WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared on a collision course Monday with Army Secretary Thomas White over Rumsfeld's plan to cancel the $11 billion Crusader artillery system.
Officials close to both men, speaking on condition of anonymity, said White could be forced out, although he told aides Monday he did not intend to resign.
The outcome could be apparent as early as Tuesday, when the Army's chief investigator is due to report to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on the circumstances under which Army officials contacted members of Congress last week after Wolfowitz told White that Crusader would be canceled.
The allegation is that Army officials were disloyal to Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld by encouraging members of Congress to fight to save Crusader, an advanced artillery system due to be fielded in 2008.
Rumsfeld aides have implied that even if White did not order the contacts with Congress — or even have knowledge of them — he, as the Army's top civilian official, is indirectly responsible. White told aides Monday morning that resigning was not an option, at least not before Wolfowitz gets the investigation report.
In White's view, Crusader is indispensable to protecting soldiers in close combat. Aides said he gave no indication he intended to soften his stance. Rumsfeld appeared equally determined to kill Crusader, although he faces a tough battle in Congress, where there is considerable support for Crusader.
Wolfowitz informed White last Tuesday that Crusader would be canceled and that the Army should produce a report within 30 days spelling out options for spending the $475 million that had been earmarked for Crusader in President Bush's proposed 2003 defense budget on alternative technologies.
"Some time after" Wolfowitz did that, Army officials sent faxes and "talking points" to congressional offices that undermined Rumsfeld's position, Rumsfeld spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Friday.
"When a decision has been reached, people are expected to support it," she added, referring to Army leaders.
White has declined public comment on the situation.
For weeks White has been under political pressure as a result of contacts with Enron Corp. officials during the company's collapse last year. White had headed Enron Energy Services, a subsidiary, before he became Army secretary. White is a retired general and a decorated Vietnam veteran.
White also is under investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general for his handling of personal business matters on trips involving Army jets.