grumman executive Linnie Haynesworth; Intel Chief Strategy Officer Saf Yeboah-Amankwah; and retired Gens. Joseph Votel and Larry Spencer.

Shortly after arriving at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suspended all of the Pentagon’s advisory boards following an 11th-hour move to appoint Trump-loyalists to many of them. The Defense Business Board is the first to relaunch after a months-long review.

The Defense Business Board report provides independent advice on business management issues to the defense secretary, deputy defense secretary, and other senior defense officials. 

“I believe we will have a significant impact on their thinking,” James said.

While it’s yet to get its official taskings, the new board is expected to focus its efforts on three areas: business transformation, business processes, and talent and human capital issues, James said. In addition, the board is also expected to conduct an assessment of the Pentagon’s Mentor-Protégé Program, which partners small businesses with large companies.

The board is shooting to have its first meeting by November, James said. 

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