Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, who for years has been brushing aside proposals for changes in the Pentagon's command structure, has been hit by a set of recommendations that may be too powerful to ignore, a defense expert said Wednesday.
And although its initial response to the reforms proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee staff amounted to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," the Defense Department is expected to take a detailed look at the ideas.
Leading the call for reform are Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), both advocates of strong defense.
"You can ignore it when the think-tanks and the college professors say it, but when Goldwater and Nunn both say it, the Pentagon has to listen," said a civilian consultant to defense contractors. He asked that he not be identified.
Abolishing Joint Chiefs
The major proposal by the committee is to reduce the influence of the heads of the military services by abolishing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and replacing them with an advisory body headed by a chairman with advice-giving powers of his own.
Critics of the current system say administrations often get bad advice on military matters because the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff give too much weight to the impact their policies will have on the budgets and roles of their individual services.
Goldwater said the report would be the basis for fall hearings and possible legislation.
Committee member John W. Warner (R-Va.), a former Navy secretary, said that the Navy's advisory council representative and the chief of naval operations would be in conflict with the council member at the advantage.
'Stripping His Epaulets'
The CNO would have been reduced "to the role of honorary chairman of the board," Warner said. "You're literally stripping his epaulets in front of his troops, making him a figurehead."
To Goldwater, who has been publicly saying the military system "is broke and needs fixing," Warner responded: "The system is not broke." He said the study suggested "open-heart surgery on the Defense Department" but something far less might be called for.
Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) urged even broader reforms.