More than one Reagan adviser has said the new administration would "hit the ground running." If the first days of transition mean anything, they give the lie to a critic who responded, "I predict they will hit the ground crawling."
The critic was referring to the difficulty of any new White House team in learning the ropes and moving the machinery of a government in which many programs have a life of their own. Long-time Reagan aide Edwin Meese has said it would be a mistake to "try to do too much immediately." He has already told a conference of county officials that Mr. Reagan would be "very reluctant" to make quick changes in aid programs for local governments.
But the Reagan people seem determined to be ready to move ahead on their priorities when the time comes to pursue them. One indication is the prompt naming of Mr. Meese himself as special counselor to the President with Cabinet rank. He is known as the calm bureaucratic professional who is, in the words of a California oberser, "the kind of guy who makes government work."
Mr. Meese will be Cabinet coordinator in an effort to make the Cabinet system a responsive means of advising the president and implementing his policies. This seems in sharp contrast with President Carter's early intentions of turning considerable policymaking over to the departments concerned. What should not be lost in seeking more centralized control is the free-and-take to assure that productive ideas form any source are not overlooked.
The swift choice of James Baker as White House chief of staff is another example of Mr. Reagan's transition approach. Here is the man who opposed Mr. Reagan as campaign manager for George Bush in this year's primaries and as the "miracle man" aide of Gerald Ford at the 1976 Republican convention who went on to become Ford's campaign manager. Doubtless Mr. Bush's vice-presidential position gave Mr. Baker a friend at court. But Mr. Reagan risked the wrath of his ideological right-wing supporters by tapping the effective Mr. Baker even though he is a political moderate.
Similarly, Mr. Reagan quite properly refrained from interfering in the new Republican Senate's choice of a majority leader. He gave a firm endorsement to Howard Baker, even though here was another moderate political opponent during the primaries.
Reports persist of infighting within the transition team, including all those subteams in various policy categories. For example, factions are seen tilting toward or away from the awesome Henry Kissinger, who remains unexpectedly prominent in the Reagan circle despite Reagan's rejection of Kissinger policies in 1976.
But what has come to the surface so far is a sense of willingness to make use of skill and experience without the kind of narrow acceptability tests suggested by the Republican platform. Some say that surprises could emerge despite the visibility of "retreads" from previous administrations in the search for experienced appointees. Familiar names tend to get attention, whereas less familiar ones could also bring competence -- and perhaps a greater feeling of the "new beginning" promised at the Republican convention.
At any rate, the impression is that selections are being considered with that management approach which so many voters saw as a contribution that Mr. Reagan couldmake to the unwieldy federal apparatus. Maybe this administration will hit the ground running after all.