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'Strong Personality'

Departure of DOD CIO Likely Won't Slow Work on 5G Band Studies

DOD Chief Information Officer John Sherman, who has led the department’s work on opening the lower 3 GHz band for 5G, is leaving government for academia. He will become dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. But industry experts agree that the personnel change likely won’t prove disruptive because Leslie Beavers, principal deputy CIO, will replace Sherman on an acting basis.

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Industry is also focused on 7/8 GHz for 5G, though the national spectrum strategy doesn't tap DOD to co-lead a study of its future use as it does on the lower 3 GHz band for 5G.

Sherman is “smart, experienced, has a strong personality and has been a major proponent of sharing as the answer to growing spectrum needs,” New Street’s Blair Levin said Monday. But DOD has “an institutional approach to spectrum that I think will continue in a consistent direction,” he said in an email. Levin noted that regardless of who wins the presidential election in November, changes are likely in the DOD's leadership.

Sherman has consistently defended the military’s need for using lower 3 GHz spectrum abroad and in the U.S. for training. The band contains key military radars, including the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), which is widely viewed as the most difficult to address. A strong advocate of dynamic sharing, Sherman has also suggested that parts of the band could be cleared, including AWACS (see 2402010057).

Last year, Fred Moorefield, who long oversaw DOD spectrum policy and was a deputy CIO, left after he was charged with dog fighting (see 2310030058). Sherman’s position is Senate-confirmed, so putting in a permanent replacement could take months and appears unlikely before the election, industry officials said. Sherman was confirmed in December 2021.

DOD and NTIA have collaborated for years on the lower 3 GHz and 7/8 GHz bands and the departure “shouldn't derail the study process because of the institutional knowledge still at the agencies,” Jeffrey Westling, American Action Forum director-technology and innovation policy, predicted. While even after the band studies, DOD and NTIA “may find that sharing or relocation is not feasible, I am optimistic [about] progress after seeing the momentum that has been building on making these bands available.”

Plenty of career DOD public servants and uniformed officers are working on the band studies, Cooley’s Robert McDowell, a former FCC commissioner, said in an email. “But for more fundamental spectrum policymaking, such as creating a pipeline and renewing FCC auction authority, more leadership at very senior levels is sorely needed within the Executive Branch,” he said: “That’s what is desperately lacking.”

Sherman's departure won’t slow the process, agreed Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer. “The DOD’s position on spectrum isn’t too reliant on any individual staffer, especially on 3 GHz and 7/8 GHz,” he said. DOD officials “have been fairly consistent on their views on those bands for at least the past decade and I don’t expect it to change,” Thayer added.

Sherman “has been a steadfast advisor and an innovative leader who has helped the Department adopt and utilize modern information technology to keep our country safe,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in announcing the departure. Austin mentioned Sherman’s technical expertise, which “has proven invaluable in tackling a variety of digital challenges,” and stressed his focus on cybersecurity. Austin's statement didn’t mention spectrum or the national spectrum strategy.

In another personnel change of note, Ken Turner, a longtime deputy director of the DOD spectrum policy and programs office, joined Crest Hill Advisors as a senior adviser. Scott Harris, who led NTIA efforts on development of the national spectrum strategy, started Crest Hill. Turner left DOD in 2021.