Not a ‘Department of No,’ New Defense Chief Turns Trump’s Demands Into Policy

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It was, his former colleagues say, a rare combination of someone who could fuse technical expertise with a broader vision.“He is the brightest and smartest guy I worked with at Boeing,” said Carolyn Corvi, a former executive at the company. “He has the ability to see over the horizon and make what is there today into something different than it is.”Former colleagues of Mr. Shanahan, an engineer trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tell stories of him walking the factory floor and diving into technical details of design, manufacturing or supply chains to find better overall approaches to problems.Inside the Pentagon, Mr. Shanahan has also gained a reputation for sweating the details.He has been known to hold five-hour meetings, starting at 8 a.m., on Saturdays, specifically focused on F-35 strike fighter jets, according to one Defense Department official.Because of his previous work at Boeing, Mr. Shanahan has recused himself for the duration of his tenure from questions involving the company, including performance reviews, budget decisions and other program decisions, according to Pentagon officials.“If Mattis was Mr. Outside, focusing on policy issues and international alliances, Pat was Mr. Inside, the department’s chief operating officer,” said Dov Zakheim, a former top Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration, who has known Mr. Shanahan for a decade.“He understood what his role was supposed to be — a manager,” Mr. Zakheim said. “He didn’t try to be what he wasn’t. He didn’t try to be Mr. Mattis’s alter ego.”