Frank Carlucci, who in all likelihood will be the next secretary of defense, is by reputation a man of many skills. His friends say he is tough, yet personable. They say Mr. Carlucci, President Reagan's national-security adviser, is a smart, experienced manager. Above all, they say, he is unbeatable at tennis. ``He whipped me,'' says one associate, grimly.
``Somebody told me to lob him,'' says another. ``It didn't work.''
As leader of the Pentagon during a period of turbulence in United States defense policies, Carlucci will need to be every bit as tenacious and fast-footed as he is on court.
He will need to work with a Congress committed to tight defense budgets, while retaining the loyalty of military services that favor no such thing. He may have to lobby for a treaty scrapping medium-range nuclear missiles that is opposed by many conservative supporters of the President. (Tight Pentagon budgets prompt reevaluation of strategic priorities, Page 7).
And all the while he will have to keep one eye on the Persian Gulf, where US ships escorting Kuwaiti tankers are liable to be drawn into combat at any moment.
Carlucci has had many high government posts in his career. ``None will be more challenging than the one that I will undertake if confirmed'' as defense secretary, he said at his Nov. 12 Senate confirmation hearing.
That confirmation is a virtual certainty. After questioning Carlucci last Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee met in a five-minute huddle on Friday morning and voted unanimously in favor of his nomination. Approval by the full Senate could come as early as this week.
During his appearance before the armed services panel Carlucci was treated deferentially by senators of both parties. One reason for this easy treatment was the respect he has engendered on Capitol Hill for his performance in jobs from ambassador to Portugal to second-in-command at the CIA. Another reason was that he is not Caspar Weinberger.
In recent years, outgoing Defense Secretary Weinberger has irritated many members of Congress with his terrier-like defense of Reagan's military budget requests. While Weinberger believed he was acting with determination, many legislators considered him unrealistic in refusing to help them set priorities for defense cuts. The hostility was such that one Democratic Senate aide compared Weinberger's resignation to the demise of the wicked witch in ``The Wizard of Oz.''
During his confirmation hearing, Carlucci said he would work with Congress to reconcile Pentagon budget requests with Capitol Hill's fiscal concerns. He said that some weapon programs would probably have to be ended and that he did not favor deep cuts from maintenance and operations accounts, an approach often used in the past.
``I'd rather have a smaller force that is effective than a larger one that is ineffective,'' he said.
Deciding where the budget ax will fall may well be Carlucci's top priority from the day he begins work in his spacious new office in the Pentagon's ``E Ring,'' the outer ring of offices where most top officials are located.
His big problem will be not the fiscal 1988 budget, but that for fiscal 1989. Earlier this year the Pentagon indicated it would ask for $324 billion in 1989; many congressional observers say at least $25 billion will be cut from that figure.
``Carlucci has to avoid the temptation to get quick fixes'' for his budget problem by stretching out some programs and cutting maintenance money, says Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense during Reagan's first term.
After that, he should develop five-year budget documents that conform to budget reality, Mr. Korb says. Until now, military planners have reportedly not drawn up contingency plans for smaller budgets, on the theory such an exercise could become self-fulfilling.
Carlucci's second priority might well be continuing the push for management reform within the Pentagon. He served on the Packard Commission, which last year produced a package of recommendations for change in military procurement practices, among other things. Though many of the Packard panel's recommendations have been adopted, commission members complained to Weinberger earlier this year that some of their suggestions, such as streamlining of purchasing authority, were not being fully implemented.
``Carlucci knows those issues cold,'' says James Woolsey, a former Pentagon official and fellow Packard panel member. ``And he's a take-charge guy, which is what you need at the Pentagon.''
In another issue that came up during his confirmation appearance, Carlucci said that components of the Strategic Defense Initiative must be proved cost-effective before they are deployed. He also said the case for moving to a broad interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would allow more testing of SDI systems, was ``ambiguous.''