WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he plans to nominate an astronaut-trained aerospace executive to be the next Air Force secretary, replacing Heather Wilson, who will leave the post at the end of May.
Trump’s selection is Barbara Barrett, whose background includes deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration under President Ronald Reagan and ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush.
This will be the second time Barrett is nominated for the post. President George W. Bush nominated her to replace James Roche, who was nominated to be secretary of the Army. When the Senate failed to act on Roche’s nomination, she withdrew her name from consideration.
“Ambassador Barrett is a force to be reckoned with and has the leadership, experience, and knowledge to lead our Air Force into the future during a time of increased global threats,” Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said in a release. “I have confidence that Ambassador Barrett will lead the way in maintaining air and space dominance and continue to build upon the initiatives, leadership, and example set forth by Secretary Heather Wilson.”
McSally said she encouraged Trump to nominate Barrett once Wilson announced her impending departure in March.
A departure ceremony was held for Wilson Tuesday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. She is leaving to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.
“Every one of you in this hangar, every single one of you, is a leader,” Wilson said, during the ceremony in Hangar 3. Among those attending were three former Air Force secretaries, Wilson’s family, roughly 1,000 airmen and women — and a B-2 bomber.
Wilson leaves a strong legacy of streamlining Air Force contracts while leading the creation of blueprints for future needs, from increasing the number of squadrons from 312 to 386 to modernizing the science and technology strategy.
Wilson, who was sworn in May 16, 2017, was considered a strong candidate to be secretary of Defense at some point.
Trump tweeted his intent to nominate Barrett following the ceremony honoring Wilson.
Barrett, from Arizona, is an instrument-rated pilot who was the first civilian woman to land an F/A-18 on an aircraft carrier, according to various biographies. She also spent four and a half months in a training program to be a backup astronaut on a launch to the International Space Station in 2009, but did not end up flying the mission, according to her biographies.
From 2013 to 2017 Barrett headed the board of trustees of the Aerospace Corporation, located in California. It describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit corporation operating the only federally funded research and development center for the space enterprise” that “performs objective technical analyses and assessments for a variety of government, civil, and commercial customers,” according to its website.
Barrett, 68, earned her bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from Arizona State University. She and her husband, Craig Barrett, the retired CEO of Intel Corp., have made several donations to the university, including a $10 million gift. In April 2018, the university opened a facility in downtown Washington that is named for Ambassador Barbara Barrett and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The couple also has made numerous donations to Republican candidates.
If confirmed, Barrett would be the third woman in a row to take the job, after Wilson and Deborah Lee James.