Anne Graham, voluntary politician turned pro

By , Education editor of The Christian Science Monitor

''Going out of business,'' announces the framed calligraphy in the third-floor corner office of Anne Graham, assistant US secretary of education for legislation and public affairs. A low table holds a dispenser with a dwindling supply of jellybeans and a report whose cover features a picture of President Reagan.

Classical music plays in the background - the announcement that the preceding selection was ''String Quartet in A Minor by . . .'' is interrupted by Ms. Graham's entrance.

She plugs in a fan (the date is Jan. 8), explains that she has been foiled in her attempt to open or remove a window ''because you can only push it in from the outside,'' and says with exasperation, ''This overheating in winter is so typical of the government!''

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Another excess: ''Meetings. I could attend 25 meetings a day. [She usually schedules three to six.] Most meetings take two hours when 15 to 30 minutes is really sufficient. Of course,'' she admits ruefully, ''you can't cause other damage while you're at a conference table.''

Ms. Graham, a political appointee, is determined to carry out the President's mandate to end the federal Department of Education. ''It's incredibly important to get rid of this department,'' she declares. ''Did you know,'' she suddenly demands, ''that in 1867 the government created a Department of Education and in 1869 turned it into a bureau in the Department of the Interior?''

''The polls show that the American people don't want [the Department of] Education,'' she says. ''But NEA [the National Education Association, one of the large teacher unions] exerts lots of pressure to save it. They see it as a focal point for lobbying for education.''

Does she think there will be a loss of civil rights if the federal government removes itself from education?

''No. We have the laws. That's an unfounded fear.''

As a young person in a very high position, does she have any mixed feelings about abolishing the department when her own job is at stake?

''I assume talented people will always have a job. The President reminded all his appointees that we didn't come to his administration to find a job but to do a job.''

Hers has been a whirlwind career in politics since she ''discovered'' her interest in it at age 14 while a student at National Cathedral School in Washington. ''I didn't want to go to camp that summer; I just wanted to stay home and stuff envelopes for the Republicans,'' she confides. ''But of course I went to camp anyway. My mother insisted.And it's good for you - you learn lots of important things at camp.'' Both of her parents are Republicans; her father is a nuclear physicist. She grew up in the environs of Washington.

After graduating from National Cathedral in 1968, she went to Bradford College in Massachusetts and then Barnard College in New York City. ''It was during the troubled time of student unrest, but I didn't get involved in that. I had already decided that the best way to change the system was to work from within.''

Between school and her present assignment she has worked for former Sen. Harrison H. Schmitt of New Mexico, Rep. Matthew J. Rinaldo of New Jersey, former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, and former presidential assistant Lyn Nofziger. She worked on the Nixon reelection campaign in California, edited the White House news summary, became assistant press secretary during Ronald Reagan's campaign, then assistant to the deputy chairman of committees at the 1980 Republican National Convention.

Her normal workday lasts 10 to 12 hours; she often works one or both days on the weekend. She spends quite a lot of her time on Capitol Hill seeing congressmen or testifying at congressional hearings.

''What we're sending to the Hill is sound and good,'' she says of the proposal that the department turn over most of its functions to state and local governments or other federal departments and consolidate what is left in a federal foundation with grantmaking powers.

Resolutely hopeful of achieving that deferred goal ''in the [current] session of Congress,'' she can nevertheless view with pride some of her accomplishments since assuming office:

''I've reduced my own office through attrition and RIF [reduction in force]. We've put a moratorium on publications and audiovisual supplies and reduced our output by 50 percent.''

''We were publishing lots of outdated and irrelevant materials,'' she alleges.''When I first came here, someone handed me a book on BLOTES. Do you know what that term means?'' She explains with a shudder that BLOTES is an abbreviation for ''Basic Language Other Than English Students.''

''We have to have congressional support to abolish the Department of Education; until we get it, there are many things we can do,'' she says, citing deregulation, ''which saves paper work''; consolidation (block grants instead of categorical grants for specific programs); reduction of publications; and tuition tax credits.

''I've worked for a long time to see this President have his chance - it's an honor to work for him,'' she says.

She feels that a mixture of private-sector and government experience would be the best possible preparation for someone with responsibilities similar to those she has in her present position.

''You have to understand crisis management, address priorities.'' She herself does not have a management background but thinks ''a lot of management is common sense. Unless you're going to be an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer, a good solid liberal arts background is best.''

Political careers begin with volunteer jobs, she asserts. ''Virtually everyone I know licked envelopes, sorted mail. Very few come in at a high level. Volunteering to help is a real opportunity to get knowledge. You translate your school skills as you mature. But students should do volunteer jobs - try them out, find out whether it's a career you want.''

She gives Mr. Nofziger credit for teaching her ''how to write the way the real world writes. He edited everything I wrote when I worked for him.''

She says she never made any five-year career plans for herself. ''I make mid-course corrections constantly,'' she explains. ''Life is not inflexible.''

She explains her reason for not being active in the women's rights movement as being ''too busy.'' She does sit on Helene von Dam's task force to find women for vacancies in the Reagan administration.

Her recreational interests are reading (current books like Lou Cannon's biography of Ronald Reagan and the classics, which she likes to reread for new relevance), riding (she ''steals'' her sister's horse sometimes), sailing (on Narragansett Bay and in Maine coastal waters), and ''going to Rehoboth [a Delaware beach near Washington] in winter.''

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