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THE PRESIDENCY: The Big Housecleaning

4 minute read

President Nixon was in seclusion last week. Well, not quite. While isolated at Camp David, far from importunate visitors, children with gifts, and ambassadors with credentials, he received a steady stream of Washington officials delivered by helicopter: Cabinet chiefs, agency heads, White House aides. In pursuit of his plan to shake up the stubborn, slow-moving federal bureaucracy, he was starting with his own men. He wanted their ideas on how to make the Government more responsive to presidential command; he also wanted to discuss their futures, which in some cases are not going to be in Government. Each guest huddled with him inside the rustic presidential lodge known as “Aspen,” where even a blazing fire did not always take the chill off the proceedings.

“He feels that some people have become too complacent in a job after a long period,” said a Nixon aide in one of the few comments made during a week of almost total news blackout. Many higher-ups in the Administration have given their notice. Among those slated to leave: Presidential Counsellor Robert Finch, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, HUD Secretary George Romney, White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, Labor Secretary James Hodgson and Transportation Chief John Volpe. Ostentatiously absent from the round of meetings was White House Aide Dwight Chapin, who had been compromised by being tied into the Watergate scandal. “Chapin has got to go,” declared a White House adviser. U.S. Treasurer Romana Banuelos would seem to be a likely target for dismissal, too, since her family-owned California food-processing firm was recently found guilty of unfair labor practices. Yet other factors may keep her in her present post. “Can you imagine firing a Mexican woman?” asked a Presidential assistant incredulously. In general, dismissals will be staggered so that no one will appear to be getting the axe. Hopefully, it will all look like attrition.

Some of the week’s visitors left happier than they arrived. One rumor had it that Kenneth Rush, currently Deputy Secretary of Defense, might get the top job in his department, succeeding Laird. But there were even stronger rumors that the job might go to HEW Secretary Elliot Richardson, who might also a) stay in his present post or b) move on to Justice. Out of the running for any Cabinet job, it seemed, was Nelson Rockefeller; last week he told the President that he would prefer to stay on in New York and, possibly, run for a sixth term as Governor. Donald Rumsfeld, director of the Cost of Living Council, is a possibility for head of HUD. Astronaut Frank Borman, a favorite of Nixon’s, is a possible replacement for Volpe at the Transportation Department.

Bullish. At the same time that the President is paring the budget (see THE ECONOMY), he is planning to tighten organization. John Ehrlichman’s domestic council will be restructured, because it has been too much of a burden for one man. Ehrlichman himself is not in disfavor, but under a new setup, additional White House aides will be recruited to oversee the bureaucracy. Foremost among them is Frederic Malek, 35, a West Point and Harvard Business School graduate who was recruited by Finch to help run HEW, subsequently moved into the Interior Department to clean out Walter Hickel’s supporters, and more recently served as the deputy director of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Other aides likely to help tame the bureaucracy include Presidential Assistant Peter Flanigan and Special Consultant Leonard Garment.

At week’s end the President escaped from his conspicuous isolation and flew to New York City with his family and close friend Charles (“Bebe”) Rebozo. He visited his old law firm, now called Mudge Rose Guthrie & Alexander, and left his motorcade to shake hands along Wall Street. “I’m bullish on America,” he said. In the evening, he attended a performance of Much Ado About Nothing—not at all intended as any kind of comment on his week in the Maryland Hills.

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