Gordon Wade Rule, 75, an iconoclastic Navy cost-cutter who excoriated cabinet members, admirals and senior legislators he viewed as obstructers of his relentless war on waste and unaccountability in weapons buying, died of cancer Tuesday at Arlington Hospital.
He won the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the Navy's highest honor for a civilian, in 1971 and retired in 1977 as chief of its Procurement Control and Clearance Division.
Until he entered the hospital two weeks ago, Mr. Rule continued to wage restless battle from his home. He publicly vented his wrath against persons and practices he considered to be inimical to efficient and fair procurement. Among his frequent targets were officials who claimed they had been "overly optimistic" in estimating outlays that later skyrocketed. He urged reforms, including such simple ones as swearing federal officials to testify truthfully to Congress about the projected costs of major programs, and court-martialing officers for grave program mismanagement.
Just two months ago, Mr. Rule distilled the essence of his experience, outlook and spirit into a letter he sent to The Washington Post about actions taken by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Army Secretary John O. Marsh in connection with Pershing II missiles, which would be capable of raining thermonuclear warheads on Soviet targets 10 minutes after being launched from NATO bases in Germany.
The letter targeted Weinberger for an "unwise, unsound" decision: ordering 108 Pershing IIs into production before completion of development and testing. He "was guilty of the most fundamental, costly and wasteful practice in defense procurement," Mr. Rule charged. A Pershing II was launched July 22 after a seven-week delay of the first full flight test. It blew up 17 seconds later.
Marsh, meanwhile, estimated that the cost of the Pershing II program increased 57 percent, to $1.8 billion, in the final nine months of 1981. Mr. Rule found this unsurprising, writing that concurrent development and production nearly always costs at least 25 percent more than development followed by prototype testing followed by production.
For some years in the late 1960s, Mr. Rule was the only Pentagon official who came forward to testify about procurement waste and to attack bailouts of military contractors, which, he said, should be allowed to go bankrupt.
He made his biggest waves in 1972 when President Nixon picked Roy L. Ash, a friend and adviser, to head the Office of Management and Budget. As president of Litton Industries, which blamed the Navy for shipbuilding overruns, Ash had urged a Navy bailout of more than $500 million and refused to disqualify himself from dealing at OMB with Navy matters.
Mr. Rule, invited at a Senate hearing to comment on Ash's appointment, called it "a mistake." Then, recalling President Eisenhower's famous warning about "the military-industrial complex," he said that "the old general must be twitching in his grave." He later apologized for this "verbal excess," emphasizing that he intended "no disrespect."
The day after the testimony, a mortified Adm. Isaac C. Kidd Jr., chief of the Navy Materiel Command, asked Mr. Rule to seek early retirement. Mr. Rule refused. Later, the admiral relented and the two men became fast friends. In an interview in 1981, Kidd hailed Mr. Rule as "one of the finest, if not the finest, contracting gentlemen I've been privileged to be associated with."
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Rule lost a classic battle with Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, the famed "father" of the nuclear submarine, over the type of contract suited to the first Trident intercontinental ballistic missile submarine. He refused to clear the alleged "fixed price" contract, denouncing it as "one of the most imprudent . . . the Navy has ever made" and warning -- prophetically -- that a huge overrun was built into it.
Later, Mr. Rule detailed his criticisms in a 19-page letter requested by Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.), a powerful Rickover ally on Capitol Hill and chairman of the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee, and was strongly upheld by a General Accounting Office investigation. Bennett, on getting an oral report from the GAO investigators, accused them of "supplying ammunition to the country's enemies." He issued a press release erroneously headlined, "GAO Finds Trident Contract Charges Generally Unfounded."
The congressman shortly got a letter from Mr. Rule accusing him of an attempted "cover-up," of helping "to perpetuate the horrible track record we have in buying ships in recent years," and of trying to browbeat the GAO. Bennett reacted mildly to this salvo from a civil servant, writing Mr. Rule that, "I certainly hold you no ill will" and closing with "kindest regards."
Born in Washington, Mr. Rule, a cigar-chomping man of droll humor, elegant manner, and dapper dress, was graduated from George Washington University and its law school. He joined Covington & Burling in 1935. He served in the Navy in World War II, rising to the rank of captain, and again during the Korean conflict. He opened his own law office in 1948 and practiced until 1963, when he joined the Navy Department's procurement control division.
Survivors include his wife, Margaret F., of Arlington, and a brother, Richard H., of Victoria, B.C.