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House staffer Erin Conaton nominated for Air Force undersecretary

President Obama has nominated Erin Conaton, the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, to be the number two official at the Air Force. If confirmed, Conaton would have a premier role in shepherding the Air Force through an extremely tumultuous time. As undersecretary, she would have a leading role in guiding the Air ...

President Obama has nominated Erin Conaton, the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, to be the number two official at the Air Force.

President Obama has nominated Erin Conaton, the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, to be the number two official at the Air Force.

If confirmed, Conaton would have a premier role in shepherding the Air Force through an extremely tumultuous time. As undersecretary, she would have a leading role in guiding the Air Force’s interactions with Congress and would be involved in several of the major acquisitions issues the service is currently embroiled in.

"Erin is a good person who will be assuming a very tough position," said one Air Force insider, "Her connections to [Chairman Ike] Skelton will really help the Air Force, but she is taking on a heck of a challenge considering all the problems facing the service."

The Air Force has been on the losing side of some high profile inter-government battles as of late. They lost their bid to continue production of the F-22 fighter jet (although their official position was that they agreed with Obama’s decision to end production of the plane).

The Air Force is also currently involved in budget negotiations with the Office of the Secretary of Defense over the fiscal 2011 program. Their F-35 fighter program, the largest system in their portfolio, could face cuts in light of over overall pressures and Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘ push to rebalance priorities toward more irregular and non-conventional capabilities.

The $100 billion Air Force program to replace its fleet of aerial refueling tankers is also in a state of somewhat limbo after two failed attempts to award the contract. The Air Force is also still pushing to get a new bomber and several other items that will be tough sells in this constrained budget environment.

No confirmation hearing has yet been scheduled.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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