Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci, less than two months on the job, is facing his first controversy over an appointment -- Kenneth P. Bergquist, a friend.
Bergquist was originally chosen by then-Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to fill the new position of assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict (SO/LIC), a post so controversial in itself that Congress forced it on the Pentagon bureaucracy in October 1986.
Nearly 15 months after the legislation passed setting up the new Pentagon post and a unified Special Operations Command, there is no assistant secretary of defense (SO/LIC) and a charter for the office has only just been approved.
Bergquist's nomination appears to be in deep trouble and there is a chance the post will remain vacant until the end of the Reagan administration a year from now.
Carlucci heartily endorsed Bergquist for the position in a Dec. 9 letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I want the committee to know that I fully support Kenneth Bergquist's nomination to be the assistant secretary of defense (SO/LIC)," he wrote.
"Secretary Weinberger consulted with me when the nomination was being considered and I urged him to select Ken . . . . I know Ken Bergquist very well. He is an able individual, whose background in special operations qualifies him for the position."
Carlucci, in an unusual gesture of support, sent his wife to Bergquist's confirmation hearing before the Senate panel Dec. 10.
The hearing turned into a polite inquisition, with so many questions and veiled (and a few not-so-veiled) attacks on Bergquist that the committee never voted on his nomination. When Congress went into recess, Bergquist's nomination was returned to the White House, where its fate is being considered.
The most devastating public attack on Bergquist at the hearing came not from any senator, but from a key member of the House.
Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee and House author of the special operations legislation, was so upset that he came to testify, saying it was the first time in 20 years that he had decided to oppose a White House nomination.
Bergquist, he told the Senate committee, was "unsuitable for the job . . . from the standpoint of experience, from the standpoint of stature, from the standpoint of mental discipline."
Bergquist, he warned, would be working "in a canal of turf sharks" at the Pentagon and "we simply do not have the time for on-the-job training."
Daniel's testimony shook Bergquist's apparent supporters on the committee. Sen. Steve Symms (R-Idaho), indicating some shock, said Daniel's strong words of opposition were "going to have a lot of weight" with him. "You may well be correct," he said.
Bergquist's nomination has rattled the small special operations community because he has had training, but no direct active-duty experience in the field, and there are doubts about his qualifications as a Washington bureaucratic "shark." In addition, he has publicly opposed congressional "micromanagement" of the Pentagon -- which is precisely what happened in the case of the new assistant secretary post.
But Bergquist insists that he is a special operations devotee, ready to take on all Pentagon opponents and assure creation of the new office and separate command. "I am personally committed," he told the Senate committee, "without any reservations whatsoever."