Tower to Head Pentagon; He Vows to Reduce Waste : Bush Hails ‘Expertise, Experience’
President-elect George Bush today named former Texas Sen. John Tower to be the nation’s next defense secretary, capping an extraordinary semipublic debate over the retired conservative lawmaker’s personal and professional fitness for the post.
In making the announcement before reporters, Bush hailed “my friend Sen. Tower” as a man of “great experience, expertise and commitment to peace and freedom.” He said the former lawmaker is committed to reforming the Pentagon.
Tower thanked Bush for the appointment and said, “The bottom line is that we must provide at least as much, if not more, defense for less money.”
He said that will require reforming the defense purchasing system as well as installing biennial budgeting. He said both depend on close cooperation with Congress.
Bush dodged but did not deny a question of whether he intends to appoint outgoing GOP Rep. Jack Kemp--a rival in the 1988 presidential campaign--to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sources say that decision has been made.
Tower has held a variety of sensitive posts since leaving Congress, including as a negotiator in arms control talks with the Soviet Union and as head of a review board, popularly known as the Tower Commission, appointed by President Reagan to investigate the Iran-Contra scandal.
Bush made the announcement of Tower’s appointment in the customary style, at an appearance before reporters.
Some conservatives have complained that Tower is not a strong supporter of “Star Wars,” the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative. But Bush said, “Senator Tower and I agree with . . . the position I took in the campaign, which is strong support for SDI.”
Bush had once planned to name a defense secretary by Thanksgiving but delayed the decision pending completion of an extensive background check. That check delved into the former Texas lawmaker’s connections with the defense industry as well as with allegations of womanizing and drinking problems.
Asked whether he was satisfied with the investigation into issues of a personal nature, Bush shot back: “Issues or rumors?”
When the reporter persisted, Bush said he was “totally satisfied.” He said the “most inquisitive” members of the Senate will be satisfied by the investigation, a reference to the confirmation vote that Tower must win to take his Cabinet post.
Tower’s appointment to head the Pentagon was first rumored in the days immediately after Bush’s election. But it quickly sparked a highly unusual debate.
One set of issues revolved around the former senator’s ability to control the Pentagon’s bureaucracy and purchasing system, particularly in light of his staunch support for President Reagan’s massive arms buildup in the early 1980s and the consulting contracts he holds with five major defense firms. Tower retired from the Senate in 1985 after 24 years, including the final four as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Tower’s personal life also became grist for the transition mill. Tower was divorced from his second wife, Lilla, in 1987. She alleged “marital misconduct” on his part during their 10 years together. Tower’s deposition responding to the charges was sealed by mutual agreement.