White House considers Byron as Navy secretary


WASHINGTON -- Rep. Beverly B. Byron of Maryland, a seven-term lawmaker who was defeated in the March primary, is one of several women being considered as a replacement to outgoing Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III.

Mrs. Byron, 59, a conservative Democrat and Armed Services Committee member, is being pushed for the top Navy job by Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Baltimore County Republican, according to a senior White House official.

The official, who termed Mrs. Byron's chances "possible," said that besides the Frederick Democrat's pro-defense views, her gender is also a plus.

In the wake of the Tailhook Association scandal -- in which 26 women were sexually molested by servicemen last September at a convention of the Navy and Marine aviators' association -- Bush administration officials are considering naming a first-ever female Navy secretary. Other possible successors include Barbara S. Pope, the assistant Navy secretary for manpower.

"I'll cross that bridge when it comes -- if it comes," Mrs. Byron said yesterday. "I've had numerous people call me and say my name has surfaced."

Mrs. Bentley, a fellow conservative who also helped raise political campaign money for Mrs. Byron's could not be reached for comment.

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said yesterday that there appear to be a number of candidates to replace Mr. Garrett and that Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had made no replacement recommendations to President Bush.

Mrs. Byron, daughter of a Navy captain who served as an aide to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II, has been a strong supporter of the Pentagon.

As chairwoman of the Armed Service's military personnel and compensation subcommittee, she has toured military bases throughout the world and pressed for better benefits for soldiers.

The congresswoman also said she plans to hold a hearing on the Tailhook episode as soon as her subcommittee receives the Pentagon inspector general's report. Charges of a Navy cover-up in the Tailhook affair led to Mr. Garrett's resignation.

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