Rep. Bill Nichols, 70, Leader of Pentagon Spare Parts Probe
Rep. Bill Nichols, who had led a congressional investigation into high-priced Pentagon spare parts, died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack at his Capitol Hill desk.
The Alabama Democrat, a 22-year veteran of the House, collapsed shortly after arriving at his office in the Rayburn House Office Building. An assistant, Flora Merchent, heard a noise “like something falling” and found her boss unconscious, said Tom McMahon, Nichols’ press secretary.
The 70-year-old congressman was taken to Capitol Hill Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Nichols, who had undergone heart bypass surgery in 1985, was first elected to Congress in 1966 to represent the 3rd District of eastern Alabama. He had just won a 12th term last month by defeating Libertarian Jerome Shockley; there was no Republican opposition.
Nichols, who lost his left leg during Army combat in Europe in World War II, was a strong supporter of the military and President Reagan’s Pentagon build-up.
By virtue of seniority, Nichols had become the third-ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and was head of the panel’s investigations subcommittee.
When he took over that subcommittee in 1983, he found administrative and procurement problems.
After the panel’s 1983 investigation of the Pentagon’s spare-parts procurement program, he was successful in attaching to a military appropriations bill a requirement that the Defense Department report to Congress on reforms in the procurement process.
The courtly, white-haired legislator presided over a series of investigations into high-priced spare parts, such as $400 Navy hammers and $5,000 coffee pots for the Air Force.
The hearings helped lead to major Pentagon reform legislation, which Nichols co-authored in 1986 along with then-Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.).