Flournoy Should Lead Biden’s Pentagon, Armed Services Chairman Says 

Former U.S. Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy prepares for a bilateral meeting in Beijing, China, in 2011.

Former U.S. Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy prepares for a bilateral meeting in Beijing, China, in 2011. Andy Wong/AP

Rep. Adam Smith told reporters Michèle Flournoy would help the Defense Department cut red tape to engage with new technologies needed for the future of defense.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., thinks Michèle Flournoy is the right pick to head President-elect Biden’s Pentagon, and one of the drivers of his support for the former deputy assistant secretary of Defense is centered on technology. 

In a Monday press call focused on the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to go to the floor for a vote in the House on Tuesday, Smith said he told the Biden team he believes Flournoy is the best candidate for defense secretary. Flournoy’s experience navigating the “mother of all bureaucracies” means she’s well-suited to refocus the agency on the “technological revolution” that’s changing the battlespace. Flournoy served as the undersecretary of Defense for policy during the Obama administration. 

“Increasingly, it’s not so much how big your platforms are or even how many weapons you have, it’s what is your command and control cyber capability,” Smith said. “What is the survivability of the systems you have, what is your ability to make the adversary systems less survivable? That is a huge shift in terms of how we do procurement and acquisition.”

Smith said one of the keys to successfully reacting to this shift is to engage with new technologies. A leader who encourages more competition and who will help the Pentagon overcome biases that lead to an overreliance on incumbents is needed in order to make this happen, Smith said. 

“It takes a certain amount of understanding of bureaucracy in the Pentagon in order to make changes that stick,” Smith said. “Michèle has that.” 

In August, Flournoy painted a similar picture of defense priorities as Smith. During an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum, Flournoy said the Pentagon will likely need to phase out legacy systems and instead focus on investments in technologies that will be “more relevant, more survivable, more combat effective, and better able to underwrite deterrence.”

Flournoy named technology for secure communications and command and control—powered by artificial intelligence—as an example of areas in which investment should be funneled.

If nominated and confirmed, Flournoy would become the first woman to run the Pentagon. But in recent weeks, other names have been floated to run the agency, including Jeh Johnson, who ran the Homeland Security Department during the Obama administration, and Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, former commander of U.S. Central Command. Either man would become the first Black defense secretary.