WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to recommend the nomination of Pentagon management chief Michael B. Donley to head the Air Force, part of an overhaul of the Air Force leadership designed to improve the service's oversight of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and other matters, a senior defense official said Friday.

Donley, the Department of Defense's director of administration and management since 2005, is Gates' main staff assistant for organization and management planning. In that job, Donley oversees the Washington Headquarters Services, a 1,300-employee entity that manages the Pentagon, as well as the Pentagon Force Protection Agency and the Pentagon Renovation and Construction Program.

The reorganization follows a series of management missteps, including several at Utah's Hill Air Force Base. In the latest incident reported by the Deseret News on Friday, Hill officials believe a box of 12 M-16s may have fallen off a government vehicle Tuesday afternoon. Hill issued a "Wanted" bulletin for a man suspected of picking up the container, putting it in his car and leaving the base, probably before an organized search of thousands of cars leaving Hill that day began.

The missing assault rifles were returned Friday with a note of apology. Officials are still looking for the man who took them.

In April, Gates said he saw "areas of concern" regarding the accidental shipping of Minuteman ballistic missile components from Hill to Taiwan in 2006. The shipment was intended to be a load of helicopter batteries.

That month, an F-16 pilot from Hill's 388th Fighter Wing also accidentally fired a 20mm Gatling-style cannon on a rented vehicle that was in the area of the Utah Test and Training Range during live-fire exercises. Two soldiers using the vehicle received slight injuries, Hill officials reported.

Hill made the news again in April after base officials reported not knowing until March 2008, that "classified components" being demilitarized over an eight-month period contained a small amount of depleted uranium when they were sent to a burn plant in Layton.

Last year, the Deseret News also learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that janitors on base were being paid for work not done or for cleaning up a building that didn't exist. In addition, Hill's name was connected in 2007 with a spending scandal that Pentagon investigators said involved an Air Force acquisitions officer hurrying Hill to approve contract changes in 2001 that resulted in overpaying Boeing $4.5 million.

If confirmed, Donley would step into a job as Air Force secretary with the expectation by Gates that he initiate systemic reforms not only to strengthen oversight of U.S. nuclear weapons but also to correct an Air Force culture that deflects criticism. "Overall, the Air Force has not been sufficiently critical of its past performance," Gates said Thursday in announcing his decision to oust Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and the chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, after a Pentagon investigation identified failures.

Donley has served as assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management from 1989 to 1993, followed by a seven-month stint as acting Air Force secretary, according to his official biography.

He held positions in the 1980s on the National Security Council, where he directed defense programs, as well as on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he was a professional staff member.

He served in the Army's 18th Airborne Corps and 5th Special Forces Group from 1972 to 1975. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in international relations from the University of Southern California.


Contributing: Deseret News