Sharothi Pikar — a longtime defense procurement and cybersecurity leader — is exiting her post as the Pentagon’s first-ever deputy chief digital and AI officer for acquisitions to take on new responsibilities within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In response to questions from DefenseScoop on Wednesday, a CDAO spokesperson confirmed for the first time publicly that Pikar “has been hand-selected by the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Hon. Radha Plumb to serve as her Senior Advisor and lead a strategic review of [Department of Defense-wide] acquisition policy and framework gaps.”
“[Pikar’s] new role with A&S begins tomorrow, Feb. 1,” the spokesperson said.
A Pentagon spokesperson later suggested that Pikar wasn’t tapped to lead an acquisition review.
“The CDAO submitted a statement that did not accurately describe the role in which Ms. Pikar will transition to at A&S. While the details of her role and portfolio will evolve in the coming months, she was hired to serve as a senior advisor where she will support strategic initiatives identified by DUSD Plumb,” Cmdr. Tim Gorman told DefenseScoop in an email.
The Pentagon’s CDAO chief Craig Martell and his team have identified Bonnie Evangelista, a procurement expert and the office’s Tradewinds execution lead, to serve as the acting DCDAO for acquisitions upon Pikar’s departure.
“In the coming weeks, we will actively engage in the search for [Pikar’s] successor for the Acquisition Directorate. Our commitment is to identify a candidate who possesses the right blend of skills, experience, and leadership qualities to seamlessly continue the essential work that has been initiated,” the CDAO spokesperson said.
“We understand the significance of this transition and its impact on our mission. Our goal is to ensure a smooth and effective handover, minimizing disruptions and maintaining the positive momentum we have built together,” they added — also noting that Evangelista’s “work on Tradewinds has set a foundation for acquisition innovation in the DOD.”
A member of the Senior Executive Service (SES), Pikar was among nearly a dozen leaders who joined the CDAO around the time it achieved full operating capability in the summer of 2022.
Since then, she’s overseen all the nascent office’s procurement of data, analytics, and AI-related capabilities. She also operated as the “decision and approval authority for all CDAO research, development, and acquisition activities,” according to her official bio.
“Over the last five years, Sharothi served as the inaugural acquisition executive for the U.S. Cyber Command and then the same for CDAO. In CDAO, [Pikar] built an incredible acquisition team, established essential program oversight, provided acquisition guidance and direction on high impact programs, increased transparency, and partnerships with industry, and executed more agile and rapid contracting approaches,” the spokesperson said.
Her move comes as the office’s leaders prepare to host a massive AI summit next month and continue to work to bolster workplace morale after an internal review revealed that employees are deeply dissatisfied with how the CDAO is being run.
In response to DefenseScoop’s questions, the CDAO spokesperson also stated that upon Pikar’s exit, the office now “has three SES billets that are currently vacant, which we are looking to fill soon.”
That means Martell and Deputy CDAO Margaret Palmieri are currently the only two officials within the hub with SES status.
“We continue to focus on the essential work in the CDAO to ensure we deliver vital capabilities to the joint force,” the spokesperson said.
Updated on Feb. 6, 2024, at 5:35 PM: This story has been updated to include comment from Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Tim Gorman, who said in a Feb. 6 email that a CDAO statement provided to DefenseScoop inaccurately described the role that Sharothi Pikar is transitioning to in the A&S office.