Secretary of the U.S. Air Force: Who Is Deborah Lee James?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

President Barack Obama has nominated a security industry executive to be secretary of the Air Force. Deborah Lee James is president of the Technical and Engineering Sector at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a major contractor with the federal government headquartered in McLean, Virginia. If confirmed by the Senate, James would succeed Michael Donley, who retired in June, and would become the second woman to hold the post. Although James has no actual military experience, she has spent many years living off defense contracts, and the administration is believed to hope that nominating a woman will help quiet some of the criticism over the Air Force’s dismal record at dealing with the epidemic of sexual assault within its ranks.


Born circa 1957, James earned a B.A. in Comparative Area Studies at Duke University in 1979 and an M.A. in International Affairs at Columbia University in 1981. 


She began her career in national security as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee from 1983 to 1993, specializing in military personnel and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) issues. She then moved over the to the executive branch, serving from May 1993 to April 1998 as assistant secretary of defense for Reserve Affairs at the Department of Defense, responsible for all matters pertaining to the National Guard and Reserve Forces. 


Heading to the private sector, James was vice president for International Operations and Marketing at United Technologies Corporation from April 1998 to May 2000. 


From May 2000 to December 2001, James was the executive vice president and chief operating officer at Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a conservative organization representing more than 350 corporations that lobbies for more spending on homeland and national security programs—which its members then profit from by obtaining government contracts. In fact, according to security industry expert Tim Shorrock, BENS “has been a driving force in the privatization of U.S. defense capabilities, including the outsourcing of the precious intelligence assets.”


From January 2002 to 2013, James held four jobs at SAIC, starting with a mere one month as senior vice president and director for Homeland Security. After a two-year gap, James was senior vice president of the C4IT Business Unit from January 2004 to August 2010, executive vice president of Communications and Government Affairs from August 2010 to January 2013, and president of the Technical and Engineering Sector from January to July 2013. 


James is active in several professional and charitable organizations, including the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, and chairperson for the PenFed Foundation National Advisory Board.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Official Biography

Obama to Nominate Deborah Lee James as Air Force Secretary (by Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters)

Obama Nominates Deborah Lee James As Air Force Secretary (by Josh Lederman, Huffington Post)

See all 25 comments


ConsultantInAction 8 years ago
What an Abysmal Failure of an Appointment to such an High Office. There needs to be someone, at least with a Fundamental understanding of Aerial Warfare, what it was and what it is today. The need to understand how the USAF has evolved over the years. Example after Example; over the years, decisions have been made for Political Reasons, one of those was the Failed TFX ... Based strictly on Sec. of Defense McNamara's disdain for the Boeing Company's President, Bill Allen ... Not to mention, all the funding on the F35...F22 Raptor .. All will be great eventually, but the Cost has escalated well beyond original cost projections. Now here we have a person, Male or Female, with little or no Military Experience. What will she define the USAF Mission for the Future i.e., Special Ops., Rapid Deployment Forces, Multi Tasking of those Administrative Individuals, for so long, languishing at a desk. I just hope Obama's disdain for the MILITARY has not once again repeated itself in this appointment. AMERICA's Defense depends on it.
R Senter 9 years ago
A know-nothing that started out as a Congressional staffer. Attractive, so Bill Clinton appointed her ASD Reserve Affairs (makes me wonder)--a perfect job for someone with no military experience and minimal military knowledge. SAIC, a politically astute beltway bandit, hired her as a VP because she was still a potential player. She knew nothing about her SAIC duties either, but that was not a requirement. At least she probably cooperates with the COS of Air Force, unlike the megalomaniac that the Navy CNO has to suffer with in Ray Mabus.
Bill Clinton 9 years ago
She is where she is because she was an Armed Service Committee staffer--a Congressionally entitled-puke. Clinton appointed her Asst Secy of Defense for Reserve Affairs, where she needed to know nothing and didn't. SAIC, a politically astute beltway bandit, hired her as a VP in charge of IT stuff, of which she knew nothing. Her years of experience date back to being a Congressioal puke. Good looking, maybe she even slept with Clinton, another lech. Having crossed paths with her and briefed her, I can definitively say: "She doesn't know squat." But she fits in nicely with other Obozo admin officials.
HETRO NOT HOMO 9 years ago
She has no moral compass...states transgenders should be allowed to serve. rational hetro military person wants this, or even homoism in the military. Bring morality back to the armed services. Reinstate don't ask, don't tell.
Dennis D. Paul 9 years ago
So did she ever serve in uniform? If she never served in uniform, she is so not qualified to do this job. Also, being in bed with Homeland Security is just wrong. This appointment has nothing to do with the military but is a political reward.
Jake Berman 10 years ago
Why was my daughter raped by airman at her base? Are you a parent? How do you sleep at night. Why would someone who volunteers to serve there country be subjected to this. As a women I would expect more from you. As a parent I am very sad , that are military still allows this to happen. Jake Berman
ee madison 10 years ago
we don't need no stinkin air force brass to buy left handed screwdrivers for 350.00 dollars or 1200.00 dollar toliet seats......for air force go girl....
John Hondo 10 years ago
She is more than just an insult to the men and women in the Air Force. She's disgusting. Oh check out the credentials from Columbia, the breeding ground for Communist/Marxist indi
bbboogie 10 years ago
In case ya'll missed it, this lady is in bed with Homeland Security, the Oval Office's private army. That's why she is where she is!
john watson 10 years ago
All soft experience in the labyrinthine bureaucracies inside the Beltway. This is an insult to the AF, not taking the Sec job seriously, treating it as a reward token.

Leave a comment