A senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Defense Department is seeking someone stronger on the nuances of the Defense Production Act as it prepares to identify and manufacture vaccines for the novel coronavirus.
The Navy will get a strong “teammate” in Santos, the senior official said, though her role is not yet clear.
Scott Baum, the Pentagon’s principal director for industrial policy, will take over on Santos’s role on an acting basis, Andrews said in a statement. Santos, meanwhile, will be reassigned to work for James Geurts, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.
“The department’s commitment to closely partnering with the defense industry remains unwavering, and we will continue to identify and mitigate impacts from the covid-19 national emergency to ensure readiness and modernization,” Andrews said.
The news, first reported Thursday by Politico, comes after months of criticism of the Defense Department’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Pentagon continues to have numerous vacancies in senior positions. Santos had held her position since January 2019, when she took over in a period of transition in the Pentagon after the resignation of defense secretary Jim Mattis. She replaced Eric Chewning, who became chief of staff to acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan. Shanahan and Chewning have since left the Pentagon.
Kelly Magsamen, a Pentagon official during President Barack Obama’s administration, said Thursday that the department “made a serious organizational and management error" from the outset of the crisis by not working with the White House closely and executing the Defense Production Act. President Trump delayed invoking the act, which provides wartime powers that compel private companies to provide needed equipment, until March 18.
Magsamen said the Defense Department needed a high-level DPA task force beginning in January that should have been run by someone “far more senior” than a deputy assistant secretary or undersecretary of defense.
The Defense Department has defended its role in providing equipment over the last two months. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper recently said that the Pentagon has been “ahead of the curve” in dealing with the pandemic.