Reagan's 'pros' get good marks
Washington — The Reagan transition team is easing in cautiously with ambitious plans, but apparently in no undue rush to wield power. Hence the transition's progress -- particularly in filling White House posts -- has gone more slowly than in the past, professional White House watchers say.
The transition itself enters "phase two" this week with briefings for the President-elect, Cabinet nominees, and the fledgling White House staff. Key second-level posts remain to be filled and policy options remain to be sorted through and coordinated, before administrations change hands Jan. 20.
So far, the Reagan transition has revealed several unique traits, observers here say:
* A broadly conservative, philosophical theme has helped guide staff choices.
* with Republicans out of the White House only four years, the Reagan team has had a large reservoir of Washington- savvy people to draw upon.
* The transition is more complicated than those in the past, attempting to bring personnel, policy, and management themes together.
* As Reagan's pros gain their footing, the President-elect's "kitchen cabinet" of wealthy, longtime pals from California will likely fade in importance.
Mr. Reagan's aloofness from the administration-hatching work in Washington has struck some observers as "strange." But the Reagan transition team seems on target for its first official initiatives and frays.
The first tests of the Reagan team's resilience come this week with the nomination hearings of Cabinet appointees such as James G. Watt for interior secretary and Alexander M. Haig, Jr. as secretary of state.
"I get a sense of leisure with Governor Reagan, taking it easy out there on the ranch," says Austin Ranney, a co-director of political studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "The inner circle also does not seem to be in a pressure cooker to come out with big ideas for the first 100 days."
"I feel positive about the transition efforts," says Thomas Mann, incoming director of the American Political Science Association and, like Mr. Ranney, a Democrat.
"This is a much more avowedly ideological administration," Mr. Mann says. "The last couple of administration have had no theme in guiding their staffing of departments. There is more overall agreement about the purposes of government among the Reagan people. This doesn't mean there won't be some differences.
"But these are grown-up people who are psychologically secure, not out to do anyone in. They're reasonable. Yet they want to make a mark."
Stephen Hess, Brookings Institution White House scholar, stresses the emergence of "professional Republicans" with recent experience during the Ford and Nixon administrations as a resource for the Reagan administration.
"Reagan has a reservoir of experienced people, out of office only four years, who have a real sense of how government works," Mr. Hess says. "This is in contrast with the Carter arrivees, who would not have had national political experience since 1968 -- and not even then because Carter came in as the outsider, showing an arrogance against those who had been a part of the Democratic establishment.
"Carter called on very young people and Washington outsiders," Hess observes. "Even in the Nixon transition, Nixon had to call on people who had last been in office eight years before. There were very few available -- a Bryce Harlow was the exception. And for Kennedy in 1960-61, the Democrats had been out of office eight years, and Clark Clifford was the notable exception."
A love for politics is another positive characteristic shown by the Reagan transition team. "They're more like Democrats," Hess says. "Democrats always loved politics. It was a part of their ethnic background, a way up. Republicans treated politics the way they treated the Community Chest -- as a duty.
"You have around Reagan a professional political cadre who have spent as much of their adult life at the business of politics as the professions they were trained in.
"This is very important. The President is the nation's chief political officer. Professionals connect him with political reality, with the people, with constituency groups."
The Reagan transition could have better handled the publicity that flowed from its "team" studies of government departments and agencies, when controversial policy proposals were leaked to the press, according to Hess, who adds: "Ed Meese [transition chief] should have said, 'These reports are advisory and should not be presented as policy.'"
And Hess thinks Secretary of State-designate Haig "did exactly the right thing" in thanking his department's transition team for their report and dismissing them. The chief purpose of such reports is to alert incoming department chiefs to pitfalls and prospects, and preparing them allows a new administration to try out potential talent.
Reagan's "kitchen cabinet" of wealthy, longtime, mostly Californian advisers will fade in importance, Hess predicts. "They will continue to give him advice, and will still be friends," Hess says. "But as soon as the insiders know more and know it faster, the California outsiders will be less influential."
As Reagan moves to Washington, the people around him on the Potomac will grow in importance.
"A transition occurs in more than a technical, official sense," Hess observes. "There is an emotional, geographic, operational transition. He and his staff cease being campaign people and become workers for the United States government."
"It looks from the outside they're a little behind," Hess says. "But they may end up quite sensibly on time. The President will be inaugurated, Cabinet officers will be in place. There's something to be said, particularly with the White House staff, for not being too heavily staffed from the outset. The staff will grow like topsy anyway."
"The Reagan people have planned a more complicated and complex transition than any in the past," Hess says. "They've attempted to bring personnel and policy and process together. Other presidents have dealt chiefly with personnel , and made mistakes.
"Reagan sort of stands for something. A similarity of viewpoint among staff is very important. They will know what agrees with the President's viewpoint. This is what was lacking with the Carter administration.
"The Reaganites have loyalties to people and things other than the President. They respect a body of ideas. The problem is when the only loyalty -- Bob Haldeman to Nixon or Hamilton Jord an to Carter -- is to the President."