GOP lawmakers take their boss's Pentagon to task
The bulwarks and revetments around the Pentagon are pocked these days from the bursts of political mortar fire. Of itself, this would not be too unusual, especially in a presidential election year.Skip to next paragraph
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But what makes this barrage from the higher ground of Capitol Hill especially interesting - and embarrassing for the Reagan administration - is that it comes mainly from Republicans. Weapons testing, contract warranties, spare-parts prices, auditing procedures, the revolving door between the armed services and defense contractors: On a variety of important issues that get to the heart of how well the Defense Department is managed, members of President Reagan's own party are hammering away with critical volleys.
* Sen. Mark Andrews of North Dakota calls the Pentagon's objection to a new-weapons warranty law ''a smoke screen covering its refusal to go along . . . with the first systemic reform in the past 30 years.'' In congressional testimony the other day, Senator Andrews quoted former President Eisenhower's warning against ''the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . by the military-industrial complex.''
* Rep. Jim Courter of New Jersey is pushing a ''creeping capitalism'' bill, which would force the Defense Department to seek more competitive bids for weapons contracts.
* Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum of Kansas wants to know why the Pentagon has delayed setting up a new independent weapons testing office accountable to Congress.
* Sen. Charles H. Percy of Illinois last week criticized the large number of retired military personnel who go to work for defense industries. He cited several hundred former Air Force officials who joined a missile manufacturer, ''trading in their service stripes for pin stripes . . . cashing in with big salaries at the taxpayers' expense.''
* Sen. William V. Roth of New Jersey is highly critical of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, which he says ''should be scrutinizing defense contracts like an unforgiving Scrooge.''
Instead, he charges, it has become too intimate with the companies it is supposed to oversee, stifled the efforts of would-be whistle-blowers, and in large part ''left the taxpayers' defense dollar defenseless against excessive pricing and cost growth.''
This Republican sniping and the difficulty it causes the White House has several aspects. It is part of the traditional tension between the executive and legislative branches over responsibilities and ''turf'' which transcends party loyalties.
Part of it comes from the natural inclination of GOP lawmakers to be (or at least want to appear to be) businesslike and deficit-conscious. They find it frustrating when a Republican adminstration is seen to be at least indirectly responsible for newsmaking ''horror stories.'' Senator Percy's staff found it could get for free a three-inch piece of steel wire a contractor wanted to charge the Pentagon $7,500 for.