• U.S.

THE ADMINISTRATION: Shaking Up the Bureaucrats

8 minute read

MOST recent U.S. Presidents have suffered the frustration of issuing orders to the vast federal bureaucracy they supposedly commanded—only to discover that nothing happened. Insulated by layers of officialdom and protected by an almost biological instinct for self-perpetuation, the bureaucratic organism stubbornly resists change. But the votes indicating his huge re-election landslide were barely counted when Richard Nixon took a mighty swipe at this governmental inertia. He demanded that some 2,000 of his politically appointed men in sensitive spots throughout Washington submit their resignations. He would decide who should stay and who should go.

The move was an extraordinary one for a President whose electoral triumph could be interpreted as approval of what he has been doing all along. Nixon’s determination to shake up his Administration was, among other things, a hopeful sign that he was not necessarily content with the status quo. He seemed determined to grapple with a basic realignment of Cabinet-level departments as he strives for what he described as a Government that would be “leaner but stronger.” The move also stirred new speculation about how he would handle such diverse personalities as his former Treasury Secretary, John Connally, Foreign Policy Adviser Henry Kissinger and others on his own myriad White House staff.

The resignation demands, sent under the name of Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, were blunt: “The President has requested that you forward to him an indication of your personal plans or preferences regarding your possible service in the Nixon Administration. This should be accompanied by your pro forma letter of resignation to become effective at the pleasure of the President.” The purpose, declared White House Special Counsel Harry Dent, is “to cut back and sharpen up. There’s going to be a lot of change. The President is the quarterback.”

However commendable, the new and abrupt presidential pressure embittered some loyal subalterns who felt that they deserved at least thanks for their all-out re-election efforts before being grilled about their futures. The wife of one White House aide, noting that her husband was in no position to complain, called reporters to protest: “All those months of work, work, work, and at the end the President says—’Resign.’ ” What most worried some able officials who had intended to leave the Government anyway was that now it would look as though they had been pushed out rather than jumped.

Not even Cabinet members who had worked on an almost unprecedented scale for a President’s re-election could be certain of just where they stood. One by one they were trooping into the secluded wilderness of Camp David to be asked by the President about their personal plans and their intentions for their departments. All faced a Dec. 15 deadline for presenting written evaluations of how their divisions, including small units rarely studied in searching detail before, were performing, and what each hoped to accomplish during the next four years.

Nixon apparently meant to use the reports in deciding whether to propose again a sweeping revision of the Executive Department. The aim would be to have fewer Administrative enclaves and to make each more cohesive and functional. One of Nixon’s Camp David visitors was Roy Ash, president of Litton Industries and head of a reorganization task force that had urged such a consolidation before. As part of his grandly named “New American Revolution,” Nixon had agreed and suggested that seven of the departments could be condensed into just four, dealing with natural resources, human resources, economic development and community development. The only Cabinet departments to survive as separate entities would be State, Treasury, Defense and Justice.

But Nixon abandoned any real push for this reorganization as the inevitable opposition from entrenched interests and Congress grew. This time he apparently intends to order as much reorganization as his powers permit without congressional approval. Among the tough-minded operators who will go over those Cabinet evaluations are Presidential Assistants John Ehrlichman and Haldeman—both of whom seem serenely secure in their roles as the White House “Berlin Wall.” Key advice will also come from a stern efficiency expert, Frederic Malek, who has earned Nixon’s respect as a management technician at HEW and the Interior Department.

Most intriguing is how Nixon will handle three men interested in his top-priority concern: foreign relations. Kissinger has been indispensable in his White House post, but might be equally effective if his powers were institutionalized by shifting him to rejuvenate a State Department whose morale has sagged under the overshadowed Secretary of State William Rogers. The most fascinating Camp David visitor last week was Connally, the high-powered Texan who apparently has totally charmed the President. Connally was summoned by Nixon before Rogers—and it seemed almost certain that Nixon wants him to take over the State Department.

One close friend insisted that Connally was under “massive, intense pressure” to take the job. But Connally was reluctant, even though he is known to cherish ambitions for the post. Although a millionaire, he has been anxious first to get back into private law practice to earn the kind of money that is really respected in Texas. He would apparently prefer to move to State later in Nixon’s term. That would set him up for a possible presidential bid of his own in 1976, although he has virtually become a man without a party and would have both to switch to the G.O.P. and to maneuver past Vice President Spiro Agnew.

On the surface, two strong men like Kissinger and Connally would seem to be an explosive combination in foreign policy. Each has indicated that he has no doubt about his ability to work with the other. While Connally’s sometimes rough tactics may horrify veteran diplomats of State, his well-known clout with Nixon could give that downtrodden department a lift. There was also speculation that Connally might be used as a supercoordinator on domestic policy or, alternatively, on both domestic and international economic policy. He would only say enigmatically: “I’m still in the clear.” But he added: “It’s going to be very interesting around here.”

Watchdog. As he whacks away at the bureaucracy, Nixon promises not to spare his own staff, which has grown larger than that of any previous President. Some members apparently were ready to move out quite willingly, including Dent, Speechwriter William Safire, Communications Director Herbert Klein and Special Counsel Robert Finch. Already gone is Nixon’s former chief legislative aide, Clark MacGregor, who served as director of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President and will accept a presumably lucrative vice presidency with United Aircraft Corp. He will be the top contact man with Washington for the firm, which does more than half of its business with the Federal Government.

Another object of the shakeup: Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, revealed that he had been asked to resign as chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission—and that he would do so. The commission, created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, was meant to be an independent watchdog agency, scrutinizing progress in civil rights, including efforts of the Federal Government. Hesburgh, who served energetically on the commission since its formation, has been highly critical of Nixon’s antibusing positions and the Administration’s lethargy in enforcing civil rights laws.

The pressure on Hesburgh raised broader questions about the ultimate purpose of Nixon’s reorganization plans. Granting an exclusive interview to the Evening Star and Washington Daily News (see THE PRESS), Nixon recently declared: “Government in Washington is too big and is too expensive. Reform, using money more effectively, will be the mark of this Administration.” The President objected to the idea that the nation needs “some new massive government program…What we need now, rather than more government is better government. Many times the better is not the fatter, but the leaner. What I am standing for is government finding ways…to give people incentive to do more for themselves on their own without government assistance.”

Certainly a more efficient and less expensive Government is desirable—and Nixon’s attempt to shake things up is overdue and necessary. It will be no small achievement if he can overcome all the built-in obstacles to governmental change. Beyond that the hope is that the end result will be not only a saving of money and a tinkering with the machinery of Government for its own sake, but that the streamlined machine will really be used to cope with the pressing national concerns that persist.

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