Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said Friday she would resign to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.
“It has been a privilege to serve alongside our Airmen over the last two years and I am proud of the progress that we have made restoring our nation’s defense,” Wilson said in a statement. “We have improved the readiness of the force; we have cut years out of acquisition schedules and gotten better prices through competition; we have repealed hundreds of superfluous regulations; and we have strengthened our ability to deter and dominate in space.”
Wilson’s expected late-May departure is coming just as the Air Force enters a new phase in a White House-ordered reorganization of military space programs. Congress is now considering a legislative proposal sent over last week by the Pentagon that would consolidate military space programs, including GPS, into a new Space Force within the Air Force. The reorganization, layered on top of the turmoil triggered by the sudden departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in December, is expected to consume a good deal of energy and some $2 billion over the first five years — that is if Congress approves the proposal.
As the top Air Force official and a former member of Congress, Wilson could have been an effective advocate for the Space Force. She was no fan of such consolidation, however, and opposed the creation of somewhat similar “Space Corps” proposed in 2017.
“The Pentagon is complicated enough,” she told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 22, 2017. “We are trying to simplify it. This will make it more complex, to add more boxes to the organizational chart, and it costs more money. And if I had more money I would put it into lethality and not bureaucracy.”
Mattis recruited Wilson from what she told the Washington Post was “the best job in the world” as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. She started her career in the Air Force joining one of the first Air Force Academy classes to allow women. She was a Rhodes Scholar and in 1998 won a seat representing New Mexico’s 1st congressional district in the House where she stayed until 2009.