Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on Defense Establishment Reforms

April 05, 1986

My fellow Americans:

I will soon send a message to the Congress asking your Senators and Representatives to join me in reforming the Defense Establishment. That includes my office, the Defense Department, the Congress, and industry. The changes our administration will request are based upon the recommendations made in February by the Packard commission, a bipartisan group that spent months studying ways to give our nation stronger defenses more economically.

Earlier this week I ordered implementation of those recommendations that can be made without congressional action. Now, with congressional support, we'll be able to put into effect perhaps the most thoroughgoing reform of our Defense Establishment since 1958. This new effort takes place against a background of national defenses that have already grown much stronger. When we first took office, we inherited a navy that had shrunk from nearly 1,000 ships to less than 500 and planes that couldn't fly for want of spare parts. My predecessor had called attention to this and had proposed a 5-year expansion of the defense budget. Well, now our rebuilding program has added ships to the fleet, put planes back in the air, and, perhaps most important, boosted the morale of our men and women in uniform by giving them the training and pay they deserve. Much still needs to be done, but today the United States has substantially reestablished the strength and self-confidence it needs to perform its role as the leader of the free world.

As we rebuild our strength, we've made strides in marshaling the defense resources of the Nation with increased efficiency. Before we came into office, the costs of major systems had been escalating at an annual rate of 14 percent. With lower inflation, Defense Secretary Weinberger got that crazy spiral under control. Indeed, for the last 2 years cost increases have fallen to less than 1 percent. That's lower than the rate of inflation. This one achievement alone has saved billions of dollars. Yet, despite these successes, Secretary Weinberger and I knew at the beginning of our second term that still more needed to be done.

So, last summer I appointed a bipartisan commission to study the management of our defenses. To chair the commission I chose Dave Packard, an entrepreneur who started a company that had become one of our country's leaders in high technology, famous the world over for its management techniques and efficiency. He was joined by 16 outstanding Americans, Republicans and Democrats, who represent the best of the business, defense, and academic communities. In February the Packard commission submitted its recommendations. Now the time has come to put them into effect. Some recommendations can be acted upon without congressional approval, and under Secretary Weinberger's leadership this is taking place.

This week I signed a directive that will enhance coordination between the two sides of the Pentagon budget process: the one that says what we need and the one that says what we can afford. In addition, the Pentagon is streamlining its large procurement structure, and it will begin to give experienced managers more leeway for using their own good judgment in the purchasing process. But certain steps that would make the Department of Defense even more shipshape can take place only with congressional approval. You know, it's as if the Pentagon can swab the decks on its own, but only the Congress can grant permission to polish the brasswork. Well, it's to get this permission that I'm sending my message to Capitol Hill.

The Packard commission report urges the Congress to make a number of improvements in the way it deals with defense. The commission suggests, for example, that the Congress move from a 1-year to a 2-year budget cycle. It also urges the Congress to better focus its consideration of defense matters. Today there are some 40 congressional committees and subcommittees, each of which has some jurisdiction over defense. And the Packard commission points out that many of these committees duplicate each other's efforts.

And friends, we can all agree with the Packard commission: There must be a better, more efficient way. Other recommendations that Congress must approve include moving from year-to-year to multiyear procurements of weapon systems in order to make the acquisition process more stable; the rewriting of procurement laws to eliminate red tape; and the budgeting of major programs according to milestones within the programs themselves, not the dictates of the calendar year. In the coming weeks the Congress will have before it proposals that would both strengthen our defenses and make the Department of Defense, itself, more completely the servant of the American people. The Packard commission has made its recommendations; now it's time for the administration and the Congress to act upon them.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:06 a.m. from his ranch in Santa Barbara County, CA.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Defense Establishment Reforms Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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