Reagan's 'supercabinet': measuring its muscle

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The cabinet announcements don't tell the pecking order. But, the Monitor has learned, Ronald Reagan now has nearly assembled his "supercabinet," those who will meet with him on a daily basis and provide counsel, not just on their specialties, but all across the board.

The core of this personal advisory group consists of three longtime Reagan associates, Caspar Weinberger (Defense), William French Smith (Attorney General) , and William Casey (CIA director). Donald T. Regan (Treasury), and whoever is at state (Alexander Haig still favored).

Other cabinet appointments are Malcolm Baldrige (Commerce), Richard Schweiker (Health and Human Services), Drew L. Lewis (Transportation), and Rep. David Stockman (Office of Management and Budget). They, along with other coming cabinet appointees, including Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Labor, mainly will be consultants in their field of specialization.

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The criteria for these top-level Reagan appointments, according to a Reagan aide, are proven competence of the highest order, convincing evidence of support of Reagan and the Republican Party, and a record that shows the ability to get along with others.

The President-elect wants strong, even bold leaders at his right hand. But he is making a special effort to have advisers who are able to live with final decisions that may run counter to their counsel.

"The President likes strongly expressed views," this aide said. "And he also wants team players -- those who get along well with others and who won't take their football and go home if they don't get their way."

Another Reagan aide, assessing the appointments, said: "I see no Reagan formula there. No effort to do something political, no effort to try to satisfy certain groups --

One of the President-elect's closest consultants on the appointments adds: "Reagan is looking for people who have shown excellence on the job and who hold promise of serving the administration with distinction. There is no blood oath of loyalty that Reagan is asking his appointees to take. But he is looking for people who are philosophically compatible."

Above all, Reagan is setting up what he hopes to be a workable "cabinet government," somewhat of a corporate board structure where he will be the chairman.

Those in his close inner circle of advisers will be treated as "wise men," a Reagan associate says. They will be expected to have their say on all major policy decisions, domestic and foreign.

Who will be first among these elite -- first among equals? Obviously, the strong men in that supercabinet will emerge only as time goes on.

However, Weinberger, Smith, and Casey have an edge in terms of becoming the most influential people in the administration because they have been such close allies of Reagan for so long.

Also, another person of cabinet rank and longtime Reagan associate, Edwin Meese III, could become very powerful. His job, as counselor to the President-elect, is to coordinate the supercabinet activities. But Mr. Meese, as the moderator of these cabinet meetings, is well positioned to play a role of considerable influence on substantive matters.

Observers mention as top contenders for some of the remaining posts Ray Donovan, Reagan's New Jersey campaign chairman, as Labor secretary; Richard Lyng , former California agriculture director, as Agriculture secretary; University of California economist Thomas Sowell or former deputy solicitor general Jewel Lafontant -- both black -- as Housing and Urban Development secretary; and Gordon Van Vleck, former president of the California Chamber of Commerce, as Interior secretary.

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