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New undersecretary of the Air Force nominated

Nov. 11, 2009 - 11:30AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2009 - 11:30AM  |  
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Erin Conaton, nominee to serve as Air Force undersecretary. (COURTESY PHOTO)

The Air Force finally has a nominee in place to take over as the service's undersecretary, a position that has been empty for more than two years.

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The Air Force finally has a nominee in place to take over as the service's undersecretary, a position that has been empty for more than two years.

President Barack Obama nominated Erin Conaton, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton's lead adviser, on Tuesday. She will now await confirmation from the Senate.

Conaton has been on the committee's staff since 2001. Since becoming majority staff director in 2007, she has led drafting of the defense authorization bill, which makes up the military's budget.

The undersecretary position has stayed empty since Aug. 31, 2007, when former astronaut Ron Sega resigned to teach at Colorado State University. Sega, who served as undersecretary for three years, led the push toward the service's use of more alternative fuels and its "back to basics" approach to developing satellites.

Conaton's challenge will be to fix the Air Force's acquisition problems — namely its struggle to award a contract to build the next generation of aerial refueling tankers. Defense Secretary Robert Gates handed control of the tanker contract back to the Air Force in September after yanking it from the service after numerous embarrassing errors highlighted by a Government Accountability Office investigation.

When asked for comment, Lt. Col. Adriane Craig, an Air Force spokeswoman, said Conaton could not speak to the press until after the Senate confirmation process.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said in a statement that he is "pleased" with Obama's nomination of Conaton "and looks forward to the Senate's favorable consideration of her nomination."

Skelton, a Missouri Democrat, commended the nomination and encouraged the Senate to move quickly on her confirmation.

"Serving as the committee's Majority Staff Director since 2007, Erin has consistently demonstrated her leadership ability, mastery of national security issues, and dedication to our men and women in uniform," Skelton said in a statement.

"Erin's work ethic is unparalleled, but more importantly, she has a rare gift for getting along with people. Despite the demands of working on Capitol Hill, Erin is unflappable and approaches every challenge with a level head, whether working with members of Congress, congressional staff, or administration officials."

Before joining the House Armed Services Committee, Conaton spent three years as the research staff director for the U.S. Commission on National Security. She has never served in the Air Force.

Conaton earned a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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