WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates is likely to recommend on Monday somoene to fill one of two fresh job opening at the Air Force's top level, FOX News has learned.
FOX reported Thursday that Mike Donley, Pentagon director of administration and management, was likely to be named as Air Force secretary. Donley is a close adviser to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and has top-level business management experience as well. More sources confirmed that report Friday.
Donley would take the job being vacated by Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, who along with Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley, were forced to resign Thursday following the results of a military investigation into four nuclear fuses sent to Taiwan this spring.
That investigation, coupled with an accidental cross-country shipment last year of nuclear weapons by an Air Force bomber, cost the top two Air Force leaders their jobs, Gates said Thursday.
Gates announced the findings of the report regarding the Taiwan shipments and said there has been an "erosion of performance standards" and there are "systemic weaknesses" in the Air Force's nuclear arsenal program.
As a result, Gates said he consulted with the president and asked Wynne — the service's top civilian leader — and Moseley — the top uniformed leader — to step down. Sources told FOX News they were given the option Thursday either to resign or to be fired.
Gates did not announce who would replace the officials, but said he would submit his recommendations shortly.
Gates also said he has asked former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger to head a panel to make recommendations over the next four months.
Gates had earlier publicly identified a number of problems recently with the Air Force, including last year's accidental flight of nuclear weapons on a B-52 bomber from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. But it was the accidental shipment of nuclear fuses to Taiwan that triggered the report that Gates discussed Thursday. The report was overseen by Air Force Adm. Kirkland Donald.
While no one's health or safety was put at risk by either incident, and there was no indication that the fuses sent to Taiwan were comprimised while they were out of U.S. control, Gates said the Taiwan "incident represents a significant failure to ensure the security of sensitive military components. And more troubling, it depicts a pattern of poor performance that was highlighted to us following last year's incident" in August.
Gates singled out the "declining Air Force nuclear mission focus," and said that had personnel adhered to existing rules, both incidents could have been prevented.
Gates said that some of the problems identified in the report go back as far as 10 years, but he signaled his irritation when he said that in addition to making the mistakes, Air Force officials declined to make changes to fix the problem. And when it was beyond their authority to do so, they did not bring the problems to the attention of their superiors.
He said Donald's report identified a "substantial number" of personnel who could face disciplinary measures — ranging from removal of command to reprimand — but will leave it up to the next Air Force chief of staff and secretary to determine what measures will be meted out.
Gates also recently spoke at Air University at Maxwell AFB in Alabama describing the Air Force's sluggishness to step up its force readiness. And sources said that the Air Force also has drawn criticism for back-channel dealings to gain equipment on Capitol Hill that had been denied by Gates.
Sources told FOX that Moseley's ties to contract problems over the Air Force Thunderbird air show also raised concerns. In an investigation into that matter, Moseley was not singled out for blame, but the investigation laid out a trail of communications from him and other Air Force leaders that eventually influenced the 2005 contract award. Included in that were friendly e-mails between Moseley and an executive in the company that won the bid, according to The Associated Press.
Gates on Thursday did not refer to any other matters aside from the nuclear arsenal problems that led to his decision to release Moseley and Wynne.
Gates' announcement drew immediate reaction from Capitol Hill.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin praised Gates' decision, saying, "The safety and security of America's nuclear weapons must receive the highest priority, just as it must in other countries.
"The Secretary took appropriate action following the reports of the Defense Science Board, the Air Force's own internal review, and now most recently, the report of Admiral (Kirkland) Donald showing that the underlying security of our nuclear weapons has been degraded," Levin said, adding that he expressed gratitude for Wynne and Moseley's service, "and I wish them well."
And Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who sits on Levin's committee, also had good words for the decision.
"With nuclear weapons, there is no room for error; there is no room for less than full accountability," Warner said. Acknowledging that Gates had lost confidence in his subordinates, he added: "The nation is fortunate to have a secretary of defense with the depth of experience, the sense of fairness and the strength of his convictions to make the toughest of decisions."
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, called the resignations "a drastic step," bus added "there must be a number of steps that Secretary Gates must be concerned about with the Air Force."
"I think with the most recent review that we did with our nuclear weapons, whenever there's a concern for security, action has to be taken. There is no margin of error when you talk about security of nuclear weapons," Turner said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the resignations "raise new red flags about procurement and oversight within the Air Force," and said she is concerned about a decision that awarded a new Air Force in-flight refueling tanker contract to a partnership between U.S.-based Northrup Grumman and Europe-based EADS.
"The American people deserve real answers about what happened within the Air Force and why this decision was made before $35 billion of taxpayer money is shipped overseas. I hope with new leadership and oversight we get those answers," Murray said.
The resignations were apparently orchestrated by Gates' office, with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen this morning telling Moseley of his option either to resign or to be fired, and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England giving the same options to Wynne. England traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to deliver the message personally to Wynne.
Press secretary Dana Perino said President Bush knew about the resignations but that the White House "has not played any role" in the shake-up.
Moseley became Air Force chief in September 2005; Wynne took office in November 2005.
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin and Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.