Nation's Military Center Quiet As New Commander-in-Chief Takes Over With PM-Inaugural Rdp and PM-US-Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) _ On the second floor of a quiet, almost deserted Pentagon, the office of the secretary of defense stood empty today as the Bush administration prepared to hand over a string of military crises to the Clinton team.

Dick Cheney, who served nearly four years as President Bush's secretary of defense, had cleared out of his office on Tuesday. This morning, at an hour when he normally would be at work, the office door was closed and locked. The military guard who usually stood beside his door in the Eisenhower Corridor was absent.

Cheney's designated successor, Les Aspin, was scheduled to be formally confirmed by the Senate and sworn in this afternoon. To ensure a smooth turnover of power, Bush on Tuesday issued an order that Cheney would remain secretary until Aspin was formally sworn in to keep the chain of command intact.

Clinton also asked several senior Bush administration Pentagon officials to stay on temporarily so there would be no management breakdowns during the transition.

The relatively few Defense Department officials working on this federal holiday said they foresaw no problems during the handoff of power in the Pentagon.

''The strength of the system is the continuity of civilian leadership and military command,'' said Army Col. Dave Burpee, head of the Pentagon's Directorate for Defense Information.

The military's power structure remains in place. At the top is Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell intends to remain in his position as the nation's top military officer until his term ends in October.

Also remaining are the uniformed leaders of each of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The civilian service secretaries were leaving today.