WASHINGTON – Air Force Secretary James Roche (search) resigned Tuesday and the Senate confirmed defense industry executive Francis J. Harvey (search) as secretary of the Army, the service's top civilian post.
The roll call vote on Harvey was 85 to 12, capping a long and convoluted series of moves that began when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fired Thomas White (search) from the Army secretary job in May 2003 and initially asked Roche to give up his Air Force post to replace White.
Roche was nominated for the Army post, but got caught up in a series of controversies and conflicts with members of Congress over Air Force contracting decisions and other issues. He withdrew his nomination last spring, and remained as secretary of the Air Force.
Harvey was nominated two months ago, but his Senate confirmation vote was put off until after the Nov. 2 elections.
It was widely expected that Roche would leave the Air Force before President Bush began a second term.
In a brief statement, the Pentagon said Roche had informed Rumsfeld in early October "of his intention to complete his service at the end of the first Bush administration."
The statement gave no more specific reason for Roche's departure.
Roche issued a brief statement saying, "We have successfully met many pressing national security issues facing the nation and the Air Force, especially in the global war on terrorism."
Roche did not mention why he decided to leave. A spokesman, Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, said the White House had not pressured Rumsfeld to seek Roche's departure.
"He leaves the Air Force now so that his resignation may free up nominations of Air Force general officers that have been on hold in Congress," DeFrank said. Some of those hamstrung nominations are connected to investigations into sexual harassment at the Air Force Academy.
Roche was an executive at Northrop Grumman Corp. (search) before becoming Air Force secretary in 2001.
"Jim Roche has led the Air Force during an important period in history," Rumsfeld said in a written statement issued at the Pentagon.
There was no immediate word on a likely successor. The Pentagon said Roche planned to leave Jan. 20, 2005 or sooner in the unlikely event that the Senate confirms a successor by then.
Navy Secretary Gordon England has not said whether he intends to remain for a second Bush term.
Separately, the White House withdrew the nomination of Lawrence Di Rita (search) to be assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, to replace Victoria Clarke, who resigned for personal reasons in June 2003.
Di Rita's nomination was submitted to the Senate on Nov. 21, 2003, but was not acted on because of a dispute between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the Pentagon over an Air Force leasing deal with Boeing Co.
Pending Senate action on his nomination, Di Rita for the past year has performed the duties of chief spokesman for the Pentagon. He is one of Rumsfeld's closest advisers, and it was unclear Tuesday whether he intended to remain at the Pentagon during a second Bush administration.
Di Rita, traveling with Rumsfeld in Ecuador on Tuesday, told reporters he wasn't leaving immediately and had no specific plans. He suggested he withdrew his nomination because did not intend to hold the position over the long term.
Harvey, 59, replaces Thomas White, who was fired by Rumsfeld on May 9, 2003, after a series of disputes over the scope and pace of the Army's force modernization. Since then the Army's No. 2 civilian official, Les Brownlee (search), has served as the acting Army secretary.
During the floor debate on Harvey's nomination, Democrats and Republicans praised Brownlee's stewardship during a tumultuous period for the Army, which is stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brownlee served as the stand-in secretary for more than 550 days -- longer than anyone in the history of the Army.
Brownlee, who had a 22-year career in the Army and retired at the rank of colonel in 1984, said in an Associated Press interview last week that Rumsfeld had told him he preferred to have a businessman as Army secretary. Brownlee also spent 18 years on Capitol Hill as a Senate staffer.
Harvey was lauded by his Republican backers for his credentials in the defense industry.
"I'm confident he has the right skills and experience," said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.
Harvey is vice chairman of Duratek Inc. (search), a Maryland-based company that specializes in treating radioactive, hazardous and other wastes. Previously, he worked for Westinghouse Electric Corp. for nearly three decades and was president of Westinghouse's defense and electronics systems group.
Harvey earned a doctorate in metallurgy and material sciences from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor of science at the University of Notre Dame in metallurgy engineering and material science.