White House Chief Tech Officer to Backfill Griffin at Pentagon

Michael J. K. Kratsios, the White House’s 33-year-old chief technology officer, is the new acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, effective July 10, the Pentagon announced July 13. He fills in behind Michael D. Griffin, whose last day was also July 10. Griffin and his deputy, Lisa Porter, left to pursue unidentified opportunities in the private sector.

As Chief Technology Officer of the U.S., a Senate-confirmed position Kratsios has held since August 2019, he has developed national plans for “artificial intelligence, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, commercial drones, STEM education, and advanced manufacturing,” the Pentagon said through a spokesman. “He has been integral in the President’s efforts to expand 5G and broadband communications nationwide.” Many of these are technologies that Kratsios will now oversee at the Pentagon. Unlike Griffin, who holds a doctorate in physics and five Master’s degrees, including in engineering and business administration, Kratsios has no formal scientific or technology training, holding a bachelor’s in politics from Princeton University.  

“We wanted someone with experience in identifying and developing new technologies and working closely with a wider range of industry partners,” said Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.

Porter’s role as deputy undersecretary will be filled by Mark J. Lewis, director of defense research and engineering for modernization, also in an “acting” capacity. Lewis will retain his modernization leadership duties as well.

Kratsios was “responsible for architecting the American AI Initiative, standing up the National Quantum Coordination Office, and most recently, launching of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium,” the Pentagon spokesman said.

Kratsios was Senate-confirmed for the CTO position, but does not need confirmation to serve as “acting” undersecretary of defense, unless he is officially nominated to the post. The Trump Administration has been selective and slow about what replacement officials it offers up for Senate confirmation. Former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, for example, served in that capacity for six months before being formally nominated for the post. He resigned before being confirmed.  

Before becoming CTO, Kratsios was a deputy assistant/technology advisor to President Donald J. Trump. He came to the White House from Thiel Capital, serving as chief of staff to its CEO, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a Trump campaign contributor who co-founded PayPal and Palantir Technologies, which is a software and data analytics company. At the White House, Kratsios headed an initiative to integrate drones into the national airspace system, which led to an FAA pilot program on UAS integration.

Kratsios’ White House biography says he’s responsible for “aligning the development of new technologies with the Administration’s priorities.”