Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan is further restructuring the Defense Department by handing off day-to-day operations of the Pentagon to a chief management officer so he can focus on big-ticket acquisition programs and modernization.

The Pentagon in February is expected to publish its National Defense Strategy (NDS), which will lay out the administration’s vision of how the military and Defense Department fit into the larger National Security Strategy released this week. Shanahan said the defining theme of the NDS will be the reorganization of the department to optimize efficiency and use of technology.

“The essence of the strategy is that we are restructuring the department,” Shanahan said Dec. 21 during a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon.

Patrick M. Shanahan, Deputy Secretary of Defense, poses for his official portrait in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, July 19, 2017.  (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/Released)
Patrick M. Shanahan, Deputy Secretary of Defense, poses for his official portrait in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, July 19, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/Released)

Shanahan already is splitting the job of chief weapon buyer into two positions, one of which will focus on research and engineering while the other is responsible for acquisition and sustainment. Current Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ellen Lord is expected to take on the acquisition job. Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has been nominated as the USD for research and engineering.

Figuring out how to implement rapid technology insertion, on new and legacy platforms, falls to the newly created undersecretary of research and engineering (R&E). Fielding the technologies that pass muster and keeping them relevant is the responsibility of the counterpart USD for acquisition and sustainment (A&S).

Before that split formally occurs, the restructuring will “manifest” itself in January when Jay Gibson, who was brought into the Defense Department to serve as deputy chief management officer, is promoted to chief management officer, Shanahan said. Gibson will be tasked with streamlining the business side of the Defense Department and finding opportunities to save time and money on back-office drudge work that is at the same time essential to running the department, Shanahan said.

“We don’t leverage to the fullest extent technology, innovation and our people,” Shanahan said. “So think about each of the services … solving very basic back-office problems differently. But they are really important, like all the human resource activity, financial activity. … The emphasis on the word restructuring is we want to make sure that with the stroke of a pen or a few clicks of a keyboard we can’t undo progress. It’s not just about moving people, it’s how do we step into the 21st century with some of the technology.”

Meanwhile, Shanahan and Lord will take on modernization of the military as Batman and Robin, he said. They will usher ongoing high-dollar procurement programs into production and fielding and then focus on lining up development of next-generation technologies to replace legacy platforms, Shanahan said. He mentioned the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Ford-class aircraft carriers being built by Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding [HII], the Columbia-class nuclear submarine, Virginia-class attack submarine, and the evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) as programs that will receive special attention.

Lord on Dec. 21 announced the appointment of Senate Armed Services staffer Ben Fitzgerald as director of the Office of Strategy and Design, a position that will serve as the “central hub” for the reorganization of AT&L. Fitzgerald is also a senior fellow and director, Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). His five-year appointment as a “highly qualified expert” (HQE) begins Jan. 2, the same day Gibson will take over as DoD’s chief management officer. HQEs “are individuals who possess uncommon, special knowledge, skills, and experience in an occupational field, and judgment that is accorded authority and status by peers or the public,” according to the Pentagon.

Establishment of the USD posts and the chief management officer are required by the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). FitzGerald will determine how current AT&L functions fit into the overarching objectives of the new structure and whether those functions should transition to R&E, A&S, another position within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military services or be eliminated.