The Reagan style of operation
Washington — Verne Orr came right out and told some reporters the other morning that the job he had wanted with the Reagan administration was director of the Office of Management and Budget.
And now, he said, since Reagan had picked Rep. David Stockman for the position, he would prefer to go back to his beloved California rather than serve the president in any other way.
"My sights are high," he said. He had wanted the OMB "challenge." So now he was ready to go home.
There was silence among the assembled reporters. "You may wonder," one reporter said, "why we're so quiet. We're used to politicians telling us when they miss getting a job that they weren't really interested in it."
Mr. Orr, now No. 2 in the Reagan transition organization and for five years finance director for Governor Reagan in California, was indeed refreshingly candid and, in addition, provided insights into the incoming administration:
* On the influence of the "Kitchen cabinet," those prominent California businessmen who are heavily involved in shaping the Reagan cabinet and the selection of other top appointees: "In my opinion, the kitchen cabinet will not be a major influence on Ronald Reagan as president.I know for a fact that Reagan had minimal relations with that kitchen cabinet when he was governor. Their influence is in selecting people -- not in running the government."
* On the influence of Edwin Meese III, cabinet-rank counselor: "I accept the characterization that Meese is, indeed, Reagan's 'alter ago.' They think quite alike.
"Reagan does not like to replace people. If he has a fault he has an overabundance of loyalty to those who serve him."
Thus, said Mr. Orr, Reagan tends to leave dismissals of individuals, when he finally decides to do it, to Mr. Meese. "Meese has the influence. And he's very firm."
Regarding the political philosophy of Meese: "He's very, very strongly to the right."
* On how Reagan handles himself when sitting in with top advisers: "Reagan is very sharp, very intelligent. He has a quick grasp of issues and problems, no matter how complex they may be.
"He doesn't, however, enjoy a heated argument in front of him. If light turns to heat, as it sometimes can in discussions, he doesn't like it. It's not a comfortable situation for Reagan. He simply doesn't like any show of antagonism.
"He seldom loses his temper. About the most I ever saw of this in the years I sat close to him in Sacramento was for him to throw his pen down and show that he was irked a bit if we overscheduled him.
"But he doesn't ever use foul language. And he never chews people out.
"On the other hand, he never compliments anyone. He delegates and then simply assumes they will get the job done."
Here Mr. Orr told a story of how he had been responsible for a big headline in a Los Angeles newspaper which had to be quite embarrassing to Governor Reagan. "So next day I was sitting next to him," said Mr. Orr, "and I wondered what he would say. All he did was look at me and say, 'I see you are quite big in Los Angeles.' That's all he said and then went on to other things."
"Reagan, and Meese, too," Mr. Orr added, "make decisions on substance -- never on the politics involved. They would have nothing to do with making a decision that would favor a friend or a political contributor."
* On the report that Reagan likes all recommendations boiled down to a one-page memo: "That's true. But these memos would usually be merely the beginning of days and weeks of discussions that Governor Reagan would then involve himself in. . . ." Mr. Orr said that the President-elect was not the "exhaustive" reader that Carter was. But he always did his homework, and read what was needed in order to make a decision.
* On the influence of Nancy Reagan: "Her influence on Reagan is largely protective. you guys [the press] run her crazy. Whenever you harpoon Reagan, Nancy flinches."