Washington Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey abruptly stepped down Friday as the Bush administration struggled to cope with the fallout from a scandal over substandard conditions for war-wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Harvey's departure, announced on short notice by a visibly agitated Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was the most dramatic move in an escalating removal of officials with responsibilities over one of the military's highest-profile and busiest medical facilities.
Hours earlier, President Bush ordered a comprehensive review of conditions at the nation's network of military and veteran hospitals, which has been overwhelmed by injured troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gates said Harvey had resigned, but senior defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Gates had privately demanded that Harvey leave. Gates was displeased that the officer Harvey had chosen as interim commander of Walter Reed - Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the current Army surgeon general and a former commander of Walter Reed - has been accused by critics of long knowing about the problems there and not improving outpatient care.
Harvey said he offered Gates his resignation because he believed the Army let the wounded soldiers down.
Peter Geren, the undersecretary of the Army, will serve as Harvey's temporary replacement until Bush nominates a new secretary.
As Army secretary, Harvey is the service's top civilian official. The secretary has statutory responsibility for training and equipping the Army.
The Army announced Friday that Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, 58, will be the new commander of Walter Reed, which is in Washington.
The revelations about shoddy facilities and wounded soldiers enduring long waits for treatment have embarrassed the Army and the Bush administration at a time when the White House is scrambling to shore up eroding support for the Iraq war.