January 30, 1973 – May 24, 1973
Sworn into office on 30 January 1973, Elliot L. Richardson served less than four months and thus had limited impact on the affairs of the department. Born in Boston on 20 July 1920, Richardson graduated from Harvard College in 1941 and from the Harvard Law School in 1947. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 as a private, subsequently received a commission, and left the service as a first lieutenant in 1945 after participating in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and receiving several decorations, including the Purple Heart.
Richardson served as a law clerk to Justice Learned Hand of the U.S. Court of Appeals and then to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1949 he joined a Boston law firm, with which he was associated between service in a series of appointive and elective positions: assistant to Sen. Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts (1953–54); assistant secretary in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (1957–59); U.S. attorney for Massachusetts (1959–61); special assistant to the U.S. attorney general (1961); lieutenant governor (1965–67) and attorney general (1967–69) of Massachusetts; under secretary of state (1969–70); and secretary of health, education, and welfare (1970–73).
When President Nixon selected Richardson as secretary of defense, the press described him as an excellent manager and administrator, perhaps the best in the cabinet. In his confirmation hearing, Richardson expressed agreement with Nixon's policies on such issues as the adequacy of U.S. strategic forces, NATO and relationships with other allies, and Vietnam. Although he promised to examine the DoD budget carefully to identify areas for savings, and in fact later ordered the closing of some military installations, he cautioned against precipitate cuts. As he told a Senate committee, "Significant cuts in the Defense Budget now would seriously weaken the U.S. position in international negotiations–in which U.S. military capabilities, in both real and symbolic terms, are an important factor." Similarly, he strongly supported continued military assistance at current levels. During his short tenure, Richardson spent much time testifying before congressional committees on the proposed FY 1974 budget and other Defense matters.
On 30 April President Nixon announced that he would nominate Secretary Richardson to be attorney general. It was understood that Richardson would guide the administration's handling of the Watergate investigation, which had reached a critical stage. Richardson continued as secretary of defense until 24 May, the day before he became attorney general. His tenure in that position was short also; he resigned abruptly in October 1973 after declining to support the president's decision to fire a Watergate special prosecutor Richardson had appointed. Subsequently, Richardson served President Gerald Ford as ambassador to Great Britain and secretary of commerce, and President Jimmy Carter as ambassador at large and special representative for the Law of the Sea Conference (1977-80). Thereafter, he practiced law and remained publicly active, speaking and writing widely on national security and other issues. He died on 31 December 1999 at the age of 79.