David Packard

Richard Nixon Administration


January 24, 1969–December 13, 1971

David Packard became the 13th Deputy Secretary of Defense on January 24, 1969. He was Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird’s first Deputy and the first of two Deputy Secretaries to serve during the first Nixon administration. 

Packard was born on September 7, 1912, in Pueblo, Colorado. He had an aptitude for science and he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1934 from Stanford University as a Phi Beta Kappa. He also excelled in sports and lettered in football and basketball. He received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1939, the same year he and classmate William R. Hewlett founded Hewlett-Packard.

Packard and Hewlett first partnered to manufacture electronic measurement instruments. With $538, the two men began their endeavor in Packard’s garage in Palo Alto, California. By 1947, the firm was incorporated with Packard as president. He served in this position until 1964 when he became chairman of the board and chief executive officer, which he held until 1968. By 1969, Hewlett-Packard was an internationally renowned company with 17 manufacturing plants. Among the 2,000 test instruments they manufactured, the company also produced electronic, biomedical, and analytical equipment as well as computers and calculators.

Packard first met Melvin Laird in the early 1960s when the latter, a congressman from Wisconsin, served on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. In his capacity as chairman of Stanford’s board of trustees from 1958 to 1959, Packard and a group concerned about private university issues had met with Laird in Washington. Although Packard had no contact with Laird throughout the 1960s, and was only a casual acquaintance of Nixon’s, Secretary of Defense-designate Laird called him after the 1968 election seeking his help in identifying potential Defense Department personnel. Packard himself had no desire to leave his corporation for the government, but when Laird persuaded him to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense, he agreed. An astonished Nixon, who had tried unsuccessfully to recruit Packard for his administration, told Laird that he “could not have been more amazed when you told me that [Packard] had agreed to come aboard as your deputy.”

Packard’s Hewlett-Packard stockholdings raised objections to his nomination on Capitol Hill, although he was not the first Deputy Secretary of Defense-designate to hold considerable investments with Defense Department suppliers. In order to ensure confirmation, Packard turned over his Hewlett-Packard stock to a Bank of America–managed trust. During his tenure, he was prohibited from keeping dividends or collecting from stock appreciation. He also resigned as Hewlett-Packard chairman and CEO as well as from the boards of other corporations doing business with the Defense Department and divested those holdings. Satisfied that there would be no conflict of interest, Congress confirmed him on January 23, 1969. He took the oath office the following day.

Deputy Secretary Packard procured an unwritten agreement from Secretary Laird that he could manage the Pentagon. Despite his engineering background, he had devised successful management strategies for Hewlett-Packard and he applied his administrative expertise to overseeing the Pentagon. His involvement in operational issues enabled the secretary to handle relations with the Congress, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the services, and the White House. Like many of his predecessors, Packard was involved in departmental budget preparations. Secretary Laid fostered a more cooperative relationship with the JCS, including facilitating their fair participation in the budget process. Traditionally, the services devised their own cost estimates, but they were forced to accept program cuts without explanation. Laird and Packard made several procedural changes to the Planning, Programming, and Budget System, a mechanism designed by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to integrate management principals and performance evaluations into budget-making. Laird and Packard expected that the military would draft their budgets based on available resources. They extended JCS participation throughout the entire process, which was increased by four months, and they required the services to provide “alternatives to current and planned programs.” 

President Nixon wanted to reduce military spending to increase funds for his domestic agenda. On several occasions, Packard balked at the President’s or the Office of Management and Budget’s desire to reduce the defense budget still further, arguing that a streamlined military meant that it would be difficult to “protect the security and safety of our people,” and would inhibit the United States from “[deploying] ground forces in Asia … in the Mediterranean … or … NATO if necessary.” 

The President’s plan to decrease military spending while the United States was fighting in Vietnam seemed ironic. However, the war was becoming increasingly unpopular in America and Nixon wanted to find an “honorable end.” Packard and Laird both advocated the concept of Vietnamization, the term used to describe the South Vietnamese assuming the burden of fighting the war. In support of this scheme, Packard approved an April 1969 plan siphoning American equipment from units around the world to the South Vietnamese. The effort initially worked and the South Vietnamese army became better equipped. Meanwhile, Nixon slowly began withdrawing troops from Vietnam while secretly bombing Cambodia. 

The Pentagon Papers, the secret study commissioned by former Defense Secretary McNamara and leaked to the press by former Defense official Daniel Ellsberg, complicated Nixon’s Southeast Asian policy in June 1971. Packard regarded their release as benign, recalling that he “concluded that there wasn’t anything in the papers that warranted that much trouble. I remember looking up the law, and it said that there had to be a clear and imminent danger to the security of the United States for the classification to apply, and I couldn’t see any clear and imminent danger in anything in the Pentagon Papers. I was on the other side of that one.” Nixon believed otherwise and the publication of those papers began his slow decent towards Watergate and his resignation from office.

Packard continued the role of acquisitions oversight begun by his predecessors in the Eisenhower administration, a process which became muddled during McNamara’s tenure. Packard believed the Office of the Secretary of Defense had traditionally played too large a role in acquisitions to the detriment of the armed services. He preferred the military manage their projects, although with some guidance. In May 1969, he established the Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council (DSARC). This group advised him on the status of projects during each development phase. DSARC members included the Director for Research and Engineering, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations and Logistics, the Assistant Secretary for Systems Analysis, and the Comptroller. While the services could concentrate on design and production with impunity, DSARC, as Packard envisioned it, clearly defined the roles of those involved in every aspect of project development. In May 1970, he issued a major acquisition reform memorandum outlining the acquisition process. Both defense contractors and the services praised the straightforward, almost simplistic tone of the memo and described its significance as important as Nixon’s opening to China. The memo served as the foundation for a series of acquisition directives issued in the mid-1970s aimed at continuing the positive reforms that Packard implemented during his tenure. His impact upon defense acquisitions was so substantial that the Defense Department named an award after him. The annual David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award began in 1997, and it honors Packard as well as recipients whose programs have achieved acquisition excellence, efficiency and productivity. Packard is the only former Deputy Secretary of Defense to have an award named after him.

In addition to his work on acquisitions, Packard became involved in the Nixon administration’s efforts at arms control. The President concentrated on two arms control initiatives: an anti-ballistic missile system (ABM), essentially a missile defense program, and the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT). The ABM had begun during the Johnson administration, but concerns over site locations, cost, the level of defense the system afforded, and technical feasibility slowed implementation. Secretary Laird instructed Packard to convene a review panel to study the viability of the ABM against Soviet and Chinese missile capabilities. Packard’s panel drafted several enhancements to the existing system, with one option designed to protect intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites and Washington, DC from a Soviet nuclear strike. President Nixon decided to proceed with a modified ABM system which would afford the United States a chance at a retaliatory strike against an enemy’s offensive capabilities. He renamed the ABM “Safeguard” to assuage public fears about the system’s intent. However, the development of the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle, or MIRV, complicated the arms control effort. 

The MIRV was capable of hitting many separate targets simultaneously. The State Department worried that MIRV development would stymie arms control discussions with the Soviets. Packard disagreed and argued that MIRVs would actually facilitate concerted disarmament discussions, a position both Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger shared. Nixon opted to proceed with MIRV development. Throughout the remainder of his term, Packard continued to advocate for an ABM system, linking it with an arms control treaty. In fact, he became the chief proponent of funding the Washington, DC site. Nixon decided to begin construction on mid-western sites first, but by mid-May 1971 the United States and the Soviet Union announced they had reached a tentative arms control agreement limiting ABM deployment. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) was signed on May 26, 1972.

Packard resigned from the Nixon administration at the end of 1971 in order to return to Hewlett-Packard. From 1973 to 1981, he was a member of the Trilateral Commission, the organization founded by David Rockefeller to promote cooperation among Japanese, European, and North American industrialized areas. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan named him as chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management formed to study Defense procurement. Many of the Commission’s recommendations were incorporated into the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 reorganizing the Defense Department. Packard died of pneumonia at age 86 on March 26, 1996.