WASHINGTON - Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, whose nomination to head the Army had been stalled in Congress since summer over a controversial $27-billion deal with Boeing
Co. and an Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal, withdrew his name Wednesday from consideration for the post.
The 23-year Navy veteran and former Northrop Grumman
Corp. official had been handpicked by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to take the Army's top civilian position, but his nomination languished in the Senate Armed Services Committee -- primarily because of resistance by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who criticized as improper and wasteful the costly air tanker leasing arrangement with Boeing
that Roche had supported.
The nomination also was held up while the committee awaited a Pentagon inspector general's review of how Air Force leaders, including Roche, responded to allegations of rape and sexual assault at the academy. The investigation is ongoing.
While the failure to place his top pick in the Army post was a disappointment to Rumsfeld, aides said, it opened the way for President Bush to nominate acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee -- a longtime Senate aide with strong support on Capitol Hill.
The decision by Roche is not viewed as a repudiation of Rumsfeld's goals of transforming the Army. Even as the nomination languished, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the service's new chief of staff, has overseen sweeping changes in how the Army does business.
"Given the range of issues before the Senate in a busy legislative year, I accept that my nomination is unlikely to be considered," Roche said in a statement. "In the interest of the Department of Defense, I decided it was best that I withdraw from further consideration."
Roche said he would remain in his job as the top civilian in the Air Force.
Rumsfeld said of Roche's decision: "Jim Roche has served ably as secretary of the Air Force, and would have been a first-rate secretary of the Army. I look forward to continuing to work with him."
Roche was asked to head the Army after Rumsfeld forced out Secretary Thomas White for trying to circumvent his decision to kill an $11-billion artillery system, the Crusader. Praised for his business acumen, Roche initially was expected to win speedy confirmation by the Senate.
But the panel refused to act on Roche's nomination until the Pentagon's inspector general finished an investigation.
The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was shaken last year by revelations that dozens of female cadets had been raped or assaulted -- and that they were ignored or, in some cases, punished when they reported the attacks.
Since then, defense officials have indicated they are looking into other sexual assault complaints in the Air Force and throughout the military.
While the details of the Boeing
tanker deal are sketchy, questions were raised on Capitol Hill last year, with McCain saying the agreement amounted to corporate welfare.
Congressional critics called the deal, under which the Air Force would lease planes from Boeing
to use as aerial refueling tankers, a waste of money. It would have cost $5 billion less to buy the planes outright.
It was revealed that the company's former chief financial officer, Michael Sears, had improperly discussed a possible job with senior Air Force procurement officer Darleen Druyun when she was in a position to influence the deal.
Druyun later was hired as deputy general manager of Boeing's missile defense systems unit; both she and Sears were fired late last year. Boeing's chief executive, Phil Condit, resigned in December.
The inspector general reviewed the deal, and Rumsfeld ordered additional inquiries, including one by the Pentagon's general counsel.
"That was the 800-pound gorilla in the room and it was just not going to go away," one Senate aide said. "[Roche's] decision to withdraw is tied to that, and not to Rumsfeld's original goals with regard to the Army."