The Hon. Deborah Lee James

Former Secretary of the Air Force and Author


The Honorable Deborah Lee James has a three-decade track record of leading, transforming, and driving lasting results in both the Legislative and Executive branches of Government (U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense) and private industry. She has deep expertise in strategic planning, risk management, public policy, cybersecurity, talent management and innovation.

Deborah is a non-executive member of two public company Boards—Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) and Unisys Corporation (NYSE: UIS). In addition, she serves on four private company Boards—Systems and Technology Research, LocatorX,  Improbable LLC, and Firefly Aerospace (Chairwoman) and three not-for-profit Boards—Noblis, Inc.; the Atlantic Council; and the PenFed Foundation (Chairwoman). Deborah has experience on the Audit, Compensation, Nominations and Governance and Risk Committees across this portfolio of organizations.

Public Service Experience

Deborah served for 20 years in the U.S. Government.  As the Secretary of the Air Force, (CEO equivalent of a 660,000 person, $140 billion budget organization) she successfully led strategic change in human capital management, training and acquisition approaches, as well as streamlining of headquarter operations and government-wide changes in space and cyber.  She navigated people, policy and budgetary matters through the complex legislative and regulatory environment as well as invested R&D dollars to ensure the Air Force remains on the cutting edge of technology for decades to come.  On the international scene, Deborah enhanced more than 40 relationships with Air Force partners in the Middle East, Europe and Asia through the advocacy of U.S. defense products, training and interoperability.  By establishing goals and metrics, she directed process changes to speed up the Air Force’s Foreign Military Sales requirements; introduced a series of initiatives designed to streamline the acquisition life cycle and championed a variety of talent management programs, including ones designed to capitalize upon diversity and inclusion, succession planning, and the identification and development of high potential employees.

As Secretary, Deborah was “dual-hatted” as the Principal Defense Space Advisor with responsibility for the rewrite and coordination of strategy and budgets for all U.S. national security space efforts.  Over several years, this effort resulted in billions of dollars shifted toward making the U.S. space architecture more resilient.  She also reintroduced competition for national security space launches.

Earlier in Deborah’s career, she served as a Professional Staff Member for the House Armed Services Committee and as the DoD Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

Private Sector Experience

Deborah has 15 years of operating experience in private industry.  Throughout her approximate 12 year tenure at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), Deborah worked on key governance, financial, business development, capture management, strategic planning, M&A and program execution areas.  Most recently, she was the President of SAIC’s Technical and Engineering sector—a $2 billion, 8,700 person enterprise.  Her responsibilities included strategic planning, revenue and profit generation, program execution excellence, client satisfaction, cash management and talent development.  She worked closely with SAIC’s CEO and Board of Directors to co-lead the design effort that resulted in the successful split of SAIC into two distinct public companies (SAIC and Leidos).

Prior to becoming the President of the Technical and Engineering Sector, Deborah served as Executive Vice President for Communications and Government Affairs, which included SAIC’s corporate responsibility programs.  In this role, Deborah worked extensively with the Board of Directors on reputation risk management issues and led SAIC’s Women’s Network.

Earlier, she was a Business Unit General Manager of a $500 million, 2,500 person C4IT business unit.  In this role she led the successful integration of a recent acquisition that included significant change management efforts, consolidation of staffs and processes while continuing to execute key programs.  She also led the effort that resulted from the U.S. Navy award to install and integrate communications and electronic components on the number one Department of Defense program at the time – the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) program.  Prior to that role at SAIC, Deborah served as the Director of Homeland Security.

Before joining SAIC, Deborah served as the Chief Operating Officer for the non-profit entity Business Executives for National Security and spent two years as the Vice President for International Operations and Marketing for United Technologies Corporation (UTC).  At UTC, she was responsible for marketing UTC products ranging from air conditioner units to jet engines in five international locations.

Full biography.