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Mike Griffin Alienating Friends & Enemies Alike, Firing Scientists at New Pentagon Job

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 3, 2019
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Mike Griffin

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has had a tumultuous time since taking over as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering in February.

In his role as the Defense Department’s chief technology officer, Griffin has been criticized for his efforts to overhaul the Pentagon’s costly and time-consuming development and procurement of new systems through the newly established Space Development Agency (SDA).

Key personnel have departed as critics have attacked Griffin for what they view as his erratic management and decision making. In addition to SDA, he is in charge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).

Griffin’s challenges have included:

  • push back from within the Pentagon and in Congress on the need and purpose of the SDA, with opponents calling it redundant;
  • the departure of his handpicked choice to head the SDA, Fred Kennedy, after only months on the job over disagreements about how to manage theagency;
  • the resignation of Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who had championed the creation of the SDA and backed it against internal and external opposition;
  • a decision by the House Armed Services Committee to rejected a Pentagon request to reprogram $15 million to fund SDA because of Kennedy’s departure and a lack of clarity about the agency’s mission;
  • the departure of Chris Shank, who headed up the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO). after Griffin made the controversial decision to move the office to DARPA;
  • Criticism of his efforts to terminate Jason, an independent advisory board of top scientists that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons, and two other scientific advisory boards;
  • Complaints that Griffin’s decision making is erratic and that his deputy, Lisa Porter, is too aggressive in her boss’ defense; and,
  • Rumors that Griffin could be the next official to depart the Trump Administration.

Reform isn’t easy. Reform in a bureaucracy as large and complex as the Pentagon is extremely difficult. We’ll see if Griffin can tough it out.