WASHINGTON — THE incoming White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, uses the word ``discipline'' often in discussing his new job managing the world's most high-powered organization.
``The president wants and needs to have a well-disciplined White House operation'' so that he can focus on the most important decisions and issues of his presidency, Mr. Panetta said at a Monitor lunch Tuesday, the day after his new appointment was announced.
The Clinton White House has developed a reputation for loose organization, crisis management, and poor strategic coordination.
The previous chief of staff Panetta holds up as a standard is James Baker III, who held the post during Ronald Reagan's first term and briefly, later, at the end of the Bush presidency.
Mr. Baker, Panetta says, ``had the full trust and confidence of the president and basically ran a tight ship.''
Panetta's own most important condition for taking the post was that President Clinton grant him ``his full authority to be able to do the personnel oversight that has to be done, the policy oversight, the coordination that a chief of staff has to do.'' As budget director, Panetta says, he came into frequent contact with White House staff members and sometimes offered ideas on how operations might run more efficiently.
The outgoing Chief of Staff Mack McLarty began the discussion of a job change a couple months ago, Panetta says. Mr. McLarty viewed the heavy legislative agenda as a need for a chief of staff with more experience with Congress. Panetta served 16 years in Congress, finishing as chairman of the House Budget Committee, and he is well respected there.
But Panetta's priorities clearly include inside management as well. His first priority, he says, is to interview staff members from the various parts of the White House to assess strengths and problems. Afterwards, he says, ``it may be enough just to tighten the lines of authority.'' But then it may require more dramatic action.
The test of this White House, he says, will be whether it succeeds in making a difference in the quality of people's lives.