The scramble is on. As President-elect George Bush arrives back in Washington today following a Florida holiday, hordes of Republicans are pushing for jobs - and power and prestige - in the Bush administration.
Among the major tasks at Bush transition headquarters, which opened in a downtown office building yesterday, is the screening of thousands of applications for federal government service. President Reagan has already asked for the resignations of about 520 people, including Cabinet members and top political appointees, so that Mr. Bush can decide which officials to keep as of Jan. 20, 1989.
Also high on the transition team's agenda is working out and recommending a policy program that Bush can launch the moment he assumes office. The vice-president has not yet defined what specifically he intends to do about the budget deficit, social problems, conventional arms talks, and other domestic and foreign policy issues.
So far, Bush has announced only one appointment, that of James Baker III, his campaign manager and former Treasury secretary, to be secretary of state. But other appointments may come this week. According to press reports, current Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady will be asked to stay on.
Washington is awash in rumors and speculation about key positions in the Cabinet and White House. Bush officials remain tight-lipped about possible choices, but many names are being bruited about - among them:
Richard Darman, a former deputy secretary of Treasury, as possible director of the Office of Management and Budget.
John Tower, former senator from Texas and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as possible secretary of defense.
Lauro Cavazos, a Hispanic from Texas, to remain as secretary of education.
Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to President Gerald Ford, as either national security adviser to Bush or as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
John Sununu, outgoing governor of New Hampshire, as possible White House chief of staff or in some other top administration post.
Richard Thornburgh, to stay on as attorney general.
Because of the urgency of addressing the budget deficit and reassuring Wall Street, Bush officials have been concentrating on putting an economic team together first. Another possible member of the team is Michael J. Boskin, a Stanford economist who may be named chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Vice-President Bush's chief of staff, Craig Fuller, who together with pollster Robert Teeter is co-chairman of the Bush transition team, yesterday once again sought to reassure the markets. He told reporters that it is premature to say that any policies will change in any way that will affect the markets. The Reagan-Bush policies are the ones now in place, he said.
Bush insiders expect the Bush administration to be less ideologically oriented and more pragmatic than the early Reagan administration. Bush is not as beholden to the far right as was Ronald Reagan, aides say.
``The Bush administration will be right of center,'' says James Lake, a Bush campaign adviser. ``But the people that are primarily responsible will be practical, problem-soilving people rather than ideologues. I suspect Jim Baker will be the mold for the kind of Cabinet Bush wants around him.''
A behind-the-scenes struggle appears under way for the top slots at the White House. One line of speculation is that Bush, like President Reagan, will choose a ``troika'' to manage the White House, consisting of Mr. Fuller as chief of staff, Mr. Teeter, and Governor Sununu. In the first four years of the Reagan administration the White House was run by Mr. Baker as chief of staff, along with Counselor Edwin Meese III and deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver in equal positions.
But one Bush official suggests the ``troika'' story is being pushed for self-serving purposes and that the President-elect will want a single chief of staff.
Whoever emerges at the top in the White House, political observers expect James Baker to play a dominant role in the Bush administration. His influence stems from his closeness to Bush politically and personally and from his experience as Treasury secretary. The fact that economic issues - world debt, trade, currency stability - are becoming so central to US foreign policy is expected to enhance his power all the more.
Mr. Fuller yesterday refused to set any timetable for announcement of appointees. He said the team would provide Mr. Bush with three to five names on all major Cabinet posts.