If he follows through to make sure that the Pentagon does not work the other side of the street, President Reagan’s endorsement of major defense reforms will be an event of historic consequence.
The Reagan Administration’s initial response to calls for Pentagon reform was cool; Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said in effect that there was no need to fix something that wasn’t broken. Congress didn’t agree; Pentagon reform measures are working their way through the House and the Senate.
Fortunately, the President finally took the calls for reform seriously enough to appoint a high-powered advisory commission last June to study how the Defense Department might be better organized to accomplish its purpose of safeguarding national security without breaking the bank.
The shifting political winds were evident when Weinberger withheld criticism of the commission’s report after it was issued in February. Now the President has officially thrown his weight behind the group’s recommendations for reform.
In a statement issued at midweek, Reagan endorsed, among other things, the commission’s proposal for strengthening the authority of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in order to minimize the destructive effect of interservice rivalries. The White House said that the President will send a message to Congress within a few days calling for the establishment of a new post of undersecretary of defense for acquisition--a step recommended by the commission to help bring order and cost-sensitivity to the multibillion-dollar defense-procurement business.
No doubt Reagan’s endorsement of what the White House called the “most extensive reforms of the defense establishment since World War II” is a product of his concern over prospective congressional cuts in the defense budget. But motives are less important than consequences.The task for Congress now is to take advantage of the prevailing mood and get Pentagon reform while the getting is good.