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Packard's Strategy for Defense

February 22, 1987|DAVID DEVOSS | David DeVoss is a Los Angeles Times Magazine staff writer.

When Congress concludes debate over the recently proposed defense budget, one of the most quoted documents will have been a 1986 report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management. David Packard, 74, co-founder of Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard Co. and a deputy secretary of defense in the Nixon Administration, was the commission's chairman.

Q: Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger has asked Congress for a two-year defense appropriation of $312 billion, an increase that's 3% above inflation. Still, many Democrats believe it's too much, given America's $169.8-billion deficit. How do you view the Pentagon's proposed budget? A: I've told the White House that a real increase of 1 1/2% per year would be more realistic. It's closer to what Congress eventually will agree to, and if the department (of Defense) does a careful job of planning within a five-year program, it could maintain an adequate defense capability. Obviously Secretary Weinberger was afraid that (whatever figure) he presented, Congress would cut it back anyway. I'm inclined to think he presented his budget at a higher level than what he anticipated he would eventually get. Q: Why does Washington keep spending large amounts for weapons if it's generally conceded that smaller defense budgets would be adequate? A: The (armed) services work with the secretary to get a budget put together, but the secretary is never able to include everything that each wants. Quite often the services will campaign with the Congress. Sometimes they'll get their defense-contractor friends to lobby for things that the secretary didn't even want in the budget. When I was at the Pentagon (1969-71), we decided we didn't need any more Navy A-7s. Well, the A-7 plant was in Congressman George Mahan's (D-Tex.) district, and he always put some A-7s back in the program whether we wanted them or not.

Over the past five or six years, Congress has passed various types of legislation it hopes will improve defense management, but my observation is that everything Congress has proposed causes more problems than it solves. Instead of a long-term defense strategy that sets appropriate levels of manpower, readiness and modernization, they give us the line-item budget. Trouble is, the line-item budget gives members of the Senate and the Congress an opportunity to pork-barrel for their own community. Congress is one of the big problems, and I don't know how you're going to get them to reform. Q: What's wrong with the present system of defense budgeting? A: Major weapons programs require small expenditures during the research-and-development phase. The commitment to spend billions comes when you decide to advance to engineering and production. The problem is that budgets are drawn up on a year-by-year basis, with no consideration given to what happens in the future. Down the line, meaning two or three years later, Congress often won't vote enough money to cover the commitment. So, instead of losing the funds already invested in the weapon, the program is stretched out, adding waste and delay. Instead of juggling the costs of a program each year, development programs should become more orderly, because stability saves money and allows you to do a better job. Q: Some of the recommendations in the commission's report to the President last summer already have been accepted. What more could be done to increase defense - management efficiency? A: We need a procedure that gets some discipline into the defense-planning program. The first step should be a shift from annual budgeting to two-year appropriations. The deliberations of Congress take so long now that you're often well into the fiscal year before the defense budget is decided. Secondly, new weapons programs could be reviewed at certain stages of development instead of on a year-to-year basis, and given funding based upon an estimate of what the program is expected to cost over a five-year period. We also recommended more use of prototype programs in the area of development so that the cost of and problems with a particular piece of hardware could be evaluated. Once all the uncertainties at the research-and-development level are worked out and the costs are reasonably established, operational testing of a production model under field conditions could lead to the program being approved for full-scale production and deployment. Q: Why is there opposition within the military to testing prototypes under simulated combat conditions? A: Some military people think it delays the program and may increase the cost. The people out at Wright Field (in Ohio) tried to drop the F-16 because of the operational testing required. Fortunately, General Dynamics and Northrop realized they had a good airplane. They managed to get it back into the system and did a lot of extra tests that increased the cost, but today the F-16 is the best fighter we have.

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