Home » News & Analysis » Former Acquisition Chief Geurts to Fill in as Navy Undersecretary


Former Acquisition Chief Geurts to Fill in as Navy Undersecretary

James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN (RD&A)), speaks with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) workforce in February 2018 to highlight his priorities and answer questions on issues impacting the information warfare environment. US Navy photo.

James “Hondo” Geurts, who served as the Navy’s acquisition chief for more than three years, will return to the Department of the Navy leadership team to fill in as the department’s number-two civilian, the service announced today

Beginning Thursday, Geurts will be performing the duties of undersecretary of the Navy. He was sworn in as assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition (ASN RDA) in December 2017 and stepped down Jan. 20 when the Biden administration was sworn in.

After stepping down, though, he resumed serving as a senior executive service (SES) employee in the Navy. With nearly 34 years of uniformed and civilian service in the Defense Department, he was among the senior-most employees who could be chosen to perform the duties undersecretary until the Biden administration selects its picks for service-level leaders.

“I’ve worked with Hondo for a number of years and know he will bring a wealth of insight and leadership derived from 34 years of DoD experience to this position,” Harker said in a statement today. “His stellar knowledge of acquisition efforts, experience driving positive change, and commitment to naval innovation will be a strong asset in this position, where he will continue to reinforce a clear understanding of the needs, requirements and capabilities of our Navy and Marine Corps.”

According to the Navy news release, while performing the duties of the undersecretary of the Navy, Geurts will not only be the deputy and principal assistant to the SECNAV but also the chief operating officer and chief management officer for the Department of the Navy. Additionally, he will oversee intelligence activities, intelligence-related activities, special access programs, critical infrastructure, and sensitive activities within the department.

James Geurts released a letter Jan. 20, 2021, announcing his stepping down as assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

“Having supported the military, both in and out of uniform, for the majority of my life, I know that when we are empowered and focused on the mission we can accomplish amazing things,” Geurts said in the news release. “I look forward to continuing to work with a great team of professionals as we spearhead efforts in support of the finest Navy and Marine Corps in the world.”

During his time as assistant secretary, Geurts was heavily engaged with industry, trying to bring in new partners who could offer new ideas and agile business methods to the Navy. Before serving as ASN RDA, Geurts was the acquisition executive for U.S. Special Operations Command and oversaw acquisition and logistics for the much smaller special operations community – though he tried to bring the same mentality of agile and cost-efficient acquisition to the Navy. Though it was initially unclear how acquisition for something as large as an aircraft carrier could be sped up the way he envisioned, Geurts ushered the Navy through its first two-carrier buy since the 1980s.

He also set up a network of Tech Bridge sites to connect industry and academia to the Navy to better facilitate getting good ideas to the right people. Each year, he briefed reporters on increases in small business contracts, as well as putting more money on contract with fewer contract actions. Even in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, when almost the entire acquisition workforce was working remotely, Geurts reported his staff had performed ahead of plan.

Geurts previously served as an Air Force officer, specializing in acquisition and engineering and holding positions including major program manager and program executive officer.

Geurts is a 1987 ROTC graduate from Lehigh University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. He also holds master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Air Force Institute of Technology and in national security resourcing from the National Defense University.

The following is the full Feb. 4, 2021, Navy announcement: 

Acting Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Thomas Harker has designated James F. “Hondo” Geurts as Performing the Duties of Under Secretary of the Navy Feb. 4.

Prior to this selection, Geurts served as the 8th Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN RD&A), from December 2017 to January 2021. As ASN RD&A, he served as the Navy’s acquisition executive, with oversight of an annual budget in excess of $100 billion and responsible for equipping Sailors and Marines with platforms, systems and technologies around the globe in defense of the nation.

“I’ve worked with Hondo for a number of years and know he will bring a wealth of insight and leadership derived from 34 years of DoD experience to this position,” said Harker. “His stellar knowledge of acquisition efforts, experience driving positive change, and commitment to naval innovation will be a strong asset in this position, where he will continue to reinforce a clear understanding of the needs, requirements and capabilities of our Navy and Marine Corps.”

In performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Navy, in addition to serving as the deputy and principal assistant to the SECNAV, Geurts will serve as the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Management Officer for the DoN. Additionally, he will oversee intelligence activities, intelligence-related activities, special access programs, critical infrastructure, and sensitive activities within the department.

“Having supported the military, both in and out of uniform, for the majority of my life, I know that when we are empowered and focused on the mission we can accomplish amazing things,” said Geurts. “I look forward to continuing to work with a great team of professionals as we spearhead efforts in support of the finest Navy and Marine Corps in the world.”

Mr. Geurts previously served as the Acquisition Executive, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), at MacDill Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, where he was responsible for all special operations forces acquisition, technology and logistics. Prior to being selected for Senior Executive Service, Geurts began his career as an Air Force officer. He served as an acquisition program manager with engineering and program management leadership positions in numerous weapon systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, surveillance platforms, tactical fighter aircraft, advanced avionics systems, stealth cruise missiles, training systems and manned and unmanned special operations aircraft.

He has over 30 years of joint acquisition experience and served in all levels of acquisition leadership positions including Acquisition Executive, Program Executive Officer and Program Manager of Major Defense Acquisition Programs.

Geurts is a distinguished 1987 Reserve Officers’ Training Corps graduate from Lehigh University where he received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. He holds a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB and in National Security Resourcing from Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C. Geurts also attended executive leadership and international studies programs at Harvard Kennedy School and George Washington Elliot School.

Categories: News & Analysis, U.S. Navy
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the deputy editor for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.