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Pentagon Selects New Industrial Policy Chief

The move comes after the last senior official overseeing the defense industry’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was fired.

The Pentagon
The Pentagon building in Washington, pictured on Dec. 26, 2011. AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is set to tap a new industrial policy chief at the Defense Department next week who will supervise the Pentagon’s ongoing efforts to speed up manufacturing of masks and protective gear for the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Policy has learned.  

Jeffrey Nadaner, who served in the Defense and the State Departments during the George W. Bush administration, will begin as deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy, a U.S. official told Foreign Policy. Nadaner will start the job next week. 

The move comes a little over a month after Jennifer Santos was abruptly dismissed from the position and assigned to a civilian role in the Navy. Politico first reported the news of Santos’s firing. The role does not require Senate confirmation.

The White House plans to later nominate Nadaner, well-regarded by both the Pentagon and the powerful Presidential Personnel Office, to become the department’s Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, the official said, conceding that there is little chance for a hearing this year with a full Senate calendar. The job oversees Defense Department policy in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Kathryn Wheelbarger served in that role as an acting official before resigning last week, just days after the White House reversed course on her nomination for a top Defense Department intelligence job over her ties to the late Sen. John McCain and former Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman told Foreign Policy that he had no personnel announcements regarding the move and said the White House would make announcement of any nomination.

Nadaner is currently a vice president and senior fellow at the neoconservative pro-Israeli think tank and lobbying shop Jewish Institute for National Security of America, known for inviting former senior Pentagon leaders to Israel for meetings with top officials there. 

Nadaner will take the role from former Air Force official Scott Baum, who served on an interim basis after Santos’s dismissal. He is entering the role at a time when Democrats have accused President Donald Trump and the Defense Department of acting too slowly to help contain the coronavirus pandemic, including by failing to fully invoke the Defense Production Act that is overseen by the industrial policy office. The United States twice broke the record for single-day coronavirus infection spikes this week, with 39,327 new cases reported on Thursday alone.

With the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act passing on Thursday, Congress is set to inject more money into the Pentagon’s response to the coronavirus. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, proposed adding $1 billion for the response to the virus.

But some on Capitol Hill are worried that lax oversight of the Defense Department’s response, including a lack of public information on orders of protective gear and ventilators under the law by the Trump administration, won’t be addressed in the new bill. California Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat, has called for the Trump administration to list all contracts for coronavirus under the Defense Production Act, a request that has gone unheeded by the White House.

The House Armed Services Committee “has a golden opportunity right now to fix transparency issues with the [Defense Production Act] and COVID,” a congressional aide told Foreign Policy. “It would be a mistake to pass NDAA without addressing that issue.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper had pledged to send 5 million masks and 2,000 ventilators to help states fighting the coronavirus in March, but the equipment was delayed getting out because the Pentagon was not directed on where to send it.

But the Pentagon insisted at the time of Santos’s firing that it would not get in the way of the efforts to combat the pandemic. “The department’s commitment to closely partnering with the defense industry remains unwavering, and we will continue to identify and mitigate impacts from the COVID-19 national emergency to ensure readiness and modernization,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said at the time of Santos’s ouster.  

Nadaner had been previously selected by Trump to serve as a senior official overseeing export enforcement at the Commerce Department in 2018, but that nomination stalled and was withdrawn over a year later. He was also a vice president of engineering and technology at Lockheed Martin for six years.

Once a senior speechwriter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and later a deputy assistant secretary of defense for partnership strategy and stability operations at the Pentagon under Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, Nadaner worked on expanding the Defense Department’s authority to train and equip foreign forces for counterterrorism and stability missions, according to his biography on the Marine Corps University website and his LinkedIn profile.   

But though he is taking a role at the center of the Pentagon’s coronavirus fight, Nadaner is notably linked to a brand of foreign-policy thinking more closely associated with the Bush administration than to Trump’s “America first” way of doing business.

Nadaner was considered in line with neoconservatives during the Bush administration, according to a former defense official who worked with him. “He’s considered to be kind of ideological,” the former official said. “I don’t think he’s dishonest or shady, but he definitely comes from a certain strain of the Republican Party.”

Nadaner, the former official said, often worked long hours in the office, where he was a boss to Laura Cooper, the Pentagon’s current top official for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia who testified during the House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

The industrial policy office is also charged with investigating foreign investments in the defense industry under the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Update, June 26, 2020: This story has been updated to provide information on Nadaner’s background and the legislative response to COVID-19.

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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