Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Senior senators are unhappy with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s decision to bypass an ex-Senate aide and Army veteran for the post of Army secretary and instead pick a corporate figure.

The senators have backed acting-Army Secretary Les Brownlee for the prestigious post. Mr. Brownlee is a former Senate committee director, decorated Vietnam War veteran and retired colonel who has run the Army since May 2003. That month, Mr. Rumsfeld fired Army Secretary Thomas White, who, like Mr. Brownlee, is an ex-Army officer and Vietnam War hero.

Mr. Rumsfeld saw Mr. White as too close to the service’s uniform side, which has resisted the defense secretary’s style of transformation.

Mr. Rumsfeld and the White House have decided to skip over Mr. Brownlee and nominate Francis J. Harvey, 60, a longtime corporate figure in the defense industry who lives in Silicon Valley.

Congressional aides said several senators are miffed at the decision, specifically mentioning Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, for whom Mr. Brownlee worked as staff director; and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

Congressional sources said Mr. Stevens had talked to Mr. Rumsfeld before the decision was made and endorsed Mr. Brownlee for the job. Mr. Stevens felt snubbed by Mr. Rumsfeld, the sources said.

“Senior members of the Senate called Rumsfeld and told him that they endorsed Les Brownlee. They are disappointed,” a congressional aide said.

Stevens spokeswoman Courtney Schikora said, “Senator Stevens has had a significant relationship with Les Brownlee and has the utmost confidence in him, and did have conversations with Secretary Rumsfeld about him and did express his positive sentiment about Les Brownlee in those conversations.”

Asked about the reactions of the senators, Rumsfeld spokesman Larry Di Rita said, “I think everybody here is well aware that Secretary Brownlee is well regarded on the Hill … When you look at the amount of time left in the congressional session, there are only a handful of options available and people are examining those options to get someone in the position as soon as possible.”

Mr. Rumsfeld is said to be wary of selecting another ex-soldier because of his experience with Mr. White.

Mr. Rumsfeld also has a history of hiring corporate figures who he thinks will run the services like an efficient business operation. His Navy secretary, Gordon England, came from General Dynamics Corp. His Air Force secretary, James Roche, was a Northrop Grumman Corp. executive.

Some congressional aides are beginning to see this requirement as an unfair “litmus test.”

“This is the very thing I thought Republicans didn’t stand for,” said a senior congressional aide.

Mr. Brownlee’s backers point out that he had proved he can do the job during a 14-month stint as acting secretary. And, as a holder of a Silver Star and Purple Heart, he has the war record to lead a service that is doing the bulk of the fighting in the war on terrorism.

The White House has not yet formally nominated Mr. Harvey to the Senate. But administration officials say he is the choice. The White House had nominated Mr. Harvey in December to be the next assistant secretary of defense for network and information integration.

But his and other civilian appointments have languished in the Senate, because of a dispute between Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and the administration over a deal to lease refueling jets from Boeing Co.

Pentagon officials said Mr. Rumsfeld picked Mr. Harvey to bring long-term stability to a post that has gone vacant for months. Mr. Rumsfeld originally nominated Mr. Roche, but withdrew the name after it got held up in the Senate logjam.

The Pentagon thinking is that because Mr. Harvey already has been approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee for the assistant secretary job, he should win quick confirmation for the Army post.

Yet, that scenario seems in doubt, as some aides say Mr. Harvey may receive more scrutiny from the committee, a process that could put a vote off until after the presidential election.

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