Washington — Contrary to allegations from his critics, Kenneth L. Adelman acts like a man who expects to do a lot of arms controlling in the coming months. The controversial director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) is going to be getting a larger budget, more personnel, and, he hopes, added bureaucratic clout. Mr. Adelman is driving his staff hard, piling on new assignments.
Critics in the US Senate have, until recently at least, regarded Adelman as a lightweight in the arms control field, who, rather than playing the role of arms control advocate, would yield in every confrontation to hard-liners in the Reagan administration.
But ACDA officials say that Adelman plans intensive involvement in every aspect of nuclear and conventional arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. And he expects the pace of several of these negotiations to pick up, officials say.
President Reagan named Adelman as ACDA director on Jan. 12 after firing his first director, Eugene V. Rostow. Adelman, a deputy ambassador at the United Nations, almost immediately came under attack from Senate liberals, who used his nomination as a target for their dissatisfaction with Reagan's arms control policy as a whole.
In February, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 9 to 8 to recommend against Adelman's nomination. After three months of acrimonious debate, Adelman gained Senate approval, but only by a vote of 57 to 42.
The emotional edge is now gone from the opposition to Adelman. Since taking office, he has worked hard to rebuild ACDA and to consult with key senators and congressmen.
Adelman is apparently willing to forgive the critics who said he lacked the qualifications for the job. Along with a number of African masks, he has hung on the walls of his fifth-floor State Department office 15 framed editorial cartoons dealing with the Senate debate over his nomination. Some of the cartoons are less than flattering to him.
But staff aides who work for liberal senators and specialize in arms control say that Adelman has yet to prove that he can play a serious role as an arms control advocate or help move forward any of the negotiations that are under way.
The White House is greatly concerned at the moment with the public's perception of how the administration is doing in nuclear arms control negotiations. Polls indicate that it could be an issue in the 1984 presidential election campaign. Democratic contenders charge that Reagan and his team have failed to do all that is needed to reach agreements with the Soviets.
Of more immediate concern, the administration faces new debate and difficult votes on its proposals for MX missile production when Congress returns from its August recess. The congressional coalition that initially approved the MX appears to be fragile. Some key Democratic congressmen, such as Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, are saying that a fall vote on the MX appropriations bill is certain to hinge on the progress of the arms control negotiations now taking place in Geneva.
Against this background, it is hardly surprising that Reagan and Adelman are moving to fulfill their promises to the Senate to reinvigorate ACDA.
The administration is reported to be asking Congress to add more than $2 million to the agency's $21 million budget for next year. It is also planning over a two-year period to add 25 employees to ACDA'S permanent staff of 154 people. Although the staff is currently not at its lowest level ever, it is well below the levels of some previous administrations.
In addition, ACDA'S four assistant directors are to be given status equal to that of assistant secretaries of state, thus presumably enhancing their ability to engage in bureaucratic battles.
Adelman has yet to prove that he can compete as an equal with the secretaries of defense and state, much less with the President's national-security adviser, William P. Clark. Mr. Clark now chairs an important interagency group that is making the key decisions in the arms control negotiations.
But aides say Adelman has proved to be a vigorous ACDA director. According to one count within the agency, the new director has been assigning roughly three times as many tasks to his staff as Eugene Rostow did when he headed the agency a year ago.
In theory, the ACDA director is supposed to develop arms control initiatives and act as principal adviser to the President and secretary of state.
In practice, the agency has often exerted less influence than its director would like. When the Reagan administration took office, it fired virtually everyone at ACDA who was not protected by civil service status, a practice that has occurred at ACDA with almost every change of administration. The administration reduced the size of the agency by almost a fourth. Morale at ACDA had reached a low point this year during the three months when it was without a director. Agency officials say that morale has been given a significant boost since Adelmen took over.
He seems to be preparing for a highly active role in arms control negotiations.
Aides say that he has chaired more than 20 meetings on the verification of various arms control proposals under negotiation. Adleman believes that progress was made in the last round of the strategic arms reduction talks in Geneva. These talks, currently in recess, are set to resume in October