Perry brings new order to Pentagon

February 07, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon faces a change in both style and substance as the proper and precise technocrat William J. Perry replaces the affable and disheveled politician Les Aspin as defense secretary.

The likely result: a more focused internal effort to control a department that consumes almost 20 percent of the federal budget, employs 1.6 million uniformed and 1 million civilian personnel, and on whose effectiveness rests the nation's security.

The changes are likely to reflect Mr. Perry's expertise in management, technology and efficiency, which contrasts with Mr. Aspin's preference for academic concepts.

One of the first things Mr. Perry is expected to do is reduce the weight his predecessor gave to policy planning. He is likely to slim down his office's policy unit and redistribute senior officials to more immediate organizational tasks.

"On the policy side, it was an organization that was perhaps idiosyncratic to Les Aspin, and that may change," said Harold S. Brown, the defense secretary in President Jimmy Carter's administration who selected Mr. Perry to be an undersecretary. "There will be an attempt, a very serious one, to change the way the forces are equipped and trained, and to try to reduce the very inefficient government procurement system."

Told bluntly at his confirmation hearings last week by Sen. John Glenn, the Ohio Democrat and former astronaut, that management and procurement practices at the Pentagon were "abominable," Mr. Perry replied coolly: "I'm sorry to report that I think that you are understating the problem."

The complex military acquisition system is estimated to contribute up to 20 percent to Pentagon procurement costs, suggesting that reform could save as much as $9 billion from the annual procurement budget of $45 billion.

Mr. Perry has made his mark on innovative technology. He earned the name "Father of Stealth" for his work in the Carter administration in developing the radar-evading qualities of the F-117 fighters used in the Persian Gulf war and the B-2 bombers now being built. Mr. Perry is expected to accelerate the pursuit of more technology as a new generation of weapons is developed.

As Mr. Aspin's deputy, Mr. Perry was the architect of many of the defense priorities embraced by President Clinton's administration. So there is little prospect of any rapid or radical shift in policy.

Achieving a balance

But this could change as Mr. Perry establishes his own responses to the budget crunch and the post-Cold War world with its rogue regimes and unstable regions.

Eventually, he will have to stake out positions on the conditions for the use of force; the number of forward-based troops; the disposition of the military infrastructure of Navy shipyards, Air Force maintenance depots and Army armories; and the balance between the armed services, their individual force levels, their roles and their missions.

"We are only a couple of years into the post-Cold War period, and no one is quite sure what's going on," said Terry Nyhous, defense budget analyst for Price Waterhouse and an assistant secretary of defense under President George Bush. "I think the combination of world conditions a year or two from now, plus the funding problems they [the Defense Department] have, are going to force everyone to sit down and re-examine the whole thing."

The Clinton administration's force structure is spelled out in the "Bottom-Up Review," which Mr. Perry helped draft last year. It calls for the United States to be able to fight two almost simultaneous regional wars. But critics assert that this policy cuts force levels too low, is too expensive in an era of tight budgets and is inappropriate in a world of shifting dangers.

"Either we have to retreat from the Bottom-Up Review, raise more money or pretend we can do it when we really can't," said Eliot Cohen, head of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

Declining defense budgets

The changes in defense policy are taking place against a background of declining defense budgets.

"The decline [in funding] is consistent with the reduced threat to the United States and U.S. interests," Mr. Perry said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week. "But it does present us with the difficult problem of managing these assets and forces during the transition."

There is agreement among Democrats and Republicans in Congress that Mr. Perry is qualified to steer the Pentagon through that transition. He is a military technocrat whose expertise is in business, academia and government. He is expected to appoint John M. Deutch, another technocrat who is now undersecretary for acquisition and technology, to be his deputy.

Although neither Mr. Perry nor Mr. Deutch has much experience in policy planning, foreign affairs or diplomacy -- areas in which Mr. Aspin reveled -- they complement each other in different ways, according to Mr. Brown.

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