The Defense Department, in response to charges that former Navy secretary John F. Lehman Jr. interfered with military promotion board decisions, has issued new regulations forbidding service secretaries from tampering with the selection process.

Lehman's actions, which infuriated military officials before he left office in April, prompted the Senate Armed Services Committee to reject two Lehman-backed promotions because of what the panel called "impropriety and unfairness."

The Pentagon order sets new standards for the promotion process and states that it is intended to "ensure the independence and integrity of selection boards in determining those officers best qualified to meet the needs of the Armed Forces."

The new rules prohibit service secretaries from providing the selection board "favorable information or personal opinion" about officers who will be considered for promotions by the board unless the opinions are submitted in writing before consideration.

The secretary's statement must "contain an appropriate caution that it is not intended to restrict the exercise of the board's discretion," according to the directive.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, in a searing report, described allegations that Lehman and the former commandant of the Marine Corps, retired general P.X. Kelley, had improperly influenced the outcome of a Marine Corps promotion selection board for major general officers.

Lehman declined to comment on the allegations, and Kelley, in a letter to the committee, said, "I neither attempted to improperly influence . . . the board, nor do I think it was interpreted as such."

The committee investigated allegations that Lehman last October rejected a list of promotions that did not include the names of two officers Lehman and Kelley had recommended. Lehman had mentioned the two officers during a discussion with the president of the board before its vote on eight selections, according to the committee report.

When the board presented its selection list, without the two names, Kelley expressed disappointment, but approved the list. Lehman, however, asked Lt. Gen. D'Wayne Gray, the board president, what would happen if he allowed the board to pick an additional aviator for promotion, the report said.

Gray replied "that in his judgment, the board would select the aviator that the secretary had previously mentioned," according to the committee report.

Lehman then told the board to reconsider its promotion list and that it could choose 10 officers for promotion rather than eight, as he had originally ordered, according to the Armed Services Committee report. The committee investigation suggested that Lehman offered the board 10 slots to allow it the opportunity to select an officer recommended by Gray and to deflect attention from the aviator Lehman had recommended for promotion.

The board then submitted a new list with both Lehman and Kelley's choices.

"Although all of the board members who were interviewed {by the committee} indicated they did not feel individually pressured to select particular officers, seven of the nine board members interpreted the amended precept {order} as an attempt by the secretary to 'force them' to select the particular aviator, and several members described the secretary's action as 'manipulation' and 'improper exercise of secretarial authority,' " the committee wrote in its report.

In rejecting the two additional officers for promotion on a 10-to-10 vote, the Senate Armed Services Committee stressed that it was not questioning the competence of the two men.

"The committee took seriously the potential effect that approval of the two additional officers, who were selected under a flawed process, would have had on other officers who were competing, who were not selected, and to whom the committee owes an equal responsibility," the committee wrote.

The committee report also said that Lehman knew the aviator by reputation, not personally.

Lehman created a stir shortly before leaving office when the president of a naval selection board resigned rather than obey Lehman's order that three commanders recommended for promotion be "deselected" to make room for three others.

An investigation by the Pentagon inspector general said charges that Lehman was pushing his favorites for promotion was "totally without foundation," but said Lehman had "exceeded his authority" in dissolving the board.

When James H. Webb Jr. became Navy secretary earlier this summer, he reinstated the board and allowed its original decisions to stand.