At a time when the White House is forcing the Consumer Product Safety Commission to make drastic cuts in its staff and budget, the agency's new chairman is busy preserving the perks of her office.
First Nancy Harvey Steorts, who took office two months ago, ordered her chauffeur to wear a suit whenever he drives her around town -- or risk being fired.
Then, despite President Reagan's directive urging his appointees to refrain from redecorating their offices, Steorts has spent $8,000 to $10,000 to refurbish her office.
What's more, at a time when the government is tryng to cut down the use of outside consultants, Steorts has hired three -- at rates that amount to a total of $84,000 a year -- to give her advice on media relations, industry and business relations and how to use the commission's office space.
Steorts hired the consultants about the same time she reminded all 663 CPSC employes that they must take annual leave for any lunches that last more than a half hour to help save the agency money. Coming at a time when the agency is being forced to cut its staff by 145 members and its $44 million budget by $11 million, Steort's actions have caused a great deal of grumbling among the agency's staff.
The rancor first surfaced with her order for the chauffeur. Agency sources say that shortly after Steorts assumed office last August she asked the driver -- who also serves as a clerk in the agency's mailroom -- to wear a uniform, including a hat, whenever he serves as her chauffeur.
When agency laywers told Steorts that such a requirement was illegal, the chairman then ordered the driver to wear a coat and tie -- or, she hinted, he would be fired.
But the driver, a GS-4 who makes between $11,000 and $14,000 a year, didn't own a coat and tie and said he couldn't afford one until December, at the earliest. So when CPSC accountants balked at using agency funds for the driver's clothes, two top agency officials pitched in and bought a suit for the man to make sure he wouldn't lose his job.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Steorts said she was unaware that two of her staff members had to buy the suit for her driver. Nonetheless, she said, "when he is driving the car, it is appropriate for him to wear a suit."
Members of the commission staff, as well as several commissioners, were further irked by the redecoration of the chairman's office.
About $1,000 of that sum was used to build a new entrance to Steorts' office so visitors no longer would have to go through the reception area of another CPSC commissioner before they reached the chairman's reception area.
Steorts' recent directive ordering employes to take annual leave for any lunches that exceed a half hour hasn't helped morale either.
Disturbed by the numerous and long farewell lunches being given for departing CPSC employes, Steorts last month directed the agency's executive director, Richard Gross, to issue a reminder to workers "that there is a specified lunch period as set forth in CPSC's order 1011.1 of November 1973."
Noting his "reluctance and hesitancy" to issue such a reminder, Gross added: "Given the substantial cuts in budget and personnel, employes will continue to leave the agency. When you decide to have a luncheon, please be mindful of the specified lunch period and the requirement to take leave for time in excess thereof," he added.
The memo, Steorts explained yesterday, "goes along with my basic policy that we really do have to tighten everything up here. We're living on a tight budget and we have to make sure that that money is being spent wisely and effectively," she said.
The redecoration of her office does not go against that policy, Steorts contended. "There was a very limited amount of money that was spent in redecorating -- painting walls, putting in some clean carpeting and putting up some draperies over windows. That certainly is able to be done."
Besides, Steorts added, "the office was very very dirty when we came into it; the carpeting was absolutely filthy. I work here 14 to 16 hours a day and I really feel I do have to work in clean surroundings."
Additionally, Steorts said the redecorating money came from funds earmarked for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. If they had not been used up by then, they would have been returned to the U.S. Treasury.