The top acquisition officials from the Air Force and Army announced they will step down in coming weeks, becoming the latest top Pentagon leaders to depart as President Obama begins his final year in the White House.
William LaPlante, the Air Force acquisition head, announced his departure in an email to staff on Wednesday. He will leave at the end of November, defense officials said. Heidi Shyu, the Army acquisition head, will retire at the end of January, according to an email she sent to her staff Monday evening.
Wrote LaPlante: “My departure decision and timing is based upon family considerations and our family long term plans (college!) and I am confident the AQ leadership team of Lt. General Bunch and Rich Lombardi will continue to keep us progressing forward in improving our acquisition outcomes without skipping a beat.” LaPlante said he needs “to honor a long planned commitment I made to my family before I entered government service,” in a statement posted on the Air Force’s website.
Both LaPlante and Shyu will depart in the wake of major Pentagon contract announcements — a new stealth bomber for the Air Force and a new Army truck to replace tens of thousands of Humvees. Both contracts, valued at more than $110 billion over several decades, are being contested by the losing bidders and are consequently being reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.
Defense officials say the departures have nothing to do with those protests — nor with the sweeping acquisition reforms put forth by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
“I take great pride in what we’ve been able to accomplish together as one team and one family,” Shyu wrote. “We have worked to streamline the acquisition process, although there is more to be done to ensure that our systems and programs can keep pace with technological progress.”
LaPlante came to the Pentagon in 2013 as the Air Force’s No. 2 arms buyer. He was promoted to the top billet in 2014. He was promoted to the top acquisition slot in 2014. He will return to MITRE Corp. where he worked before coming to the Pentagon.
Shyu, who was an executive at Raytheon before joining the Defense Department in 2010, became the top acquisition official the following year. Her departure was first reported by InsideDefense.com.
Both LaPlante and Shyu join the list of political appointees to depart the Pentagon as President Obama enters his final year in the White House. Evelyn Farkas, the Pentagon’s top policy official for Russia and Ukraine, stepped down from her post late last month. Other recent departures include Army Secretary John McHugh and Defense undersecretary for intelligence Michael Vickers
With only 13 months left for this administration, sources say it will be difficult to fill many of these posts because they require Senate confirmation. That means people will likely serve in these positions on an acting basis.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, has said he plans to stay in his post until the end of the Obama administration.