WASHINGTON — President-elect Bush completed the selection of his Cabinet-level team Thursday, choosing former Education Secretary William J. Bennett for a new position directing the nation's anti-drug campaign and retired Adm. James D. Watkins, the former chief of naval operations, to be energy secretary.
"They bring to our Administration valuable experience, rich insight from a broad array of areas, experience in tackling very difficult assignments and doing them well," Bush said.
In making his choices, Bush has enlisted two men with reputations for outspoken independence. In Bennett, he has a public figure who has shown no reluctance to attack controversial topics. In Watkins, he gains a Cabinet member with administrative and Washington expertise to confront one of the government's most troubled areas.
Short on 'New Faces'
Filling out his Cabinet eight days before he takes the oath of office and two months after he was elected, the President-elect has assembled 13 men and one woman who reflect his respect for extensive experience but fall short of fulfilling his promise to bring in "new faces."
Nine of the 14 who will run his Administration's departments are veteran Washington hands, including veterans of Congress and President Reagan's Cabinet. Each of them must be confirmed by the Senate.
In late afternoon, Bush gathered the group in Blair House, the government guest house across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, for their first meeting and then a dinner. Absent was John Tower, the defense secretary-designate, who is recuperating from surgery.
"I'm going to tell them to think big. I'm going to tell them to challenge the system. I'm going to tell them, as each one of them has demonstrated, to adhere to the highest ethical standards," Bush said earlier in the day.
He added, not entirely in jest: "I'm going to tell them I don't like 'kiss and tell' books"--a reference to the spate of memoirs by former Reagan officials that at times embarrassed the President.
Bennett and Watkins will face some of the most intractable problems confronting any member of the senior team as the Bush Administration takes office.
Bennett is charged with coordinating the often divergent interests of government agencies--in the defense, justice, transportation, Treasury and other departments--that are responsible for halting the flow of narcotics into the country and reducing the demand for drugs. His post, as director of the new White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, is one of Cabinet rank, although he will not be heading a Cabinet department.
Watkins would take over the Energy Department at a time of confusion in the international oil and gas industry, concern about fuel shortages and mounting criticism of the government's troubled nuclear weapons production facilities.
When asked how they would tackle the problems considering the government's severe budget crunch, Bush said at his news conference announcing the appointments: "We are going to have to find ways . . . within perhaps existing resources or maybe slightly higher increases for spending in those areas."
Bennett's office was created by legislation passed during the height of the political campaign last autumn, in which drug abuse became a central issue. The measure was signed into law by Reagan shortly after the election. It imposes the death penalty in drug-related murder cases and greatly expands the federal role in drug abuse prevention, drug treatment and research.
Called 'Insidious Enemy'
"We are at war. Drugs are a terrifying, insidious enemy," Bush said. "They challenge almost every aspect of American public policy--the law, our national security, our health."
Some senior Justice Department officials had been uneasy about the new position and in recent weeks they made it clear that they favored an appointee who would seek consensus and not, as one put it, someone "who would go off on a mission of his own."
Despite Bennett's reputation as a conservative firebrand and sometime maverick, Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh conveyed to Bush, before the selection was made, his willingness to work with him as the director.
Bennett, 45, said he views his new job as one of "talking to the American people"--a role he tackled with relish as secretary of education, visiting classrooms, delivering speeches and appearing on television.
Described by one former assistant as a "regular" smoker, Bennett promised: "You will not have a director of national drug control policy who smokes. I've been scolded about it and I deserve to be scolded about it."
Watkins, 61, rose to the highest post in the Navy, that of chief of naval operations, after serving in the nuclear submarine service under the late Adm. Hyman Rickover. He retired from the Navy in 1986.
In late 1987, he re-entered the public spotlight when he took over the chairmanship of the President's AIDS commission and guided the panel to a report that was considered bold and thoughtful and devoid of moral judgments.