WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger officially submitted his resignation to President Reagan Thursday and issued a farewell warning that adequate funding for a strong national defense cannot take a back seat to reduction of the federal budget deficit.
Reagan announced at a White House ceremony that he will nominate National Security Adviser Frank C. Carlucci to be defense secretary and will promote Army Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, Carlucci's deputy, to replace him. Weinberger will remain in office until his successor is ready to take over.
Weinberger said that he is resigning because he wants to spend more time with his wife, Jane, who has been treated for cancer and has been in pain since suffering several broken bones in her back in a recent accident.
The secretary said that he regrets departing at a time when military strength may be threatened by budget-cutting negotiations between the White House and Congress.
"I'm more worried about leaving the budget situation the way it is than anything else," he said at a Pentagon news conference. "That's the thing that bothers me most."
At a Rose Garden ceremony, Reagan praised Weinberger, his longtime friend, as "the finest secretary of defense in the history of our nation" whose "cool and sure judgment" will be greatly missed.
The defense secretary's departure marks a great personal loss for Reagan, who has depended on Weinberger throughout his political career. His departure will leave only one of Reagan's longtime California colleagues in the Cabinet--Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III.
His designated successor, Carlucci, has the reputation of a skilled conciliator and is expected to have a better relationship with Congress.
Pentagon and White House officials said that they did not foresee any obstacles to Carlucci's confirmation, and a Pentagon official said that quick Senate action would allow the new secretary of defense to take office before Reagan meets with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Washington, beginning Dec. 7.
Seen as Strong Mediator
Although Powell is a career Army officer who has held a variety of top military assignments--including command of the Army's 5th Corps in West Germany--he has served in increasingly high-level positions in Washington during the last 10 years. In that time, he gained the reputation of being a strong mediator.
And Powell is no stranger to difficult political issues. At the Pentagon, he handled a number of sensitive tasks and at one point strongly opposed the transfer of TOW missiles and other military equipment to the CIA for later shipment to Iran.
Weinberger's resignation is only one of what is expected to be a yearlong run of departures from the White House. In the last few months alone, Labor Secretary William E. Brock III and former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole have announced their resignations to work on Kansas Sen. Bob Dole's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.
"He really was the anchor in the Cabinet," a congressional consultant who studies presidential transitions said of Weinberger. "With Baldrige dead, Weinberger out, Brock gone, it's the beginning of a scramble. The transition is well under way."
Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, one of the original Reagan Cabinet members, died in a horse-riding accident July 25.
Wife Urged Resigning
Although the 70-year-old Weinberger said that his decision to depart was based on his wife's medical condition, people who know him well said that he resigned only at Jane Weinberger's insistence. "She was after him for months to do this," one Pentagon official said of the secretary's 68-year-old spouse.
"The sad thing is he has not been ground down. He's still charging. He is giving this up very reluctantly. There is no element of defeat. There is no war weariness," said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
However, he said that, understandably, Weinberger recently felt more frustrated about defending the military budget against attacks in Congress than he had during the early years of the Reagan Administration, when the Pentagon received nearly everything it sought from Congress.
During his nearly seven-year tenure in a job that he said "goes with you all the time . . . a full 24 hours" a day, Weinberger presided over a more than $1-trillion buildup of the nation's military, the redevelopment of the nation's nuclear arsenal, restoration of troop morale and rejuvenation of conventional, non-nuclear forces.
At the White House ceremony, Reagan saluted Weinberger as a man of "courage, constancy, loyalty . . . uncommon brilliance, decisiveness and determination."
Indeed, Weinberger had become known for his willingness to fight indefatigably within Administration councils for policies advanced by the Pentagon--and, if his advice was rejected by the President, he would devote just as much energy to supporting the chosen policy.