Donald Trump announced Sunday that he’s removing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at the beginning of the new year — two months earlier than Mattis planned to depart the Pentagon. Trump apparently made the decision to remove Mattis after discovering, days after Mattis submitted a letter of resignation, that this letter was highly critical of Trump.
At least in the short term, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will serve as acting secretary. Shanahan is a former top executive with the defense contractor Boeing, which received $20 billion in contracts from the Pentagon since Shanahan became second in command at the Defense Department.
That alone might not be disqualifying. Boeing, after all, received billions from the Pentagon long before Trump took office. And the company is allowed to compete for contracts even if a former executive serves in a senior role within the Defense Department.
Shanahan’s obligation, like other officials facing conflicts of interest, is to recuse himself from decisions involving his former employer. Yet a report in the Daily Beast suggests that Shanahan did not recuse himself from a $1.2 billion Boeing contract involving outdated fighter planes
The F-15 Eagle is a 45-year-old, “fourth-generation” fighter jet. The Air Force has not purchased new F-15s since 2001. And while Boeing released an updated version of this older airplane — the F-15X — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson previously said that her branch of service has no interest in buying Boeing’s updated offering.
“We are currently 80 percent fourth-gen aircraft and 20 percent fifth-generation aircraft,” Wilson said in a September interview. “In any of the fights that we have been asked to plan for, more fifth gen aircraft make a huge difference, and we think that getting to 50-50 means not buying new fourth-gen aircraft, it means continuing to increase the fifth generation.”
Wilson instead preferred that the Air Force buy newer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. But F-35s are made by Boeing’s competitor Lockheed Martin.
Yet, on December 21 it was revealed by Bloomberg that the Pentagon requested $1.2 billion to buy 12 F-15Xs in fiscal year 2020 — rather than the newer Joint Strike Fighters Wilson is said to have preferred.
According to Bloomberg, “the decision to buy the newest kind of F-15 aircraft… comes from the Pentagon’s top leadership, including with some prodding from Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan.”
It appears then that like others in the Trump administration — including from former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt, and Acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler as well as soon-to-be-former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — Shanahan may have a challenge avoiding potential ethics scandals as he steps into the new role.