Boeing executive and University of Washington regent Patrick Shanahan has been nominated for deputy secretary of defense.
After a rocky start between the new administration and aerospace giant Boeing, President Donald Trump’s nomination Thursday of senior company executive Pat Shanahan as deputy secretary of defense is the latest sign of an increasingly cozy relationship.
Shanahan, 54, has no military or political experience. He is, however, familiar with defense procurement from the business side.
He ran Boeing’s military rotorcraft division in Philadelphia for two and a half years, where he was responsible for the Apache and Chinook helicopter programs as well as the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor airplane.
Then starting in 2004, he spent nearly three years in Washington, D.C., heading the company’s ballistic-missile defense program.
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Having begun his career in the Commercial Airplanes division, where he ran 767 and 757 programs, Shanahan returned to Commercial in 2007 to take over the troubled 787 Dreamliner program. He managed that program directly for 14 months, working to fix the early development problems that caused multiple delays.
In 2008, Shanahan was elevated to senior vice president as head of all commercial-airplane programs, and was credited with the smooth increases of production at Boeing’s major final assembly sites in Everett, Renton and North Charleston, South Carolina.
A year ago, new Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg appointed Shanahan to Boeing’s executive council, its top leadership group, with a new role overseeing supply-chain management and manufacturing operations for the whole company, based in Bellevue.
As those positions suggest, Shanahan is seen as a detailed, behind-the-scenes manager of complex operations.
His more public, political role in the Pentagon will offer new challenges.
In a rare appearance at an open-ended news conference during the Paris Air Show several years ago, Shanahan struggled for words on stage when pointedly questioned by a group of international journalists. He’s much more comfortable talking one on one.
In December, President Trump shocked Boeing management on Twitter when he complained about the proposed high cost of replacing Air Force One and threatened to cancel the program. Trump also threw into doubt a lucrative Boeing commercial jet order still pending with Iran.
However, CEO Muilenburg met with Trump several times after the Air Force One tweet and seems to have mollified him.
Trump subsequently declared victory in bringing down the price of the presidential jet program — though the proclaimed savings had already been in the works — and then spoke of possibly ordering more Boeing F/A-18 jet fighters.
Last month, the president turned an invitation from Boeing to speak at its assembly plant in South Carolina for the rollout of the first 787-10 into a campaign-style rally.
Calling the Boeing jetliner “an amazing piece of art,” Trump praised Boeing as a creator of American manufacturing jobs.
If Shanahan’s nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he’ll be chief deputy to Defense Secretary James Mattis, who also has strong Washington state ties, having grown up in Richland, Benton County.
Shanahan’s presence in the Defense Department would place a Boeing alum in a senior position at the Pentagon as it considers the next big defense procurement contract award.
That’s the Air Force T-X jet trainer program, which seems to be down to two main contenders, one team led by Lockheed Martin and another by Boeing.
However, under the ethics rules that Trump issued for his appointees in January, Shanahan will be required to recuse himself from any Boeing-related business for two years.
Defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said people who have transferred from the defense industry into the Pentagon in the past have generally leaned over backward to avoid showing favoritism to their former employers.
Shanahan also is a University of Washington regent, appointed by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2012.
A Washington-state native, Shanahan joined Boeing in 1986.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the UW, and a dual master’s degree in business administration and mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Shanahan has not been a major political donor, federal and state campaign-finance records show. The money he has given has largely gone to Democrats.
He’s given $3,500 to federal candidates, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and former congressman Norm Dicks, both Democrats, as well as Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.
Last year, he donated $1,000 to the campaigns of Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine. In 2014, he donated $250 to the re-election campaign of state House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.