Memorandum for Ben W. Heineman Jr. and Curtis A. Hessler

Your Memorandum for the President on how to cope with the nation's domestic problems is impressive enough that if he should read it, and believe it, I would expect him to depart immediately for his California ranch, and not return. After all, why hang around Washington for what you outline as a pretty hopeless situation?

You greet the incoming president with "the unpleasant possibility that, however good your performance, we are at one of those points in our national life when the confusiion and fragmentation produced by deeply rooted and historic forces will defy even the most outstanding leader and confound even the most brilliant planning."

Having drenched him with that bucket of ice water, you follow quickly with several more before he can catch his breath. But your appraisal of the troubles ahead is not nearly so chilling as your prose style. It's easy to see that you've both had considerable experience in the bureaucracy (you, Mr. Heinemann as an assistant secretary in HEW, and you, Mr. Hessler at the same level in Treasury). You certainly know how to write a memo that sounds like a government memo.

"As noted," you write, "it is a rarity, not the norm, when the particularism of the Congress coalesces into a set of attitudes consistent with a dramatically innovative national posture adopted by the president."

Or: "The notion is quite simply that all the other units in the EOP -- CEQ, OSTP, CWPS, STR, the consumer advisor, and so forth -- should work within these channels and find access to you only through coordination and decision process established and run by the four major units." (What! No STP?)

Or: "Lacking overall procedural discipline, the EOP is very bad at creatively fusing the many aspects of its expertise -- economic analysis, budgetary analysis, domestic policy planning, congressional tactics, media planning, constituency group tactics and so forth -- into a synoptic view of the issue at hand."

I suppose that since the president will have to wade through tons of that kind of overstuffed prose in the next four years, he might as well get used to it now. But I hope not all the other memo writers will treat him as if he were dimwitted. You are too generous with windy admonitions and restatements of the obvious that wouldn't even make good fortune cookie sayings.

"Policy implementation is a sphere of action with important potential for the domestic presidency."

"When you want to do things as the chief of executive government . . . you will need to be a master practitioner of the politics of governing."

"Finding the right people to staff your administration is also extraordinarily difficult."

The president's chief of staff "must also be someone whom you trust totally, and who can quickly learn your preferences and style."

"Most government activity in domestic affairs is aimed at changing economic and social conditions."

Actually, it's hard to say whether your memo is more notable for its banalities or for its dead-end forecasts. The chaotic economy is of course the most pressing domestic problem, and you cheerfully predict that the president's efforts in that area "will show few tangible results over the next four years" because he won't even be able to get a grip on the basic tools. The Federal Reserve has a monopoly on monetary policy. Fiscal policy is "hostage" to the 75 percent of the budget made up of "uncontrollables" -- meaning trust funds fiercely guarded by special interest groups -- and to the other 25 percent of the budget that is "also virtually mandated by well-entrenched political coalitions in the Congress." (Anyway, does the president decide on a fiscal policy, since "no two economists agree on the theory, much less the practice, of fiscal policy"?) So that leaves wage-price controls, which "may well be unworkable, both technically and politically."

Just in case the president doesn't know what to make of all that pessimism, you spell it out for him: "Whether you or anyone can do the things necessary to preclude inflationary acceleration, much less to engineer a true DIS-inflationary process, is far from clear."

Your list of hopeless particulars doesn't end there. There are other things the chief executive hasn't a chance of pulling off, such as cutting back the $100 billion the bureaucracy spends on outside contracting and consulting or persuading management bureaucrats to honestly evaluate last year's programs so that next year's can be made more efficient. Special interests and sloth are the ever-victorious enemies.

I'm not sure the president is going to believe you when you say that "our recitation of the difficulties you face is not to counsel timidity or dispair." rStill, the bleakness of your forecasts is probably justified, unless the president tries radical and imaginative solutions. Why didn't you try to come up with some? The choices of action that you offer for his consideration are, for the most part, painfully predictable and orthodox, and they seem to be based on the assumption that the social decisions of the past 15 years are as immutable as gravity.

Which isn't to say that your memorandum doesn't give some useful guidance. While trying to run HEW and Treasury, you both apparently had some unhappy experiences dealing with the executive office staff. The president would be smart to consider your advice on how to straighten out the lines of authority and how to streamline his domestic staff, cashiering all those surplus underlings who sit around "hatching intrigues."

But some of your advice is maddening. Anybody -- the first person you stop in the street -- can give advice to the president equal to this: "You will have to create a powerful new constituency for making necessary long-run sacrifices, because all existing constituency groups will fight you."

Never mind the pep talk -- just tell the president how the devel he can do that sort of thing. Jimmy Carter didn't know how and obviously you don't either.