- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

A consultant who helped Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hire top civilians in 2001 is back at the Pentagon, an indication, defense sources say, that Mr. Rumsfeld plans a major personnel shake-up in the coming months.
Consultant Stephen Herbits, who is openly homosexual, spent a stormy few months at the Pentagon last winter. He was criticized by religious conservatives for his pro-homosexual views. He locked horns with incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, when he refused to recommend hiring a former Lott staffer.
After leaving the Pentagon, Mr. Herbits in July told the Advocate, a newsmagazine for homosexuals, that Mr. Lott was "corrupt." He said Mr. Lott brought the Senate confirmation process of Defense positions to a standstill as retaliation for not hiring the former aide.
"To me, it was just a staggering abuse of power," he told Advocate writer Chris Bull. "Lott was wrong and corrupt and was willing to jeopardize national security for personal political gain."
A spokesman for Mr. Lott declined to comment yesterday.
In the same interview, Mr. Herbits, a Miami Beach resident, criticized President Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for failing to meet with him over an anti-gay rights referendum on the 2002 ballot. The referendum ultimately failed.
"I was so offended that I went to Rumsfeld and said, 'I have to go home because I have to protect my kids from the president's brother,'" the Advocate quoted Mr. Herbits as saying. The publication wrote that Mr. Rumsfeld asked, "Your kids?" Mr. Herbits said, "Not my birth kids, but my kids who are struggling with their sexual orientation and have no one to take care of them."
A person in Mr. Herbits' Pentagon office said he was traveling this week and unavailable for comment.
Mr. Herbits, a 60-year-old former Seagram executive, advocates a strong military. Most of the civilians he screened and approved in 2001 are hawks, taking a hard line on China, Iraq and North Korea. He worked under Mr. Rumsfeld three decades ago in the Ford administration and has advised a number of Republican administrations on key recruits.
He helped Mr. Rumsfeld pick the current three service secretaries, as well as other senior posts. The Pentagon has about 130 positions that require White House approval.
Through all the criticism in 2001, Mr. Herbits enjoyed the confidence of Mr. Rumsfeld, who has now brought him back to make new personnel decisions, according to interviews with senior defense officials.
"They want to start all over," said one defense source, predicting new personnel will enter the Pentagon next year at the administration's two-year point.
This source and two other officials said Mr. Herbits is looking at replacements for the three service secretaries, as well as other posts.
Retired Vice Adm. M. Staser Holcomb, a longtime Rumsfeld adviser, has also returned to the Pentagon, where he screened senior officers in 2001. Sources say he is interviewing candidates for promotion to senior ranks.
Pentagon officials say the return of Mr. Herbits and Adm. Staser is a sure sign that major personnel changes lie ahead.
Navy Secretary Gordon England is slated to become deputy secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security.
Defense sources said yesterday that Army Secretary Thomas White and Air Force Secretary James Roche may also leave in coming months.
"They kind of think they were recruited under false pretenses," said a military source. "Roche, White and England are a bit frustrated because it's a 'my way or the highway' type atmosphere."
This is a reference to Mr. Rumsfeld's management style. At times, he and his staff resort to confrontation and edicts as they carry out the president's order to transform the military.
Mr. White, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and retired one-star Army general, was thought to be in trouble earlier this year because of his former position as a top Enron executive.
But Pentagon officials believe he performed well at a Senate hearing at which Democrats accused him of questionable activities but offered no proof of wrongdoing. He has since engaged in internal Pentagon debates on the 2004 budget.
Mr. White may emerge from the debate saving some of the Army's top projects, such as the Comanche helicopter, from the ax. Officials also said Mr. White is well liked by his most important constituents soldiers.
Mr. Herbits has opened an office not far from Mr. Rumsfeld's E Ring suite.
"Mr. Herbits is a temporary consultant to the Department of Defense, assisting the Office of the Secretary on organizational and personnel matters," said Bryan Whitman, deputy chief spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld.
"He served as Secretary Rumsfeld's special assistant during his first tour at the Pentagon and has well served other secretaries of defense over many years. He has extensive experience in DoD and has made many useful contributions to our national defense. His advice on the matters where he assists the department is excellent, and the secretary values his help."
In the Advocate interview, Mr. Herbits accused Gov. Bush of "pandering to the right wing" for not meeting with him on the anti-homosexual rights referendum.
He explained the disagreement with Mr. Lott:
"Lott had a candidate for a job. I interviewed the candidate and found that he was not qualified. I told the candidate something to that effect. It was clear that the candidate was applying only to protect one of the shipyards in Lott's state. That's not the kind of appointment I can recommend. It's contrary to good government.
"Lott called [Mr. Rumsfeld] and told him he was offended by my conduct. The secretary called me in and told me that while he supported me, he wondered whether I couldn't have found a more diplomatic way of expressing my concern."


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