Gen. Michael J. Dugan, the Air Force chief of staff who was fired last month for his outspoken discussion of U.S. contingency plans against Iraq, is now working in the bowels of the Pentagon plotting the service's future pilot needs and reviewing officer report cards.

Dugan, 53, is a special assistant to Air Force Secretary Donald B. Rice and has "no definite date of retirement," an Air Force spokeswoman said.

The issue arose yesterday when Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, who fired Dugan Sept. 17, said in a London radio interview that the four-star general is "no longer in the Air Force."

Dugan, a former fighter pilot who has been in the service 32 years, was assigned to special projects because Rice "wanted to use that experience," the spokeswoman said. The service's former top officer is evaluating the Air Force's future needs for pilots, navigators and missile crew members and officer evaluation systems.

The government bureaucracy requires Cheney to recommend Dugan's retirement to President Bush, who then must submit the request to the Senate for approval. That procedure has not yet started, an Air Force spokeswoman said, adding that Cheney plans to recommend that Dugan be retired in his current rank of four-star general.