Defense Secretary-designate John Tower told a confirmation hearing Thursday that laws should be tightened to prevent officials "from profiting unfairly, unethically, or illegally or inordinately" if they move between Pentagon and industry jobs.
Tower also assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that the $763,777 he collected as a defense consultant over the past three years would not influence actions he might take as secretary.And he cautioned Congress that it should write "revolving-door" laws "carefully enough so that honest, hardworking people who might want to engage in public service are not summarily proscribed" from working at the Pentagon.
Tower noted that Donald J. Atwood, whom he has chosen as deputy defense secretary, has been vice chairman of the General Motors Corp., a major Pentagon contractor. He said other top aides would be drawn from the defense industry as well.
The atmosphere at the hearings was polite as the senators questioned their former colleague. Tower, a Texas Republican, spent 24 years in the Senate, including a stint as chairman of the Armed Services Committee from 1981 to 1984.
The committee chairman, Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., told Tower that "I know you and I know you are an honest person."
"Frankly, the difficulty here is not that you have worked for a contractor as a consultant, but a number of them, five or six or seven of the major corporations," Nunn said. If you were to recuse (not involve) yourself on all of them, you couldn't be secretary of defense."
Tower told the committee that "I faced up to this problem when I was chairman" of the commission appointed by President Reagan to investigate the Iran-Contra affair.
In that role, he said, he was required "to inquire into and investigate the actions of a president to whom I was deeply loyal. It was not a pleasant experience. My loyalty to my country transcends any of these loyalties," said Tower.
In other Cabinet-related proceedings Wednesday, the Senate approved the nominations of James A. Baker III as secretary of State, Elizabeth Dole as Labor secretary and Richard Darman as director of the Office of Management and Budget. The vote on all three nominations was 99-0 with Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., the lone abstention.
During his second day of testimony, Tower told senators about his role as a consultant to several major defense contractors, including Rockwell International, Martin Marietta, Textron, LTV and British Aerospace.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked Tower whether he thought tougher laws were needed to prevent the type of activities alleged in the current investigation of transfer of information on pending contracts being sold by Pentagon employees to defense contractors and consultants.
Tower said he never engaged in such activities, but that "in light of what has happened, (laws) should be" tightened.
He said that as of Dec. 1 he had severed his ties with defense contractors he had worked for as a consultant over the past two years and did not "stand to gain from the prosperity of any former associate."
In testimony Wednesday, Tower disavowed the label of "mindless hawk" and promised to take a hard look at all weapons systems in trimming the defense budget.
He said the Bush administration will conduct a thorough review in which "nothing is sacred" while it searches for solutions to the budget deficit.
Tower declined to specify what cuts might be made, repeating the refrain that nothing is sacred when questioned about the MX and Midgetman missiles and the number of Navy aircraft carriers.
He stressed, however, that the new administration will "tailor the military to the strategy."
That strategy will include a close eye on the developments in the Soviet Union, where President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has made some welcome changes, Tower said. But those changes do not "alter the fact that in terms of political philosophy and offensive capability, the Soviet Union remains our greatest adversary," he said.
There was little doubt that Tower would be confirmed.
"Short in stature, big in brains," said Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.
And even Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said that when Tower was chairman of the Armed Services Committee, "I didn't always agree with Senator Tower, but I respected him and look forward to working with him as secretary of defense."