By Emelie Rutherford
Despite the objection of Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), the Senate last Friday officially confirmed Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, outgoing head of U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), as air service chief of staff.
Meanwhile, the nomination of Michael Donley as Air Force secretary–a position the former Pentagon director of administration and management has held in an acting capacity since June 21–is stalled, and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), has said she will block his confirmation vote in the full Senate over concerns including the service’s troubled aerial refueling tanker competition.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sought and received unanimous consent last Friday afternoon in the Senate for confirming the nominations of Schwartz and of Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb, as new TRANSCOM leader, along with additional military picks. Yet Reid said Webb would’ve voted against Schwartz if a roll call vote was held. Webb voted against Schwartz’s nomination during the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) vote last Thursday, which followed several days of classified meetings exploring members’ concerns about Schwartz and McNabb.
Webb is not happy with testimony Schwartz provided, when the general was Joint Staff director of operations, to senators in 2003 during the early phases of the war in Iraq.
"This is an individual who, in an earlier billet, at a key time just after the invasion of Iraq was asked repeatedly to give answers to a question for which I personally believe there were answers," Webb said on the Senate floor last Thursday, explaining why he would not support Schwartz’s nomination.
SASC members have been concerned about Schwartz’s past testimony regarding ammunition caches in Iraq, according to published reports and sources.
Webb said last Thursday that as young Marine he was told "it’s very important in the United States to get the politics out of the military and to keep the military out of politics," and therefore, "we need to insist that those military officers who testify before the congress abide by" that rule.
At the SASC level, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also voted against both Schwartz and McNabb.
The timing of Schwartz and McNabb’s confirmations was important. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley, who was forced to leave his post June 5 following nuclear-weapons mishaps, retired as of Aug. 1.
Donley, meanwhile, can in the least continue serving as Air Force secretary in the acting capacity. Congress won’t return from a five-week recess until the second week of September.
The SASC has not yet voted on Donley’s nomination.
Cantwell, who is not on the SASC, last week sent Defense Secretary Robert Gates a letter saying she will put a hold on Donley’s nomination partially because of the tanker matter. She has been supportive of Boeing [BA], which protested the Air Force’s tanker contract award to a Northrop Grumman [NOC]- European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS) team, spurring a Government Accountability Office recommendation for a new competition. The Pentagon has announced it will issue a new solicitation. Cantwell is concerned about how the new competition will be carried out, and has additional concerns about the service and Pentagon.