Pentagon's purchasing chief resigns, frustrated with pace of reform

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Last year a blue-ribbon presidential panel recommended ways the Pentagon could improve its weapons-buying procedures. Today, those reforms have yet to take hold, according to key legislators and panel members. The official who symbolized the reform effort within the Defense Department has submitted his resignation in frustration - a development that many in Congress view with concern. Richard Godwin, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, is leaving because he is tired of fighting the bureaucratic resistance to change, according to associates.

``Congress told him to go forth and do good work,'' says a long-time Pentagon bureaucrat. ``But everybody in this building told him to get lost.''

Defense Department officials respond that many of Mr. Godwin's problems stemmed from personality conflicts that have little to do with defense reform. They say Godwin was misled or dreaming if he thought he was going to become an all-powerful acquisition czar.

Recommended: Pentagon's top three threats in the 'deep future'

``There aren't any czars in Washington,'' Deputy Secretary of Defense William Taft told a congressional committee last week.

And Pentagon sources claim many of the recommendations of the Commission on Defense Management, are indeed being adopted. Full flowering of the moves, they say, will take time.

``This is not an easy thing to do,'' says chief Pentagon spokesman Robert Sims.

Criticism of Defense Department spending and management practices is nothing new.

In 1958, a Congress worried about allegedly chaotic weapons procurement voted to increase the powers of the secretary of defense. In 1969, weapons-project scandals led to creation of a presidential Acquisition Reform Commission, headed by insurance company executive Gilbert Fitzhugh.

In 1985, the drumbeat of stories about purchase of high-priced toilet seats and hammers helped push President Reagan into forming his own blue-ribbon panel, led by business executive David Packard. As Deputy Secretary of Defense in 1969, Mr. Packard had put into practice many of the recommendations of the Fitzhugh Commission.

The Packard panel released a package of suggestions for reform last year. At the time, both President Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger embraced the panel's report.

This summer, in a follow-up letter to the President, commission members said many of the reorganization moves they had recommended had been put into place. But they complained that in some key areas policy had not really changed.

In implementation of defense reform ``there are some pluses and some minuses,'' says Carla Hills, a Packard Commission member and secretary of housing and urban development under President Ford.

The powers of the commanders in chief of the various United States military commands have been strengthened, per a Packard suggestion.

The circle of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been expanded with the addition of a four-star vice-chief, also a panel recommendation.

The position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, intended by both Congress and the Packard panel as a czar-like personage with central authority for Pentagon weapons purchasing, was created.

But Godwin, the Bechtel Corporation executive chosen for the post, has not been able to acquire an acquisition czar's powers.

He has been consistently outflanked by the various military services, which have been able to go around him and get decisions they don't like changed by Secretary Weinberger.

``It's an outrage what they did to him,'' says Sen. Alan Dixon (D) of Illinois, an Armed Services Committee member who says he has had several discussions with Godwin in recent days.

In part because of the fury of these turf battles, there has not been sufficient follow-through on the many detailed Packard Commission recommendations for making weapons purchase more businesslike. ``The substance of acquisition reform has yet to be put in place,'' says James Woolsey, a commission member and Carter administration defense official.

Among the Packard suggestions Woolsey says he believes progress is lagging on are:

More development and testing of weapons prototypes. Currently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing strategies to implement this move, according to the Pentagon.

Increased use of off-the-shelf commercial products in weapons. A Pentagon science board is now studying ways of carrying this out.

Simplification of federal procurement laws. The Defense Department is currently consulting with the Office of Management and Budget over how such simplification could be done.

``On broad procurement issues there has been very little progress,'' says Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico, chairman of a Senate subcommittee on defense industry and technology.

Senator Bingaman's subcommittee will hold hearings this week on Godwin's departure. The House Armed Services Committee is also looking into the affair.

Congress, for its part, has not done everything the Packard Commission said it should do.

Biennial, rather than annual, congressional consideration of the defense budget, for instance, is unlikely to become a reality.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...