Who’s Who in Defense: Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Secretary Of Defense

Deputy Secretary of Defense

Kathleen Hicks



  • The Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian, Hicks executes the defense secretary’s priorities and oversees DoD’s day-to-day operations, which includes managing the defense budget.

Stated Priorities

  • Ensure DoD complies with the government’s effort to combat COVID-19.
  • Address China’s rising military capabilities and an increasingly disruptive Russia.
  • Modernize U.S. command-and-control systems, the nuclear triad, and the defense industrial base to meet China’s growing arsenal and expertise in areas like artificial intelligence. Beijing is predicted to double its nuclear warhead stockpile and diversify its nuclear triad by developing a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile.
  • Upgrade warfighting systems to be more data-centric. Quantum computing and hypersonic missiles are two areas to address.
  • Cultivate innovation. Review budget traditions, legacy systems and existing incentive structures.
  • Reduce the Pentagon’s regulatory paperwork to attract smaller, innovative tech firms.
  • Provide resources that promote reporting on sexual assault/harassment.
  • The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), a primary means of integrating and accelerating AI strategy within DoD. The latest defense policy bill made the JAIC a direct report to the deputy secretary.
  • Broadly supports DoD’s “defend forward” position—a multipronged cyber strategy aimed at filling in the gaps of deterrence through an early warning detection system that targets adversaries covertly trying to breach U.S. networks.
  • Views industry consolidation as counterproductive to America’s ability to address the great power rivalry against China and Russia.
  • Believes Cyber Command isn’t fully ready for an immediate split from the NSA, whose leadership and infrastructure it shares.
  • Re-examine “pass through” funding, which forms part of the Air Force’s annual budget. Some claim the current funding model reduces its overall budget at a time when U.S. national security is critical.
  • Advocates a national defense strategy that’s budget-informed, not budget-driven, allowing for a greater flexibility in assessing threats and allocating resources.

Policy Quote

  • “I will strive to move beyond simplistic approaches to reform and instead focus on targeted reform efforts with definable metrics and supported by rigorous analysis.”- Response to advance policy questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Areas of Expertise

  • Analyst, civil servant and think-tank leader, Hicks has an extensive background in national security. Experienced at devising competitive strategies, force planning and posture, as well as force development and design.
  • Authored multiple reports calling for a more data-centric, Internet-like system of warfare within the DoD known as All Domain Operations.

Business and Public Service Career

  • Senior vice president and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Focused on geopolitics, national security and defense issues.
  • Principal deputy undersecretary for policy in the 2012 Obama administration.
  • Deputy undersecretary of Defense for strategy, plans and forces during the 2009 Obama administration.
  • Senior fellow—CSIS International Security Program, (2006 to 2009).
  • Civil servant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, (1993 to 2006).




Early Years

  • Born September 25, 1970, in Fairfield, Calif. Her father is retired Rear Admiral William Holland Jr., who served on the CNO’s staff as director of nuclear weapons and deputy director for space, command and control. Her mother is Ann Holland. Six siblings.


  • Mount Holyoke College – A.B. in history and politics, (1991).
  • University of Maryland – M.P.A. in national security studies, (1993).
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – PhD in political science, (2010).


  • Called “a true professional” by Jack Reed, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hicks lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband Thomas Hicks, and their three children.


  • First female Deputy Defense Secretary.
  • Highest-ranking woman in history of the U.S. military.
  • Former board member of the U.S. Naval Institute, Soldier Strong and the Truman National Security Project—which brings together American progressives on national security and foreign policy issues.
  • Former member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Received numerous recognitions for her service in the Department of Defense.


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