Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced March 8 that she has submitted her resignation, effective May 31, to become the University of Texas El Paso’s next president, pending final approval.
“Upon a favorable final vote by the [University of Texas] Regents, I will resign my position as Secretary of the Air Force,” Wilson said in a Friday statement. She would become university president Sept. 1. “This should allow sufficient time for a smooth transition and ensure effective advocacy during upcoming Congressional hearings,” she added.
Air Force Undersecretary Matt Donovan is expected to lead the service in an acting capacity after Wilson’s departure until a successor is found, said one Pentagon official Friday. Reuters first broke the news of the secretary’s planned resignation Friday morning.
Wilson became Air Force secretary May 16, 2017. She previously served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology from 2013 to 2017; before that she served as a Republican U.S. representative from New Mexico from 1998 to 2009. She served in the Air Force from 1982 to 1989, holding negotiator and political adviser roles, and was a defense planning officer to NATO.
She helped to spearhead various acquisition efforts in the service during her two years as secretary, and encouraged greater experimentation such as the light attack off-the-shelf aircraft effort. During her tenure, the Air Force established new rapid development offices such as Program Executive Office Digital and the “Kessel Run” experimentation laboratory at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, and the “AFWERX” office outside Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to facilitate better interactions with non-traditional businesses looking to work with the Air Force.
Wilson’s successor will not only be secretary of the Air Force, but could potentially oversee the new Space Force as well. The Defense Department on Feb. 28 sent Congress a legislative proposal that would place a new Space Force under the Air Force, an action that Wilson supported. Congress must still approve the creation of a Space Force before it can be developed.
“It has been a privilege to serve alongside our Airmen over the past two years and I am proud of the progress that we have made restoring our nation’s defense,” Wilson said in the Friday press statement. “We have improved the readiness of the force; we have cut years out of acquisition schedules and gotten better prices through competition; we have repealed hundreds of superfluous regulations; and we have strengthened our ability to deter and dominate in space.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a Friday tweet “We hit the lottery with @SecAFOfficial – under her leadership, we became a better #USAF & our Airmen will continue rowing hard, becoming even faster, smarter. As she takes her talent & leadership to my home state of Texas, I wish her the very best.”
Wilson’s name had been floated as a potential nomination for a permanent secretary of defense by several members of Congress. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, called Wilson “a dear friend and former colleague of mine” in a Friday statement and added, “It is not surprising to me that Heather would be sought out by other organizations looking for her strong leadership. … Hopefully, someday we can see Heather Wilson as the first female Secretary of Defense.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Friday that he will “greatly miss the leadership and strategic perspective she brought to driving innovation and modernizing the Air Force, as well as restoring readiness and investing in the force.”
“The University of Texas El Paso is getting the best of the best,” he added.