WASHINGTON – In an unorthodox move, the Senate has confirmed the appointment of Donald Winter as Navy secretary, but he won't formally take over until the current secretary's stalled promotion is cleared in an expected recess appointment by President Bush.
Two senators have blocked Navy Secretary Gordon England's confirmation as deputy defense secretary, the Pentagon's second-highest position, creating a logjam in the department's hierarchy. But senators indicated Thursday that Bush will bypass the Senate and install England as deputy secretary within the next four months. He has been serving as acting deputy secretary, and will continue to do that.
The recess appointment would clear the way for Winter, the former corporate vice president of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, to be formally sworn in as the Navy's top civilian official. Winter will not be sworn in until England moves up, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka said Friday.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who has urged Bush to make recess appointments to fill wartime vacancies at the Pentagon, assured the Senate that this is a temporary situation, and does not set a precedent for other similar shuffles.
"To me, the advice and consent process is a very precise obligation of the Senate," Warner said during debate on the Senate floor. "This type of action is taken in this case because it is my understanding that the president will make a recess appointment within 120 days."
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., both have holds on England's confirmation, which has been contested primarily over shipbuilding concerns and potential conflict-of-interest issues surrounding pensions he holds from defense companies.
England must continue in his Navy post in order to be eligible for the deputy position.