President-elect Bush has an opportunity to pull the Defense Department from the quagmire of purchasing scandals by appointing strong managers to monitor the weapons-buying process more closely, analysts say.
"It's the best opportunity we've ever had," said Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official now with the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank. "If someone goes in there with the right team and the right attitude, you can do more good for this country, in my view, than any secretary of defense."Bush has indicated a desire to reverse the trend that has made household names of such scandal-ridden contractors as Wedtech and has made the practice of defrauding the Defense Department almost commonplace.
The president-elect on Friday announced the appointment of former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Tower as defense secretary. Although Tower earned a reputation as a friend of military contractors during his years in the Senate and has worked for some of them in recent years, he bowed to Bush's oft-stated commitment to reform.
"The bottom line is that we must provide at least as much, if not more, defense for less money. And to meet that challenge, we must do several things. We must rationalize our force structure, we must refine and reform our management and procurement procedures, we must have biennial budgeting," Tower said.
During the campaign, Bush embraced the recommendations of the Packard Commission, a panel appointed by President Reagan to study ways to reform the Defense Department.
In its 1986 report, the commission proposed creation of an undersecretary of defense for acquisition, strengthening the role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and having the president submit a two-year military budget for congressional approval.
The panel was headed by former Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard.
"I favor the Packard Commission reforms," Bush told employees of a Martin Marietta Corp., plant in Denver, Colo., last October.
"The head of that commission, Dave Pack-ard, supports me for a good reason. He knows that I'm going to put his reforms into effect because I understand that those reforms can't be carried out piecemeal," the vice president said.
During the Reagan administration, the Defense Department relinquished control of the acquisition process to the various armed services, according to Korb, who served as assistant secretary for manpower installation logistics from 1981 to 1985.
Congress already has acted on the commission recommendation to create the undersecretary position for acquisition. Robert Costello currently holds the post, although Bush likely will name his own person to the job - a critical selection, analysts said.
"For the administration to run a more effective bidding process, they must have top quality personnel," said Jay Koswinsky of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.