Shanahan Brushes Away Boeing Concerns, Says He Isn’t Limited in “Acting” Role

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks with reporters on Tuesday during his first briefing in his position. Staff photo by Brian Everstine.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday said his history with Boeing does not influence his business decisions in the Pentagon, though he still swiped at the performance of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 as it comes online across the services.

“I am biased towards performance. I am biased towards giving the taxpayer their money’s worth,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon almost one month after assuming the acting Secretary role. “And the F-35, I can say unequivocally, has the opportunity for more performance.”

Shanahan, who spent more than three decades at Boeing in a series of senior roles, took over the Pentagon after former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was abruptly fired in late December after tendering his resignation. Because of his past, Shanahan has recused himself from all decisions related to Boeing at a time when the company has received multiple major Defense Department, and Air Force, contracts, such as the T-X, Combat Rescue Helicopter, and the Navy’s unmanned tanker, along with development of the next Air Force One and the fielding of the KC-46. Shanahan said Tuesday he has “enormous confidence” in the ethics agreement, and the criticism that he may be playing favorites is “just noise.”

Since taking over the top job in an acting role, Shanahan said the “terrain” of the job has not changed based on his previous experience, nor have the interactions with many officials and the overall subject matter. What has changed is more interaction with cabinet members, foreign leaders, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, and President Trump.

As the No. 2, Shanahan said he saw “seams in the organization, and in this role, I travel less to shore up some of those seams, to drive integration between the services and combatant commands.”

Even though his title says “acting,” Shanahan said that hasn’t impacted his ability to lead the department and he hasn’t “spent any time thinking about” the temporary nature of his job.