Bush appoints 4 to Naval Academy board

Panel's annual reports help shape school policies

March 05, 2002|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

The board that oversees the Naval Academy is taking on a Republican cast.

President Bush made his first appointments Friday to the academy's board of visitors, filling slots that had been held by Clinton appointees with GOP activists, a former Reagan administration official and a Texas businessman who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Bush campaigns.

The appointments are the latest in a sea change in leadership at the military college, which named a new commandant of midshipmen in January and is expected to name a new superintendent in the next few weeks.

The four Bush appointees to the board are: Michael S. Steele, a corporate lawyer and chairman of the Maryland Republican Party; Tirso del Junco, a Cuba-born surgeon who twice was chairman of the California Republican party; J. Bonnie Newman, executive dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former senior aide to former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush; and Frederick R. Meyer, a corporate executive from Dallas who was a top official on Bush's inaugural committee last year and who has contributed nearly $200,000 to the inaugural and to Bush campaigns since 1994, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The academy's 15-member board of visitors is part watchdog, part adviser. Although the board does not set budgets or hire and fire academy staff, its investigations and annual reports to the president have carried great weight over the years in shaping the school's goals and policies.

Despite the decidedly partisan hue of the new appointments, Clinton appointees say the board focuses narrowly on Naval Academy issues and that party politics rarely surface.

"This is not a place where party matters," Al From, the board's chairman and the president of the Democratic Leadership Council, said yesterday. From is the last of two Clinton appointees on the board. The other is former Virginia Sen. Charles S. Robb.

The academy's new leaders inherit the institution at a time of relative tranquillity. During the 1990s, the school grappled with the aftermath of cheating, theft and drug scandals that cast shadows over its image.

"We've had pretty copacetic years over the last two years," From said. "The academy, I think, is running very well."

The sole Bush appointee from Maryland is Steele, chairman of the state GOP since December 2000. Steele, who lives in Prince George's County, said that White House officials told him they want a board member with a corporate perspective.

The board of visitors "has a great deal of military influences," Steele said yesterday. The White House wanted "to bring to it a private-sector point of view."

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