Jay Solomon is a hard act to follow.
He is not only the first General Services administrator who had the guts to tackle the long-suspected, far-reaching corruption of the agency that supplies the federal government with paper clips and buildings.
He also is the first General Services administrator to recognize that the quality of federal paper clips and buildings has enormous influence on the quality of life in this country.
Big words, I know, but justified by the enthusiasm and effectiveness with which Solomon has improved GSA's architecture, design, historic preservation efforts and willingness to make public buildings public.
Solomon apparently had displeased some politicians, who, it turn, displeased the president's men. They encouraged his resignation, effective today.
And they discouraged America's intelligentsia about the Carter administration.
The White House obviously did not realize that, quite aside from his whistle-blowing, Solomon was the symbol of the administration's interest in culture-particularly since the Carter-appointed leaders of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities are not exactly charismartic leaders.
To replace Solomon, the president has nominated Rear Adm. Rowland G. Freeman III, commandant of the Defense Systems Management College at Fort Belvoir who, I am sure, can be counted on to keep paper-clip purchases shipshape.
The admiralm who is a defense procurement expert, is pledged to continue Solomon's herculean effort at cleaning GSA's Augean stable. The question is whether, with the help of the Justice Department and honest investigators, he also will try to go beyong the stable hands to the big horse traders outside.
The almost equally important question is whether the admiral has the imagination, or even the interest, to revive the Jeffersonian tradition of making government buildings, offices and graphics not only the pride of the community but also symbols of the dignity and good taste of the American government.
An inspired and inspiring federal image is not the computer output of sophisticated cost-benefit programming. Nor does it come naturally, even to honest bureaucrats. Some of the shockingly ugly buildings GSA gave us before Solomon were the results not of corruption, but of honest stupidity and bad taste.
One of the inspired and inspiring things Solomon has ventured is his effort to bring the crafts back into building. At his instigation, crafts persons are working closely with the architects on a $21-million federal court and office building in San Jose, Calif. The idea is that wood and stone carvings, ceramics, metal work, handwoven fibers and other works of individual craftsmanship are not pasted on or installed after the building is completed, but worked into the building's design as an integral part of the structure.
Pioneering ideas such as this, which may have a profound effect on future architecture, are not stimulated by sophisticated procurement systems but by sophisticated minds. Solomon cares that things are done not just efficiently but also creatively.
One of the first moves Solomon made when he became head of GSA was to restore the mandatory expenditure for artistic embellishment of a public building to half of 1 percent of the total construction cost. His predecessor wanted to reduce the amount to three-eighths of 1 percent. Financially, the difference is hardly significant, particularly in these days of cost overruns and costly design mistakes.
But on a $20-million federal building the difference between half of 1 percent and three-eighths of 1 percent amoutns to $250,000-an amount that, I am sure, exceeds what Michel-angelo was paid for his "david."
Another example of Solomon's concern for culture and livability are his efforts to save and restore historic landmark buildings by adapting them to federal use. Legislation to make this possible was passed before Solomon took office. But Solomon's personal flair and intelligent enthusiasm has made the restoration of the old post offices in Washington and St. Louis, the Union Railroad Station in Nashville, Tenn., the old Customs House in New York and others, national examples and catalysts. In disputes about the integrity of the old building versus the new use, the Solomonic judgement favored historic integrity, a judgement I applaud.
Contrary to what bureaucratic convenience and conventional management wisdom consider "cost effective," Solomon chose architects for important commissions on the basis of limited design competitions, involved interested members of the public in the discussion of design and planning problems, and opened federal buildings to public use for neighborhood and ethnic festivals, art exhibitions and other community events.
But perhaps even more important than this "living buildings" program and the integration of crafts into architectural design is Solomon's innovation of an architectural "post-occupancy evaluation" of federal buildings. It means simply that architects, contractors, managers, psychologists and others go back a year or so after a buildings is completed to see how it works and what can be learned from its failures and successes.
Oddly enough, this rarely is done, certainly not in a systematic manner. Our refusal to look back is one reason we see so little advancement (in contrast to fashionable changes) in our building design.
With all these innovations and more. Jay Solomon has restored meaningful and lasting efficiency-as opposed to seeming, short-range efficiency-to a small but important part of the federal government.
We hope Adm. Freeman seizes these innovations and moves them forward, full steam ahead.