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Is Rumseld Ready to Can Army Secretary Thomas White?

Secretary of the Army Thomas White, the former vice chairman of Enron, may have avoided the scandals that brought down his former colleagues at the one-time energy behemoth, but White’s got bigger problems these days that could make him the latest Bush appointee to be forced out of office just as the nation prepares to go to war with Iraq.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times quoted a senior defense official as saying that White is a “dead man walking” because of his frequent run-ins with his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield.

White has been so tarnished by the Enron scandal and his use of an Army aircraft for personal business that he is a “dead man walking,” the senior defense official told the Times.

Moreover, senior defense officials said this week that Rumsfield still holds a grudge against White for going behind his back and telling members of Congress that the Army supported the now cancelled $11 billion Crusader artillery program, a weapons system that Rumsfield said publicly last year needed to be cancelled so the military could invest in other futuristic weapons systems.

Since then, White has complained that Rumsfield has left him “out of the loop” and barely spends time with him on other ideas White has developed to transform the military, the Times reported.

“That is a sign that you’re on your way out,” one defense official said.

When President Bush appointed White Army Secretary last year, White was promised the ability to make his own autonomous decisions. But over the past seven months, White’s views on how to reform the military are being ignored by Rumsfield, the Times reported.

“The service secretaries were brought in as corporate guys and told they would be given broad discretion with their guidance,” another senior military official told the Times “That’s not what happened. Instead they get these little love notes from Rumsfeld’s office saying $509 million is gone here or there.”

Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have also criticized White for a plan to contract out more than 214,000 military and civilian jobs because it could pose a threat to national security. White decided last October that people in the private sector could perform the jobs of 58,727 military personnel and 154, 910 civilian employees better. The move, which White said would focus more of the military’s resources on national defense, could affect more than one in six Army jobs around the world and follows two earlier waves of privatization over the past 20 years, according to the Washington Post.

The plan has been widely criticized by Army managers that officials were forced to push back a decision until Feb. 20.

A senior defense official said this week that White could be replaced before an all-out war with Iraq begins, although that appears to be highly unlikely. The Washington Post reported in late November that former Congresswoman Tillie Fowler, now a Washington, D.C. lawyer, is the likely candidate to replace White as Army Secretary.

Fowler serves on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board, which provides the Pentagon with independent advice on long-term planning and long- and short-range projects assigned by Rumsfeld. She also was named to Chief of Naval Operations Vernon Clark’s Executive Panel, which advises the Navy’s top-ranking admiral on sea power. Fowler’s name was tossed around in 2000 to head the Navy under President Bush, a post that was assigned to Gordon England. England has been tapped as the deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

David Gilliland, Fowler’s former chief of staff, said no one has approached Fowler about the job. The White House did not acknowledge any plans to search for a new secretary. “We don’t confirm, deny or speculate on future appointments,” White House spokesman Jeanie Mamo said Tuesday.

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

 

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JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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