JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WRNothing screams change to an old setting like a new set of furniture and edgy decorations. President Bush signaled a new, more formal tone when he junked former President Clinton's gaudy Oval Office furnishings. Nancy Pelosi returned grace and style to the House speaker's office with flowers and bowls of chocolates. And Bob Gates, the latest defense secretary, is doing it at the Pentagon.
Distinguishing himself from Don Rumsfeld's combativeness, Gates held his first press conference around a big table in a small conference room. But it was too cramped, so he set his sights on making the larger briefing room cozier. Gone is the lone podium, replaced by a set that would better fit a morning TV news show: a big table for himself and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in front of a world map. And unlike Rummy, Gates likes to sit, despite formerly heading Texas A&M University, where the "12th Man" tradition keeps students on their feet for Aggie games. "Frankly," says Gates, "I get tired when I stand up too long."
Now the decorations. Gates thinks the office looks better with a few trinkets from Aggieland, says spokesperson Hollen Wheeler. That, naturally, riled the larger corps of brass, who hail from the University of Texas. But Wheeler, herself a Longhorn, says the UT gang doesn't feel too threatened: They outnumber Aggies 9 to 2.