Angela Buchanan: US treasurer adds substance to her post
Washington — Angela Buchanan, a tough, conservative manager with the looks and appeal of screen star Karen Allen, is right on the money. As the youngest treasurer in United States history, Miss Buchanan -- known to friends by the family nicknam "Bay" -- will lend her Christian name to all paper currency starting this month. She follows 36 other US treasurers into this highly paid endorsement job.
It's been a circuitous route back to her native Washington, through Canada ("after all those years on the East Coast, I figured there had to be more to the world"), Australia ("I was discouraged after Watergate, and heard it was like pioneer America out there"), and five years of campaigning for Ronald Reagan, a man with whom she is "philosophically aligned -- I'm a natural conservative."
Conservatism runs in her "tight knit" family of nine children, though the treasurer says it wasn't particularly political at home ("my parents didn't even vote until Goldwater"). She traces her politics to an older brother, Pat, the conservative columnist who wrote speeches for Richard Nixon while Miss Buchanan was still in college.
Then, during her graduate school years ("Pat recommended I get a master's -- I think he even picked out McGill University in Montreal for me"), she took time off to campaign for her brother's boss.
But it was during the Nixon inaugural parade that she first saw the man she has centered her life around these past five years. She describes that incident with a smile: "I happen to love parades, and you know, some of these people wave sort of halfheartedly. But there was Mr. Reagan, smiling and waving -- he was really enjoying himself."
The enthusiastic wave was Miss Buchanan's first insight into what she feels is her boss's greatest attribute: "You see that strength there, and you see his abilities -- it makes you feel very confident that he is in charge."
After she served as an accountant to Reagan's unsuccessful bid for, the presidency in 1976, she was put in charge of her brother Henry's old job -- treasurer of the Reagan for President Committee.
She makes no bones about her job's being a political appointment ("the whole reason I'm here is because of Ronald Reagan"), and says this is part of "the political process, and I believe in the political process."
But she resents charges of being named a "token woman" in the male-dominated administration: "I would like to see the token job that demands the number of hours I work."
Her job, which has been held by women since Harry Trumen appointed Georgia Neese Clark in 1949, has been largely ceremonial in nature, and involves promoting the sales of savings bonds and lending her signature to all US currency.
But Bay Buchanan managed to put some meat into her position as assistant secretary before she even took the job. During her first interview with Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, she mentioned that she wanted more responsibility, and he moved all the coin and currency operations under her domain. With these additions, the treasurer is responsible for some 5,000 employees and a $221 million annual operating budget.
Miss Buchanan took the job in March, and one month later went to the Hill with a proposal that was cut by more than $9 million and nearly 180 employees from the proposed 1982 budget.
She says she is looking for ways to cut more, but she's proceeding with caution. "It takes time to understand what goes on in government before you just come in there and say, let's cut 10 percent or 5 percent.That's not being imaginative or creative enough.
"If you look into it," she says with enthusiasm, "you might be able to say, well, this bureau and this bureau could combine and get the same product done with two-thirds of the people. That is what I would like to be able to do -- where it wouldn't damage the production."
She is looking into ways to make the production more cost-effective, using automation and incorporating less expensive materials (the 1-cent piece will be nearly all zinc next year).
But she is wary of the "hatchet job" reputation the administration is gaining in this town, and speaks of the need to be "sensitive to [her employees'] problems, because we come and go, and they're here all the time."
Such political acumen seems to come naturally to Angela Buchanan, though she claims her political sense was developed by her brother Pat. During the campaign, she says, her brother acted as her mentor: "It was like having an unlimited resource, one phone call away."
She phoned him with various political problems, which he "helped put into perspective -- I found that they were typical, and learned not to take them personally."
he also acted as a Republican Who's Who, she claims. "Republican politics is a small game -- you stay in long enough, you know everybody. And so i could call him up and say, New Person on board, give me the bakground," she smiles. "And he'd give me the rundown -- I'd know exactly where the person was from, what his philosophies were, on his contacts were. You hang up the phone and you feel comfortable again."
Miss Buchanan sees her brother's help as a big boost in her own success, but says she comes from "a successful family. They didn't tell you what to do, but whatever you did, you were expected to succeed." Growing up with nine children gave her "a competitiveness and aggressiveness you need," she thinks, and "prepared me for the business world. I know to be prepared, to be on my toes and be aware of what's going on around me. So it didn't come as a shock."
She is a strong advocate of letting these attributes loose in the marketplace. An opponent of affirmative action ("reverse discrimination," she claims), Miss Buchanan favors training programs and upgrading employees' skills over "bringing in someone from the outside through a quota system."
It was just such upgrading of skills that got her a job from a man not known for giving high-level responsibility to either women or youth -- Ronald Reagan. As he puts it, "My personal experience has been, as a woman, that initially there may be some prejudiced feelings or resentment. But once you have a working relationship and you develop, and they can see you're productive and that you're capable, then all the other stuff just goes by the side."
"I think as more and more women get in positions to accomplish that," she says optimistically, "then more and more men will realize that, hey, I've had extremely capable women -- I just need somebody to get in here and do the work."
For Bay Buchanan, that sort of attitude is right on the money. Then again, so is Bay Buchanan.