WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld intends to pick Air Force Secretary James Roche, the service's top civilian official, as the next Army secretary, defense officials said Friday.
Roche would replace Tom White, whom Rumsfeld fired last Friday after two years as Army secretary.
The Roche switch has not been announced. It was first reported Thursday night by InsideDefense.com, a Web site, and was confirmed Friday by officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
Roche, who has been Air Force secretary since June 1, 2001, is a former senior executive at defense industry giant Northrop Grumman Corp. He has gained a reputation in the Pentagon as a strong leader and advocate for the kinds of business reforms and military modernization favored by Rumsfeld.
In announcing last week that White had submitted his resignation, Rumsfeld offered no reason for his departure and said the timing was not yet set. White had been in conflict with Rumsfeld over numerous issues, including a high-priority Army artillery program that Rumsfeld chose to cancel.
White reached an understanding with Rumsfeld that he would depart June 11, close to the retirement date of the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki. But earlier this week Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz informed White that his departure had been accelerated to May 9, officials said.
It was unclear Friday how Rumsfeld intends to implement Roche's switch. Roche has not yet been formally nominated by President Bush; he could be named acting Army secretary upon White's departure, or Rumsfeld could have the current No. 2 civilian in the Army, Les Brownlee, fill the top post until Roche is confirmed by the Senate.
If Roche were made acting Army secretary in May, then the No. 2 Air Force civilian, Peter Teets, could becoming acting Air Force secretary until a permanent replacement is nominated and confirmed.
The Washington Post reported in Friday's editions that Rumsfeld is contemplating promoting the three officers who commanded the Air Force, Army and Navy components in the war against Iraq and nominating them to become the next vice chiefs of staff of their respective services. They are Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley, and Navy Vice Adm. Thomas J. Keating.