Risky Business: Biden Admin Considers Civilian to Run Missile Defense Agency

Former missile defense chiefs slam unprecedented move as national security risk

(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
January 13, 2023

The Biden administration is planning to break precedent and nominate a civilian to oversee America’s missile defense operations rather than a military official, sources tell the Washington Free Beacon—a move that former agency chiefs say would put U.S. national security at risk.

The current director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, vice admiral Jon Hill, is expected to retire later this year. The Biden administration has privately told lawmakers that it can’t find military leaders interested in the position and plans to nominate a civilian to lead the agency for the first time, congressional sources told the Free Beacon.

Although the Department of Defense hasn’t announced any candidates, congressional aides told the Free Beacon that one name being floated is the MDA’s civilian executive director, Laura DeSimone, who holds the deputy role at the agency. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.

The news follows the Biden administration’s decision to scrap the sea-launched nuclear missile program, defying the advice of senior military officials and raising concerns on Capitol Hill about the administration’s seriousness on missile defense. It also comes amid heightened risks of Russian nuclear attacks, and as President Joe Biden has claimed that the "prospect of Armageddon" is the strongest since the Cuban missile crisis.

The prospect of civilian leadership has raised alarms with defense hawks on Capitol Hill and with former MDA directors, who sent a letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on Friday urging lawmakers to reject a non-military nominee and citing "increasing threats to the homeland from a widening array of sophisticated capabilities." The nominee would require Senate confirmation.

"Any suggestion that the next director could be a civilian leader should be carefully scrutinized and almost certainly rejected," wrote former MDA directors Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, and Vice Adm. James D. Syring.

"Now is not the time to experiment with the leadership of the agency best suited to defend against those threats to the American people, their allies and partners, and the deployed sons and daughters in uniform."

The MDA, which develops, purchases, and oversees U.S. missile defense systems and coordinates with other defense agencies under the Department of Defense, has a unique authority that requires a military background to carry out effectively, according to the former directors.

"It would have been impossible in our experience for this job to have been effectively executed without a senior military flag officer," they wrote. "No other defense agency has the same set of acquisition authorities, requirements authorities, and support responsibilities for the defense of the homeland from history’s most dangerous regimes armed with its most dangerous weapons," they wrote.