SOUTH PORTLAND – Sen. Olympia Snowe on Wednesday declined to confirm reports that she has blocked the nomination of Gordon England to the No. 2 Pentagon job because she is frustrated over the Pentagon’s base closure recommendations.
The Wall Street Journal and Defense Daily reported that Snowe, R-Maine, has put a “hold” on England’s nomination to serve as deputy secretary of defense.
President Bush in May designated England to be acting deputy secretary even though the Senate has not approved his nomination. England, formerly secretary of the Navy, would replace Paul Wolfowitz, who quit to become president of the World Bank.
Senate tradition allows senators to place anonymous holds on executive post branch nominations.
The Wall Street Journal wrote on its opinion page Wednesday that Snowe placed the hold on Friday because of the Pentagon’s recommendation that Maine military bases be closed as part of the nationwide reorganization of military facilities.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is evaluating the Pentagon’s recommendations and will issue a report to the president no later than Sept. 8.
In Maine, the Pentagon proposed closing the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the Defense Finance Accounting Service center in Limestone, and scaling back the Brunswick Naval Air Station. The Brunswick base was later added to the closure list.
The paper said Snowe has turned the list into a political issue.
“With a war on, you’d think senators would have an interest in keeping the Pentagon’s top jobs fully staffed,” the newspaper wrote. “But some members – including one from the president’s own party – march to their own tin drummers.”
Defense Daily, a military trade publication, wrote that Sen. John Warner, R-Va., was furious with Snowe and spent half an hour trying to persuade her to lift the hold so England’s nomination could be approved before the Senate’s August recess. Warner is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
At a press briefing after touring a Coast Guard base on Wednesday, Snowe said she wouldn’t comment directly on the reports.
“But let me just say this,” Snowe said. “It’s a range of issues I’m concerned about with respect to the leadership (while at) the Navy and many issues … over the past few years.”
Last spring, England said he favored changing the acquisition strategy for the next-generation DD(X) destroyer by awarding an all-or-nothing contract that could have driven either Maine’s Bath Iron Works or Mississippi’s Ingalls shipyard out of business.
Congress stymied the Pentagon’s efforts, and the Navy is still mulling its options as it tries to reduce costs of the technologically sophisticated ship.
Warner held a press conference Monday recommending that the president use his recess powers to install England and Eric Edelman as undersecretary for policy even without Senate confirmation.
Warner spokesman John Ullyot said Wednesday that the senator believes it’s critical to have a full-time deputy secretary in place during wartime. He declined to comment about any behind-the-scenes hold on England’s nomination.
“We do not comment on procedural maneuvers taken by other senators,” Ullyot said.