WASHINGTON — President Biden’s nominee for deputy defense secretary Kathleen Hicks said in congressional testimony that space acquisition programs should leverage commercial innovation and ensure the United States can counter China’s technological advances. 

Hicks sat in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 2 for a confirmation hearing. She would be the first woman to serve as a Senate-confirmed deputy defense secretary. Hicks was previously vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and served as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration. After Biden was elected, Hicks was named head of the transition team for the Department of Defense. 

As deputy secretary, Hicks would have major responsibilities for budget and financial management. At the hearing she was introduced by former defense secretary Robert Gates who praised Hicks for her “mastery of black arts” when she oversaw deep Pentagon budget cuts during the Obama years.

Hicks in written testimony said the United States faces growing security challenges in space and acquisitions of new technology should “increase warfighting effectiveness, enhance resilience, leverage commercial technology and innovation, and rapidly respond to future threats.”

She said DoD needs “inter-organizational collaboration” when it comes to space programs to avoid duplication. If confirmed, she wrote, “I will implement congressional direction to transfer the Space Development Agency to the Space Force, while also maximizing both organizations’ effectiveness.”

Other takeaways from Hicks’ confirmation hearing:

  • Hicks expressed concern about the barriers to entry for technology companies that want to do business with DoD. “We need to lower challenges to non traditional companies,” she said.
  • The Biden administration’s submission of a budget request for fiscal year 2022 will be delayed because Trump officials did not share defense budget information with with transition team. The incoming administration didn’t get to look at Trump’s draft budget request until late January.
  • Mergers and acquisitions in the defense industry will get extra scrutiny. “Consolidation creates challenges to innovation,” said Hicks. “We have to look at key parts of the industry base and ensure there’s a healthy supply chain … Some consolidation is probably inevitable but we need competition.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...