WASHINGTON – President Bush says he will nominate New Mexico oilman Colin R. McMillan to be the next secretary of the Navy and, in an unorthodox move, has decided to switch James Roche (search) from his current post as secretary of the Air Force to the equivalent Army job.
Both moves have been widely reported in recent days. The White House made them official Wednesday by announcing that Bush intended to submit the McMillan and Roche nominations to the Senate for confirmation.
Roche, who has served as the top Air Force civilian official since June 1, 2001, would replace Army Secretary Thomas White (search), whom Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fired on April 25.
White is due to leave Friday. During the period after White leaves and before Roche is confirmed, the undersecretary of the Army, Les Brownlee, is expected to serve as acting secretary.
White, a Vietnam veteran, became Army secretary May 31, 2001. He ran afoul of Rumsfeld on a number of modernization issues, most notably White's support for the Crusader artillery program, canceled by Rumsfeld. White also was burdened by controversy over his former role as an executive with a subsidiary of Enron Corp., the scandal-ridden energy trading company.
Roche, a former senior executive at defense industry company Northrop Grumman Corp., gained a reputation in the Pentagon as a strong leader and advocate for the kinds of business reforms and military modernization favored by Rumsfeld.
Until his confirmation for the Army job, Roche will remain as Air Force secretary. No one has been nominated as Roche's replacement at the Air Force, but officials said Wednesday that a leading candidate is Barbara McConnell Barrett, a former Federal Aviation Administration official.
Before joining Northrop Grumman in 1984, Roche was the Democratic staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee. He served 23 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of captain in 1983. He earned a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1972.
McMillan, 67, of Roswell, N.M., runs Permian Exploration Corp., (search) and was chairman of Bush's New Mexico presidential campaign in 2000. He served in the Marine Corps from 1957-72 and was an assistant defense secretary in the early 1990s when Vice President Dick Cheney was the defense secretary.
McMillan ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1994 against Democrat Jeff Bingaman.
The Navy has not had a permanent secretary since Gordon England left in January to become deputy secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security. Hansford T. Johnson has served as acting secretary since Feb. 7. It was not clear Wednesday whether Johnson, a retired Air Force general, will return to his former post as an assistant Navy secretary after McMillan is confirmed by the Senate.
McMillan was born in Texas and graduated from the University of North Carolina. He served in the Marines in active duty from 1957 to 1962, when he switched to the Marine Corps Reserve.