Biden Selects Former Air Force Executive to Lead Pentagon Acquisitions

Austin Nooe/istockphoto

The latest nomination for DOD’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment comes almost a year into the role’s vacancy.

President Joe Biden is poised to nominate seasoned national security professional and former military procurement chief William LaPlante to serve as the Pentagon’s top buyer, the White House confirmed on Tuesday.

LaPlante has received Senate confirmation before—when he was former President Barack Obama’s assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. Pending another Congressional confirmation round in the near future, he’ll be Biden’s Defense Department undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment.

Administration officials said in their announcement that LaPlante would enter the role with nearly four decades of experience in acquisition, technology, sustainment and the defense industrial base, “delivering material as well as conceptual innovations to enhance national security capabilities and efficiency.”

He is currently the president and chief executive officer of the not-for-profit research and development organization, Draper Laboratory. Prior to that position, LaPlante was senior vice president for the MITRE Corporation’s National Sector and the company’s national security lead. In that capacity, he steered the operation of federally funded research and development centers and the making of cybersecurity, supply chain resiliency and other approaches. During that time, LaPlante testified on the Hill regarding some of his previous experiences as a government acquisition executive under the Obama-Biden administration. He told lawmakers then of challenges that accompanied efforts to hold defense contractors accountable for the cybersecurity of their supply chains. 

Leading Air Force procurement pursuits for those three years for Obama, LaPlante aligned the service’s $43 billion acquisition enterprise budget with its broader long-term vision and strategy. “In addition, he forged a path forward on critical Air Force acquisition programs such as the B-21 long range strike bomber, while realizing nearly $6 billion in ‘should-cost’ savings in other Air Force programs,” White House officials said in their nomination announcement. 

They further noted that he served “as a commissioner on the congressionally mandated Section 809 Panel, which performed a comprehensive review of [DOD] acquisition policies,” as well as other scientific boards and commissions, including the Defense Science Board and the board of the National Defense Industrial Association.

NDIA’s President and CEO Hawk Carlisle told Nextgov in an email on Tuesday that he believes LaPlante could bring the Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment efforts “to remarkable heights.”

“Bill would be an outstanding A&S leader,” Carlisle said. “He has a great background and understanding of the industry, which also has a high and deep respect for him.”

If he is confirmed by the Senate, LaPlante would be the first to fill the undersecretary position since Ellen Lord departed in January. Biden selected Defense Innovation Unit Director Michael Brown to serve in the position during the spring—but amid an investigation, Brown withdrew his nomination by the summer.

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