An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Frank C. Carlucci

Ronald Reagan Administration

November 23, 1987 – January 20, 1989

Frank C. Carlucci, who had served as Caspar Weinberger's deputy secretary between 1981 and 1983, succeeded him as secretary of defense. Carlucci was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on 18 October 1930. After graduation from Princeton University in 1952, he served two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. In 1956 after study at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration and a short stint in private business, Carlucci joined the Department of State as a foreign service officer.

His State Department assignments took him to South Africa, the Congo, Zanzibar, and Brazil between 1957 and 1969. He left the State Department in 1969 to join the Office of Economic Opportunity as assistant director, and moved up to director late in 1970. He then became associate director and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (1971-72) and under secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (1972-74). At both places he worked under Caspar Weinberger.

In 1975 Carlucci returned to the State Department to serve as ambassador to Portugal until 1978, when he went to the Central Intelligence Agency as deputy director, staying until January 1981. The next month he joined Weinberger at the Department of Defense as deputy secretary. Strongly supported by Weinberger, Carlucci was selected for the post even though some of President Reagan's advisers opposed him because he had served in the Carter administration. As deputy secretary he worked closely with Weinberger, assuming responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Pentagon and overseeing the defense budget and procurement. He created the Defense Resources Board and proposed the "Carlucci initiatives" to bring more stability and order into the defense procurement process.

Carlucci left the Pentagon in January 1983 to become president and later chairman and chief executive officer of Sears World Trade, Inc., in Washington. He stayed with Sears until 1986, when he moved to the White House as assistant to the president for national security affairs. In 1985–86, while still with Sears, he served on the President's Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, chaired by David Packard. Carlucci worked particularly on the issues of long-range planning and the budgeting and programming process.

Given his extensive experience in national security affairs, Carlucci was a natural choice to succeed Weinberger; he took office on 23 November 1987. Although a long-time associate of Weinberger and a strong advocate of the Reagan defense policy, Carlucci did things his own way in the Pentagon. During his short 14 months as defense secretary he was in no sense a caretaker. His initiatives on management, his relationships with Congress, his views on major defense issues, such as the budget, procurement, weapon systems, and the down-sizing of the military–all contained his own stamp.

Carlucci did not undertake extensive organizational changes in DoD, probably because he entered office toward the end of the Reagan administration. He retained William H. Taft IV, who had been deputy secretary since 1984, and established close relationships with Chairman Admiral William J. Crowe, Jr., and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He and Taft met weekly with the service secretaries. Although he had earlier been skeptical about the provisions of the Goldwater-Nichols Act giving the JCS chairman more power, he concluded eventually that the changes had worked out well.

Carlucci's tactful but clear-spoken approach brought about significant improvement in DoD relations with Congress and the State Department, areas where Weinberger had encountered difficulty. He testified frequently before congressional committees, and while often critical of legislative handling of defense affairs, he was less resistant than Weinberger had been and generally got along well with Congress. He maintained a good relationship with Secretary of State George Shultz, who also met frequently with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Carlucci did much to promote foreign and military policies on his many visits abroad. During his 14 months as secretary of defense, he made 13 trips overseas, devoting about 25 percent of his time in office to visiting Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The first incumbent secretary of defense to visit the Soviet Union, he went there twice: from 29 May to 1 June 1988 to attend a Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting, and again early in August 1988 for meetings with his counterpart, Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov. In an earlier meeting in March 1988 in Berne, Switzerland, Carlucci and Yazov discussed the Soviet minister's contention that the Soviet Union was changing its military doctrine, putting more emphasis on defense. The two leaders covered the same subject at their Moscow meetings. Carlucci established what he termed a "bridge of communications" with Yazov, but he saw no evidence to support the Soviet claim that they had adopted a defensive strategy. Carlucci concluded that the United States should continue to strengthen its own military capacity and that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He visited NATO headquarters at Brussels four times during his term to discuss the future of NATO within the context of the shrinking U.S. defense budget, arms control advances, and the changes taking place in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev's leadership.

In visits to China and Japan, Carlucci pursued much the same agenda that had occupied Weinberger. He urged Japan to continue to move forward with its defense programs and to increase support for U.S. forces stationed there. In China he asked the government not to sell missiles to Middle Eastern countries; previously China had sold Silkworm missiles to Iran and intermediate-range missiles capable of reaching Israel to Saudi Arabia. Talks followed on U.S. transfers of technology to the Chinese armed forces.

The Defense budget confronted Carlucci with his most important domestic issue. As soon as he took office in November 1987, he had to deal with the DoD budget request for fiscal year 1989, beginning on 1 October 1988. Shortly after the stock market crash in October 1987, the administration and Congress agreed on limiting the FY 1989 DoD budget to about $299 billion, some $33 billion less than President Reagan had requested earlier. Carlucci established priorities for allocating the reductions among the military services and other DoD units. He chose to reduce personnel levels in order to protect a proposed military pay increase, and to reduce the force structure rather than cut training and support. In addition he terminated uneconomical or marginal programs and deferred or delayed others.

Working closely with Deputy Secretary Taft, Carlucci provided budget-cutting guidelines to the military departments but encountered trouble. The Army, for example, proposed to slow production of some weapon systems even after Carlucci made it clear that he wanted them eliminated. The Navy objected to Carlucci's order that it retire 16 frigates, since it meant the abandonment of the 600-ship Navy goal. Secretary of the Navy James H. Webb, Jr., resigned over this issue.

When DoD presented its revised $299.5 billion budget proposal to Congress in February 1988, it projected a reduction of 36,000 from the current personnel strength of 2,174,000. The services would have to cut certain planned weapon systems and retire existing systems. The Navy would retire 16 frigates and one Poseidon-class submarine; the Army would lose 620 Vietnam-vintage helicopters; and the Air Force would phase out its fleet of SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft and deactivate a tactical fighter wing. The budget request included funds for various weapon systems for each of the services, as well as $4.6 billion for the Strategic Defense Initiative and $200 million for the Midgetman missile. Carlucci opposed the Midgetman, but support for it in Congress resulted in an allocation designed to keep the program alive, leaving to the next administration a final decision about it. Carlucci anticipated that over the next five years DoD spending would decrease $300 billion from previous projections.

After Congress completed work on the Defense budget in the summer of 1988, President Reagan vetoed the bill, even though Carlucci and the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, recommended approval. Reagan found unacceptable the reduced levels of SDI spending imposed by Congress and restrictions on the amount of money the Pentagon could spend on development of space-based antimissile interceptors, part of the SDI program. Eventually Carlucci and congressional leaders agreed to retain the $4.1 billion spending level for SDI in the vetoed bill but to drop the restrictions on antimissile interceptor funding. Carlucci accepted a $299 billion DoD spending ceiling late in 1987; he thought it not really adequate, but understood that it was the best he could get.

To help accommodate to the tighter budget Carlucci wanted to close wasteful and unneeded military bases in the United States. Disposing of these bases was difficult, in large part because individual members of Congress resisted shutting down military installations in their own districts and states. To circumvent the usual congressional obstacles, Carlucci proposed the creation of the Commission on Base Realignment and Closure. The commission, established in 1988 with a bipartisan membership selected by the secretary, submitted a list of nearly 90 bases to be eliminated. Carlucci endorsed the entire list, and Congress subsequently accepted it. Carlucci actually thought the matter ought to be exclusively in the hands of the secretary of defense, but he proposed the commission approach as a politically viable way to achieve his goal.

Carlucci also had to deal with the damaging "Ill Wind" procurement fraud, involving billions of dollars in contracts, disclosed in the summer of 1988. As deputy secretary in the early 1980s and later as a member of the Packard Commission, Carlucci had worked to improve procurement. Thus he found especially troubling the 1988 fraud disclosures–payment of bribes for inside information on competitive bids, use of contract specifications to favor one contractor over others, and collusive bidding by contractors. One of the principal figures involved was a former assistant secretary of the Navy, who had resigned in March 1987 to become a private defense consultant. Eventually the courts prosecuted and convicted some of the major figures involved in the Ill Wind fraud. The whole episode, however, raised questions anew about the procurement process and damaged the Pentagon's reputation.

Carlucci worried about proposals in Congress to provide quick fixes in the procurement area–including establishment of an independent procurement control agency, a special inspector general to investigate reports of Pentagon corruption, and strengthening the "revolving door" laws involving the Pentagon and military contractors. He set new guidelines for procurement emphasizing multiyear buying, adoption of a total quality management program for procurement, fewer auditors, and strengthening of the position of under secretary for acquisition, established in 1986. In an important speech in September 1988 Carlucci proposed a five-point program to streamline the procurement process, urging Congress to (1) combine the authorization and appropriations processes; (2) reduce the number of committees and subcommittees having overlapping oversight of DoD budgeting; (3) revise procedures to make it impossible for individual members to introduce amendments to the budget bill forcing the president to buy items not in his budget request; (4) shift to a biennial Defense budget; and (5) adopt reforms to further stabilize the procurement process, including funding more programs on a multiyear basis.

Many existing and proposed weapon systems, especially ballistic missiles, posed difficult problems for Carlucci. A long-standing issue related to the 50 MX intercontinental ballistic missiles placed in hardened underground silos in the mid-1980s. Carlucci considered these missiles vulnerable to Soviet attack and advocated putting all of them, including a second 50 MXs, on moving railroad cars. Congressional opposition prevented him from proceeding with the rail basing plan. Complicating this issue was congressional and other support for the proposed Midgetman missile, a 15-ton single-warhead mobile missile first proposed in 1983. Carlucci felt that the Midgetman would not be cost-effective and would compete for funds with the MX in a tight Pentagon budget, but he proposed a modest allocation in the FY 1988 budget to keep the Midgetman alive. Neither the MX rail-based mode nor the Midget-man proposal ever went forward; the end of the Cold War in the years immediately following Carlucci's term made these proposals less urgent.

As a firm supporter of SDI, Carlucci opposed negotiations on arms control that might limit U.S. choices in developing, testing, and deploying SDI systems. State Department arms control negotiator Paul H. Nitze and Admiral Crowe, among others, thought that it might be possible, in the interests of securing a new arms control agreement, to negotiate with the Soviet Union some limits on SDI testing without compromising the SDI program. Carlucci consistently opposed any such agreement.

After signature of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, the State Department hoped to move rapidly on a strategic arms reduction treaty (START). Carlucci again argued against negotiating limitations on SDI research and development, and Reagan made it clear that he would not trade SDI for a START agreement. Carlucci publicly defended SDI technological progress, observing that the major obstacle to securing the system was likely to be political rather than technical. He acknowledged the unlikelihood of achieving a perfect antimissile defense system, but argued that SDI would strengthen the U.S. deterrent at a time when the nation had no real defense against incoming missiles. He also portrayed SDI as a defense against rogue countries, such as Libya, that might be able to obtain nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the United States. Although he did not get as much money as he wanted for SDI in the FY 1989 budget, he secured enough to keep research and development work underway.

His stand on SDI did not detract from Carlucci's support of the efforts of the Reagan administration to negotiate arms control agreements with the Soviet Union. Some arms control advocates saw his appointment as secretary of defense to succeed Weinberger in 1987 as a sign that the Pentagon would soften its hard line approach on the issue. Carlucci testified strongly in favor of the INF Treaty, which he saw as enhancing NATO security in several ways. The treaty would reduce the Soviet military threat to Western Europe by removing an entire class of missile systems from the area and demonstrate to the USSR that NATO nations had the political will to make and support decisions necessary to ensure their security. He also emphasized that the INF Treaty included stringent verification provisions. To implement the verification process of the INF Treaty, Carlucci created the On-Site Inspection Agency on 15 January 1988.

The long war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s threatened the interests of the United States and its friends in the Persian Gulf region and confronted Carlucci with a major crisis. The United States began to convoy Kuwaiti tankers, carrying the U.S. flag, in the summer of 1987, shortly before Carlucci arrived at the Pentagon. He had played a central role in the development and implementation of the reflagging and convoy policy as Reagan's national security adviser before he became secretary of defense. On one of his first trips abroad as secretary in January 1988 he visited Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and U.S. ships in the Gulf. Three months later U.S. relations with Iran reached another flash point when U.S. Navy ships destroyed two Iranian oil platforms in retaliation for damage done by an Iranian mine to the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Gulf. In the southern half of the Gulf, U.S. ships clashed with Iranian forces, crippling or sinking six of their ships. Subsequently President Reagan ordered the U.S. Navy to expand its duties in the Gulf to include the protection of neutral, non-Communist merchant ships that requested help when attacked. Carlucci monitored these developments closely; he visited the Gulf area again in December 1988.

Another serious incident in the Persian Gulf occurred on 3 July 1988, when the USS Vincennes mistakenly shot down a civilian Iranian airliner over Gulf waters, killing 290 persons. Carlucci set up a commission of inquiry to look into the matter, and the United States apologized to Iran and paid compensation to the victims' families. In August 1988 Iran and Iraq agreed to an armistice, ending their eight-year conflict, but Carlucci kept U.S. forces at full strength in the Persian Gulf, pending a formal settlement between the two countries.

Carlucci left office on 20 January 1989 with the advent of the Bush administration. In an interview with reporters shortly before his departure, Carlucci said he was most proud of three accomplishments: persuading Congress to agree to streamline base closing procedures, the conduct of the successful tanker escort operation in the Persian Gulf, and the development of a new, positive relationship with Soviet military authorities. Other achievements included setting funding priorities and guiding the process for cutting the FY 1989 Pentagon budget; developing a calm, measured approach to the Pentagon procurement fraud investigation; impressing on world leaders the dangers of long-range missile proliferation; and persuading Congress to drop the idea of using military forces to seal U.S. borders in the fight against drugs. Carlucci said his biggest disappointment was that the Pentagon had "not been able to preserve the defense consensus" in Congress and in the nation at a time when developments in the Communist world showed that "negotiating from strength works." In an article published soon after his retirement, he listed what he considered the central challenges policymakers would face in the 1990s: the emergence of new and dangerous threats to U.S. security from all over the world, the persistence of the Soviet threat, and the probability that the Western countries would face a growing tendency toward conflict arising from economic competition.

After he left the Pentagon, Carlucci joined the Carlyle Group, a Washington investment partnership, as vice president and managing director; he later became chairman. In the ensuing years, he wrote, spoke, and testified frequently on defense issues. He addressed again the problem of congressional micromanagement of DoD, continued to advocate rail deployment of the MX, and supported the new B-2 bomber as necessary in the nuclear deterrent triad. In 1993 he joined with several other former secretaries of defense who voiced strong reservations about deploying U.S. troops in foreign trouble spots. Carlucci and his colleagues rejected the idea of sending troops to ensure stability in the former Soviet Union, and they also opposed sending troops to Bosnia. He died on 3 June 2018 at the age of 87.