Deborah Lee James

Senior Adviser (Non-resident), International Security Program
Associated Programs: International Security Program

Deborah Lee James served as the 23rd secretary of the air force through January 2017, with responsibility for 660,000 military and civilian personnel and a budget of nearly $140 billion. 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 cybersecurity. As secretary, she was dual-hatted as the principal defense space adviser with responsibility for the rewrite and coordination of strategy and budgets for all U.S. national security space efforts. Earlier in her career, she served as a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee and as assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. Ms. James also spent 11 years at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), where she worked on key governance, financial, business development, capture management, strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, and program execution areas. Most recently, she was president of SAIC’s Technical and Engineering Sector, a $2-billion, 8,700-person enterprise. She worked closely with SAIC’s CEO and Board of Directors to colead the effort that resulted in the successful split of SAIC into two distinct public companies (SAIC and Leidos). Prior to becoming the president of the SAIC Technical and Engineering Sector, she served as executive vice president for communications and government affairs. In this role, she worked extensively with the Board of Directors on reputation risk management issues and led SAIC’s Women’s Network. Earlier, she was the business unit general manager of the $500-million, 2,500-person C4IT business unit. Before joining SAIC, Ms. James served as chief operating officer for the nonprofit Business Executives for National Security (BENS) and spent two years as vice president for international operations and marketing for United Technologies Corporation (UTC). Ms. James has served on a number of nonprofit boards, including at the Atlantic Council, United Service Organizations (USO), and PenFed Foundation, where she chaired the Advisory Board. She holds a B.A. degree in comparative arts studies from Duke University, an M.S. degree in international affairs from Columbia University, and honorary doctorates from the Citadel and the College of Charleston.

Contact Information
Email: debbieleejames [at]