President Joe Biden on Thursday plans to announce Aerospace Industries Association executive Alex Wagner, as his nominee to be assistant Air Force secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, a White House source tells Air Force Times.
Wagner currently serves as AIA’s vice president for strategic initiatives, “leading efforts on talent and workforce policy as well as developing strategic partnerships to tell the story of technological innovation and the people who drive it,” according to a White House biography.
If confirmed by the Senate, Wagner would become responsible for managing military and civilian personnel issues, Reserve component affairs and readiness support for nearly 700,000 employees in the Department of the Air Force.
The nominee would take over for John Fedrigo, who has filled in as acting assistant secretary since January, as the Air Force and Space Force look to tackle issues ranging from recruitment and promotion policies to racial and gender equity and quashing ideological extremism.
Wagner would bring varied expertise across government, law and commercial industry to the job. He spent nearly seven years in multiple jobs at the Pentagon, including as chief of staff to then-Army Secretary Eric Fanning from November 2016 to January 2017, and as a special assistant and senior adviser in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
He played a key role in creating policies that opened all combat roles to women, supporting transgender soldiers, and changing Army uniform and grooming rules to accommodate soldiers from a wider range of religions, the White House said.
“Alex represented the Pentagon to the White House, the State Department and other executive branch agencies seeking to forge consensus on controversial issues like detention, drones and autonomous technologies while engaging internationally at two high-profile treaty negotiations at the United Nations, including as the primary Defense Department negotiator and as deputy head of the U.S. delegation,” according to Wagner’s LinkedIn page.
As an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, Wagner — who is gay — created a course exploring how the legal system affects the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, from parenting to workplace issues. In a stint in global policy development at Uber, he led a team that used rideshare data to show the company’s impact on communities of color, women, businesses and the environment.
He’s spoken out about the Trump-era ban on openly transgender troops serving in the military, writing in Slate in 2017 that “the pernicious impact of this ban on good order and discipline, as well as unit cohesion, would be unfathomable and severe.”
Wagner, an Obama administration alum, is a longtime Biden supporter as well. Ahead of the former vice president’s entrance into the 2016 presidential race, he praised Biden as an experienced and principled leader who has helped advance LGBT rights. The nominee was one of nearly 500 national security leaders who signed an open letter backing Biden shortly before the 2020 general election as well.
“He’s unquestionably someone who truly understands the challenges that ordinary Americans still face,” Wagner told the Washington Blade in 2015.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.