WASHINGTON – Army Secretary Thomas White, who has been at odds with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over means of modernizing the Army, resigned Friday.
A brief Pentagon statement announcing the resignation gave no reason for White's decision. In the statement, Rumsfeld thanked White for his "long and able service to the country."
Rumsfeld said that White's departure date had not yet been determined.
White's office had no immediate comment on the resignation.
His departure portends a major shake-up in Army leadership. The top uniformed Army officer, Gen. Eric Shinseki, is due to finish his term as Army chief of staff in June. No replacement has been nominated by President Bush yet.
Speculation that White would leave his post has circulated widely for many months, but there appeared to be no recent event or conflict that prompted him to submit his resignation on Friday, one senior official said.
White, 59, became engaged in a public dispute with Rumsfeld last year over the defense secretary's proposal to cancel the Crusader artillery project, which White said was vital to the Army's future. Rumsfeld decided it was not suited for wars of the future and eventually canceled the program.
That was one of several areas of tension between Army leaders and Rumsfeld, who also has questioned the Army's plans to invest in the Stryker, a wheeled combat vehicle that is a prototype replacement for the tank.
The Army had considered the Crusader a key to its strategy for modernizing U.S. land forces and transforming them to a lighter, more mobile force. The Crusader was a 155mm self-propelled howitzer that had undergone initial tests of its firing capabilities and was scheduled to enter service in 2008.
Rumsfeld was disturbed that the Army's Office of Legislative Affairs had sought to fight the planned cancellation by preparing talking points for members of Congress to lobby for Crusader. When that matter became public, it appeared White was in danger of losing his job, but he stayed on.
White also became embroiled in a controversy over his former role as an executive with Enron Corp., the scandal-ridden energy trading company.
In testimony before a Senate panel last July, White repeatedly said he had played no part in manipulating California energy prices and knew nothing of other improprieties while he helped run an Enron subsidiary, Enron Energy Services.
At that hearing, White was questioned about trading strategies in California's electricity market detailed in December 2000 Enron memos. The memos described several schemes that critics say took advantage of California's power crisis, including one that involved White's Enron Energy Services.
EES had long-term contracts to provide power to retail customers in California and other states. One Enron strategy called for using inflated estimates of how much power EES customers needed to show congestion in California's electricity grid -- thereby driving up the price of power supplied by Enron's wholesale power divisions.
White testified that he was unaware of the strategies and memos until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made them public in 2002. He said the ploys would have hurt his subsidiary by driving up power costs that EES could not pass on to its customers.
White worked for Enron from 1990 to 2001.
In an interview in March 2002, amid the Enron controversy, White said he would give up his post should the federal investigation into Enron distract him from his duties in the war on terrorism.
"I thought I could do something good for soldiers and their families," White said. "That is my focus. If I ever get to a point where that's no longer possible, it doesn't make any sense to stay when somebody else could do a better job."
White is a Vietnam veteran and was trained as an armor officer. He became Army secretary on May 31, 2001.
The Army secretary's responsibilities by law are for all matters relating to Army personnel, reserve affairs, installations, environmental issues, weapons systems development and financial management.
None of the three service secretaries is in the military chain of command.
White is a 1967 graduate of West Point. He rose to the rank of brigadier general before retiring from the Army in July 1990.