The Senate confirmed William LaPlante to be Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment on April 7 by voice vote, filling the most senior vacancy in the Pentagon.
LaPlante, the former top acquisition executive for the Air Force from 2014-2017, fills the position last held by Ellen M. Lord, who left with the arrival of the Biden Administration in January 2021. President Joe Biden’s first pick for the USD/A&S position, Michael Brown, withdrew his nomination due to allegations that he circumvented hiring regulations at the Defense Innovation Unit. LaPlante was nominated by Biden on Nov. 30, 2021.
LaPlante was instrumental in managing the requirement and competition for what became the B-21 bomber program, working to ensure that it had an open architecture that could adapt to new technologies. The B-21 is credited by the Pentagon and Capitol Hill as being one of the best-run big-ticket defense programs, thanks to a good contract.
After leaving the Air Force job, LaPlante served as a senior executive with the MITRE Corp. and then chief executive officer of Draper Laboratories. He also served on the Section 809 panel, which recommended a number of changes to defense acquisition policies and organization.
In his March 22 confirmation hearing, LaPlante said the U.S. industrial base needs to have more “hot production lines” of platforms, munitions, and components, saying these are, in and of themselves, a deterrent to adversary powers. He also pledged to bridge the “Valley of Death”—a term he coined—between promising prototypes and programs of record. LaPlante said he would work to “inject” new technology into all defense platforms, and make defense an attractive place for small businesses to bring their new ideas and technologies.
LaPlante warned that consolidation in the defense industry sets the stage for top primes to overcharge for their products, and ushering in a new supply of contractors will offset this vulnerability.