Bobby Inman wants to know what's going on in Washington. The former deputy director of the CIA runs Westmark Corp., a fast-growing defense electronicsfirm based in Austin, Tex. To keep tabs on the company's largest customer, Westmark will open a strategic planning office in Washington within the next few weeks.

A small professional staff will "keep an eye on where defense is likely to be going, and what programs are likely to be the ones continued in a declining budget environment," Inman said.

The office will be based at the Washington headquarters of Tracor Inc., the defense contractor that Westmark bought in September for $694.4 million.

Inman joined Westmark, a holding company principally owned by the merchant banking firm Mason Best Co., in September 1986, after leaving Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp., a high-tech research consortium that he headed.

"It's a small window for a small holding company," Inman said, adding that in the next year he intends to follow an aggressive acquisition strategy aimed at adding to Westmark's strength in the defense electronics business.

ELEMENTAL PROTECTION

Drenching rain, parching heat, nasty sandstorms and tall waves can't stop the electronic chatter between Marines anymore. Herndon defense contractor C3 Inc. has come up with a package for portable Marine Corps computers as part of a $270 million contract.

The package looks like a heavy-duty olive-drab suitcase. Inside, soft black foam is cut to fit around the computer, keeping it intact if the case is dropped. A rubber belt wraps around where the two sides of the closed suitcase meet to make sure sand and water stay out.

"The industry can produce microcomputers that are very small, and what is emerging now is sort of a new field for how to protect things that are portable," said Richard Litsinger, chairman of C3, which specializes in tailoring computer systems for government customers.