President Clinton has decided to nominate Adm. Jay L. Johnson to become chief of naval operations, replacing the late Adm. Jeremy Michael Boorda, who committed suicide May 16, senior administration officials said Tuesday.
Johnson, who will be 50 today, has been serving as vice chief--the Navy’s No. 2 slot--since March. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a decorated aviator, he is regarded as an intelligent, if uncharismatic, leader with a good reputation as an administrator.
Clinton chose Johnson, of Great Falls, Mont., from a list of several senior admirals recommended by Defense Secretary William J. Perry. He is expected to announce his decision formally today or Thursday.
Some officials suggested that Perry initially had wanted to choose Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, but was fearful that Congress might balk over an incident in the 1990s involving Prueher’s handling of a sexual harassment case.
Officials said that part of the reason Johnson was selected was the hope that the admiral could win rapid confirmation from the Senate and then move quickly to restore morale to the Navy, which has been hit hard by a series of scandals and mishaps.
Although Johnson was said to have attended the 1991 Tailhook convention, which precipitated a sexual harassment scandal that has rocked the sea service for much of the last five years, officials said that his background has been free of any incidents that might block his confirmation.
Deputy Defense Secretary John P. White met with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee late Tuesday to inform them of the president’s decision but there was no formal reaction from members of the panel.
Johnson, a veteran F-14 fighter pilot who was promoted to four-star rank only eight weeks ago, is said to have a sharp intellect and a keen eye for problem-solving. He won wide praise as commander of the U.S. Second Fleet during the 1994 U.S. deployment to Haiti.
However, Navy officials conceded that Johnson would have a difficult time matching the charisma of Boorda, a former enlisted man who was beloved by ordinary sailors and junior officers for his interest in the welfare of the Navy’s crews.
Johnson and his wife, the former Garland Hawthorne of Colorado Springs, Colo., have a 25-year-old daughter, Cullen Johnson, who was named runner-up in the Miss America pageant in 1994.