Defense Nominee Brings His Own Cutting Edge

IN nominating William Perry for a promotion to secretary of defense, President Clinton has opted for a quick and relatively easy fix to the management problems now roiling the Pentagon.

As the current Defense Department second-in-command, Deputy Secretary Perry participated heavily in devising the military's proposed 1995 budget - a job that has preoccupied many in the Pentagon for months.

He will be able to appear on Capitol Hill in coming weeks and defend the administration's budget decisions with the credibility of someone who was there when the decisions were made.

With a background in both the defense business and academia, Perry is something of a military-industrial complex insider. Since taking his current position, he has appeared at numerous conferences and symposiums around the country bringing the bad news of continued budget decline to contractors.

Thus, probably no one in government is better positioned than he to make the cuts - estimated at anywhere from $13 billion to $100 billion over the next five years - needed to make defense plans fit budget reality.

At the announcement of his nomination Perry said those cuts can be made without hurting defense capabilities, though it will be ``a difficult management job.''

Yet Perry probably does not solve President Clinton's long-term national security puzzle. Similar to Carter-era Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, he is a technology-oriented person with a scientific background. He has little experience with high-level national and international politics and is likely not the first person the White House will think of when it wants advice, for example, on whether to intervene in Bosnia.

When discussing the opportunities presented by the post-Soviet world at the press conference announcing his nomination, the item Perry dwelt on was not the spread of freedom or the need to control nationalism, but the prospect for changes in weapons-procurement procedures.

``We have what I would call a window of opportunity to make a major reform to the defense acquisition system so that we can buy modern equipment for our military forces at affordable prices,'' Perry said.

One specific technology Perry is likely to champion is stealth, the collection of radar-avoidance techniques he pioneered as a mid-level Carter defense official. Some say he may even try to revive the B-2 Stealth bomber.

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