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Senate Delays on Nominations Present Challenges to DoD

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2005 – The Defense Department's top spokesman expressed frustration last week over a slow Senate confirmation process that he said is causing challenges within the department.

The Senate's confirmation of Donald Winter as secretary of the Navy Nov. 10 while Gordon England still holds the job has caused "a little bit of a collision of positions that we are working through," Lawrence Di Rita told reporters that day.

Winter can't yet move into the position because it's still being held by England, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as deputy defense secretary.

England has served as Navy secretary since Oct. 1, 2003, his second time holding the post. Meanwhile, President Bush nominated him last August as deputy defense secretary to replace the outgoing Paul Wolfowitz. England has served as acting deputy secretary since May 13 while awaiting Senate confirmation.

The situation "is requiring us to be creative in a way that we did not want to have to be creative," Di Rita told reporters.

He expressed frustration over congressional foot-dragging on nominees to key positions, particularly during wartime when the Defense Department needs these individuals' contributions.

"It is unfortunate, and it isn't necessary," Di Rita said of the delays. "The people nominated are eminently qualified people. Nobody has addressed their qualifications. It all has to do with other, unrelated issues, and it's unfortunate."

The Defense Department is working closely with the Senate leadership to help move the process forward, he said. President Bush made recess appointments to two key DoD positions, Di Rita noted, but said it isn't clear at this point if he will take similar action to resolve the current stalemate. Bush named Eric Edelman as undersecretary of defense for policy and Peter Flory as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy in August during Congress' summer recess.

"If the president determines that a recess appointment is appropriate, then the president will make a recess appointment," Di Rita said. "But at the moment, we're still hopeful that ... Secretary Winter can become the secretary of the Navy and Gordon England can become the deputy (secretary of defense)."

The constitution authorizes the president to make recess appointments, but those appointees can serve only until the next Congress is seated. That will happen in January 2007.

"That is no way to run a department of this size, but that's, unfortunately, the situation we're dealt with," Di Rita said.

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