WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is likely to recommend to President Bush that he nominate a former Air Force executive, Michael B. Donley, to the service's top civilian post, a senior defense official said yesterday.

Donley, who was acting secretary of the Air Force for seven months in 1993 and served as the service's top financial officer from 1989 to 1993, would replace Michael Wynne, who was fired by Gates on Thursday along with the Air Force's top uniformed officer, Gen. Michael Moseley.

The senior defense official spoke on condition of anonymity because Gates had not yet made a formal recommendation to Bush.

Donley is the Pentagon's director of administration and management.

He has held a variety of strategy and policy jobs in government, including a stint on the National Security Council from 1984 to 1989. Before that he was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee staff. He served in the Army from 1972 to 1975. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Southern California.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush spoke with Gates on Wednesday about the shake-up.

It was unclear whom Gates would choose to replace Moseley, who has been Air Force chief of staff since September 2005. Among the four-star generals thought to be candidates are Gen. Norton Schwartz, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command, who has a special-operations background; Gen. John Corley, the commander of Air Combat Command; and Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of U.S. Strategic Command, which writes and maintains the nation's strategic nuclear war plan.

Gates announced Thursday that he was replacing the Air Force's top leadership, saying a shake-up was required to ensure that the service improve its standards and performance in safeguarding its nuclear weapons and the sensitive components associated with the strategic arsenal.

Gates said his decision was based mainly on the damning conclusions of an internal report that detailed the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four Air Force electrical fuses for ballistic-missile warheads. And he linked the underlying causes of that slip-up to another startling incident: the flight in August of a B-52 bomber that was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.