June 10, 2008
By Josh White, Washington Post Staff Writer
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday recommended two nominees to the White House to take the top leadership positions in the Air Force, just days after he ousted the service's secretary and chief of staff amid concerns about the security of the nation's nuclear arsenal and other recent shortfalls.
Gates recommended that President Bush nominate Michael B. Donley to take over as secretary of the Air Force and that Gen. Norton A. Schwartz become the top Air Force military officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both moves would put proven managers into critical positions that have recently lost credibility within the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
Donley most recently led Pentagon operations as the Defense Department's director of administration and management. He also has served as an assistant secretary of the Air Force and as acting Air Force secretary for seven months in the early 1990s.
Schwartz, one of the most senior four-star generals in the Air Force, previously served as director of the Joint Staff and most recently led the U.S. Transportation Command, which runs the Pentagon's worldwide transportation operations. He also participated in the 1975 airlift evacuation of Saigon.
Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley resigned last week after military investigators found serious problems with the security of the nation's nuclear weapons.
In addition to an Air Force bomber wing losing track of nuclear warheads and flying them unknowingly between North Dakota and Louisiana in 2007, the Air Force and the Defense Logistics Agency mistakenly sent secret nuclear nose cone fuses to Taiwan. The service has also been embroiled in contracting scandals, including the recent revelation that a $50 million contract for the Thunderbirds air show was rigged to favor a retired four-star general and a civilian businessman with ties to top Air Force officials. The Air Force and the Pentagon have also clashed over the service's desire for more F-22 fighter jets.
"Mike Donley, General Schwartz and the new Air Force leadership team have the qualifications, skill and commitment to excellence necessary to guide the Air Force through this transition and beyond," Gates said in a statement.
Schwartz would be the first Air Force chief of staff in nearly 50 years to take the position without experience as a fighter or bomber pilot. His nomination could indicate Gates's desire to remove fighter-jet culture from the top ranks of the Air Force, as he has said that the services should focus on counterinsurgency warfare and shed Cold War mind-sets. The F-22 debate, for example, highlights the Air Force's desire to have a more agile fighter to go up against major world powers; Gates has pointed out that the F-22 has not flown a single mission in Iraq.
Gates also recommended that Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, the current vice chief, take Schwartz's job at the U.S. Transportation Command and that Lt. Gen. William M. Fraser III -- currently the assistant to Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- be vice chief.
One former defense official said the recommendations show that Gates wants to move beyond the disagreements over fighter-jet acquisitions and focus on broader issues.