President Reagan yesterday named electronics industrialist David Packard to chair a new Commission on Defense Management that White House officials hope will quell the controversy over military procurement and help restore lost support in Congress for Reagan's military buildup.
Packard, 72, is chairman and cofounder of Hewlett-Packard, a major electronics company, and served as a deputy defense secretary in the Nixon administration. He said the 16-member commission will examine such problems as "weapons that don't work, exorbitant prices for spare parts, illegal payments, illegal charges and other evidences of a troubled situation."
Reagan declared that "waste and fraud by corporate contractors are more than a rip-off of the taxpayer -- they're a blow to the security of our nation."
But Christopher Matthews, a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), said, "For five years, the Pentagon's been run like a supermarket sweepstakes: Grab all you can as fast as you can. Price is no object. You don't need a commission to find a coffeepot cheaper than $7,600."
The commission was set up despite recent claims from Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger that they were doing enough to root out Pentagon waste and fraud. It also came as Congress began to scale back Reagan's defense buildup amid continuing reports of high-priced parts and expensive weapons that don't work properly.
Reagan yesterday praised the efforts of Weinberger, who officials have said privately opposed the new commission and sought to limit its charter out of concern that it might impinge on his responsibilities.
Weinberger "has done a tremendous job at ferreting out waste and fraud," Reagan said. "But a public misconception has developed from all of this -- a misconception born, at least in part, of a drumbeat of propaganda and demagoguery that denies the real accomplishment of these four years," he added in a Rose Garden ceremony launching the new commission.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes announced that the commission will have a "broad mandate" that could go beyond procurement issues and include Pentagon decision-making and organization, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military command procedures, and may also look at the expansion of congressional oversight on defense matters in recent years.
No other members of the commission were announced, but Speakes said it would not include members of Congress. Reagan made the announcement in the Rose Garden joined by key defense committee chairmen and Rep. William L. Dickinson (R-Ala.) and Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), who have pushed the commission approach.
Packard, who helped start the California-based electronics firm in 1939, now owns 44.5 million shares, or 17.3 percent, company spokesman Roy Verley said yesterday. He said Packard, as chairman, does not have a day-to-day management role.
He said that the firm does less than 10 percent of its business with the government, and less than 10 percent of that with the Pentagon, but that many defense contractors buy Hewlett-Packard components for weapons systems.
A second company spokesman said Packard had no plans to alter his stock holdings while serving as chairman of the new commission.
Also yesterday, on the eve of House debate over funds for chemical weapons, Reagan met with several dozen members of Congress and members of a commission that recommended resumption of chemical weapons production.