Inquiry on Defense Procurement Planned
President Reagan, approving a recommendation by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, will announce later this week the creation of a bipartisan commission “with a broad charter” to investigate military procurement scandals, Administration officials said Monday.
Disclosure of the White House plan sharpened a race with congressional Democrats to seize the initiative on the politically potent issue presented by continuing revelations of overpricing of weapons systems and the Pentagon’s purchase of such items as $600 ashtrays, $900 toilet seats and $400 hammers.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said in a speech Monday that he is considering naming a special House panel to investigate the defense contracting system, and Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) introduced legislation to revive the Truman Committee of World War II to check on Pentagon procurement practices.
Reagan Defends Weinberger
The President, meanwhile, defended Weinberger, saying in an interview published Monday that Democrats are unfairly trying to blame him for “abuses that have been . . . years and years longstanding.”
Democrats who call for Weinberger’s ouster are “out of their cotton-picking minds,” Reagan told syndicated columnist James J. Kirkpatrick. He said Weinberger has been exposing procurement abuses, “yet every time he uncovers one, they turn it around and say that it’s some kind of sin for which he’s guilty.”
Weinberger urged Reagan in a meeting last week to establish a special commission to study defense management issues with procurement as its priority focus, according to the Administration officials, who said that White House plans “are well along” for forming the independent panel.
The officials declined to reveal who would head the White House commission, but one said “the chairman will have extraordinarily strong credentials” in defense management. “We envision the commission being in business for a long time and making a series of recommendations on management issues,” the official said.
House Commission Considered
O’Neill raised the possibility of a special House commission in a speech before the American Advertising Federation here, saying failure to end fraud and abuse in Pentagon procurement will “undermine the national consensus for a strong defense.”
Wirth, in a letter to House members, said his proposal to create a House Select Committee on Defense Procurement would be a revival of the panel formed in 1941 and headed by Harry S. Truman, then a senator from Missouri.
He said the Truman Committee “did an extraordinary job of cleaning up the procurement mess” during World War II and added that a similar effort is needed to reform a procurement system “that has eroded the credibility and effectiveness of our armed forces.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a critic of Pentagon buying practices, dismissed proposals to form panels to investigate the procurement system. Such commissions, he told a seminar here, “are Washington’s way of saying, ‘This is not a real problem, it is a public relations problem.’ ”