- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld looked forward to a fresh start this year in getting the Senate to approve his handpicked staff.

A dispute last year with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, largely was pushed aside when Air Force officials conceded that he was right and that they were wrong on scandal-ridden Boeing tanker lease negotiations.

Michael W. Wynne, a Pentagon official Mr. McCain opposed as weapons-acquisition chief last year, sailed through the Senate recently as Air Force secretary.

But 2005 has not turned out to be the breakthrough year for Mr. Rumsfeld.

His deputy secretary remains “acting.” Two senior policy advisers got their seatings only through recess appointments by President Bush.

Mr. Rumsfeld has tried twice to win approval of a chief spokesman, but both times ran into trouble.

“It’s just business as usual,” said a frustrated senior administration official who asked not to be named. “In a time of war, in the department leading the war on terrorism, it is unconscionable.”

When Mr. Rumsfeld was asked in September about Washington not being in sync to fight the global war, the secretary responded, in part, by talking about Congress. “It took — I don’t know — what, 18 months to get approval to get an assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense? About that, I think … it just takes some time,” he said.

Most anger at the Pentagon is directed at Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Levin has been conducting an investigation into Iraq prewar intelligence assessments at the Pentagon. He has requested reams of confidential documents, some of which the Pentagon says do not exist.

In what one official calls “extortion,” Mr. Levin has pressured the Pentagon by blocking the nominations of former Ambassador Eric Edelman to be undersecretary of policy and Peter Flory to be his top deputy on European security matters. As the impasse hardened, Mr. Bush resorted to recess appointments.

Mr. Levin’s press office did not respond to questions.

Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England may yet travel the recess appointment route as his nomination languishes in the Senate.

Two Republicans from shipbuilding states — Trent Lott of Mississippi and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine — have placed “holds” on the nomination because of what the two consider anti-industry decisions he made as Navy secretary.

Mr. England still holds the Navy post, as he awaits confirmation of Donald C. Winter to succeed him.

Pentagon officials are beginning to think Mr. England will never win confirmation and are examining other avenues. To keep the “acting” title, he must have some other underpinning position. Once Mr. Winter takes office, Mr. England may be recess appointed to some senior executive service post that would let him keep the “acting” title as deputy chairman, said the senior administration official.

John Ullyot, spokesman for Senate Armed Services Chairman John W. Warner, said the Virginia Republican “has worked very hard to confirm as many nominations to critical positions as possible, including recommending a recess appointment for Secretary England and others.”

Then there comes the fate of Dorrance Smith, the former broadcast executive who led efforts to set up a government television station in Baghdad.

Mr. Rumsfeld wants Mr. Smith to be the voice of the Pentagon as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. But again, Mr. Levin has stepped in the way, threatening to block a Senate vote over an op-ed Mr. Smith wrote in the Wall Street Journal criticizing American TV networks for using video of terrorists killing Americans that first appeared on the Arab-language Al Jazeera network.

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