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Robert Gates: holding ’em accountable

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in Firing,Human Resources

By forcing top military and civilian leaders to resign this spring, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates showed that he’ll hold people accountable for fixing serious problems.

In June, Gates fired the U.S. Air Force’s top civilian official, Secretary Michael Wynne, and its top military officer, Gen. T. Michael Moseley. Before that, he asked U.S. Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign over the conditions for wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The trigger in the Air Force firings was an accidental shipment of nuclear fuses to Taiwan that went undetected for two years. At the same time, an investigation found that the Air Force failed in its nuclear oversight even after last year’s incident in which a B-52 bomber crew unwittingly flew six nuclear warheads from North Dakota to Louisiana.

“The stewardship of our nuclear deterrent is the most sensitive mission that we have,” Gates said in announcing the resignations. “The declining standards … in my view required strong action.”

If the nuclear security problems had been corrected after the B-52 incident, the Pentagon says, the firings would not have been needed. Gates says problems in securing the nuclear arsenal stretch back more than a decade and should have been fixed by now.

The nuclear oversight failures were just the final straw. Analysts say Gates’ action actually resulted from an accumulation of grievances.

The Harvey resignation came on the heels of revelations about substandard care for wounded vets.

Gates came to the Defense Department with a well-known reputation for integrity. In his 20 months on the job, he has booted out a series of Pentagon leaders for their lack of accountability in the Iraq War.

—Adapted from “Gates decisive in firing Air Force chiefs,” Knoxville News Sentinel; “Firing up the Air Force,” Austin Bay, The Washington Times; “Amy Secretary Harvey Resigns in Hospital Fallout,” National Public Radio; and “Air Force’s top leaders are fired,” Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times.

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