Air Force Comptroller to Step in as Acting Secretary After Inauguration

Air Force comptroller John P. Roth will temporarily take over as acting Air Force secretary before President-elect Joseph R. Biden names his pick to run the department, among a slew of other fiscal officials who will oversee their respective services.

Defense News reported the information Jan. 14. The Biden team said in a statement it had “nothing to share for now” and the Air Force declined to comment.

David L. Norquist will serve as acting defense secretary while Congress vets former Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III’s nomination to run the Pentagon, according to multiple reports. Temporarily heading up the other military service departments will be Navy comptroller Thomas W. Harker and Army comptroller John E. Whitley, according to Defense News. Stacy A. Cummings will also take over as the Pentagon’s acting acquisition boss.

Barbara M. Barrett, who has served as the 25th secretary for just over a year, is departing Jan. 20 when the Biden administration is sworn in. Roth is also slated to leave the Air Force alongside multiple other high-ranking service officials, but will stick around at least briefly to manage the daily civilian oversight of the Air Force and Space Force’s nearly 700,000 employees.

Roth oversees the Department of the Air Force’s $207 billion budget and performed the duties of the Undersecretary of the Air Force for several months in 2019 and 2020. The comptroller began his military career in the Navy but joined the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense in 1984 and the Air Force in 2018.

“John shepherded the Space Force’s first presidential budget and landed a $15 billion fledgling service budget,” Barrett said at a Jan. 14 goodbye ceremony ahead of next week’s administration change. “John collaborated with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and all nine major commands to secure more than $1.6 billion to facilitate the department’s [coronavirus] response. And due to John’s negotiations, the Air Force garnered important topline budget growth, which allowed the department to increase total force strength by 14,000 Airmen, setting the foundation for readiness recovery.”

The event honored Barrett, Roth, acting Undersecretary Shon J. Manasco, acquisition boss Will Roper, General Counsel Thomas E. Ayres, and installations boss John W. Henderson, who are among the top Air Force officials leaving their posts.

The four-star generals in charge of the Air Force and Space Force praised Barrett as an insightful leader who is passionate about improving the lives of Airmen and Guardians.

“Secretary Barbara Barrett has no limit to the amount of good she strives to do, and has done for the Department of the Air Force,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said. He added: “She’s traveled the world, and because of those travels, she’s had some very interesting stories to share. … She taught us, why take an elevator when there’s stairs?”

Barrett, a former Federal Aviation Administration deputy administrator, ambassador, and businesswoman, has not disclosed what she plans to do after leaving the Pentagon.

“I have learned so very much,” she said. “It has been an unprecedented time, even just this past year, with reforms, modernization, and activity. … Oh, yes—and the pandemic, hurricanes beyond measure, through the alphabet and back again, forest fires in unprecedented volume, civil unrest, and those continuing wars.”