Heckler named for Schweiker job

The Department of Health and Human Services, a mammoth entity whose programs touch the lives of just about every US citizen, is getting a new chief, Monitor correspondent Peter Grier reports.

HHS Secretary Richard S. Schweiker made it official Wednesday. He'll leave the Cabinet in early February to become president of the American Council of Life Insurance. President Reagan quickly nominated former Massachusetts Rep. Margaret Heckler to be the agency's next head.

Mr. Schweiker, who said he had turned down two job offers last year, announced he was accepting his new post because it represented ''a unique opportunity that wouldn't occur again.''

He leaves a department whose size and complexity daunt even the most talented administrators. Health and Human Services, with a $276 billion budget, spends more money than the entire government of every country execept the US and the Soviet Union. Among its programs are social security, medicare, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Mrs. Heckler, who lost her congressional seat in the November election, is unlikely to bring drastic philosophical change to the agency. A former member of the ''gypsy moth'' group of moderate Republicans, she Heckler is personally opposed to abortion, as are Mr. Schweiker and President Reagan. Abortion is perennially one of the most inflammatory issues a health secretary faces.

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