"SOME people have said they are concerned that the Moral Majority and NCPAC are out to get the National Endowment for the Humanities," said Richard J. Bishirjian of Ronald Reagan's transition team. "The important thing to understand is that Reagan has no intention whatsoever of turning loose people who are destructive to the humanities. That's not the case at all."
Across the street, transition official Robert S. Carter said, "All we're going to do is to make a report by Dec. 22 on the situation as we find it at the National Endowment for the Arts -- with very possibly no recommendations."
Bishirjian, a 38-year-old political science professor at the College of New Rochelle, N.Y., is the Reagan transition committee's "team leader" for the NEH, now using an office borrowed from a friend at Reader's Digest. Carter, 55 -- head of his own public-relations firm here -- is the NEA team leader, located at the Reagan headquarters at 1726 M St. NW.
Working independently, each man will produce a report detailing the functions of each Endowment and make recommendations to the new administration about budgets, personnel, policy, programs and legislation.
After they were named last week, both men began by dispensing words of reassurance.As well they might: For the past three weeks, many in the arts community have been fearful of what Reagan's budget-cutting policies will mean, both to the 15-year-old Endowments and support for the arts in general.
Both transition team leaders dismissed early apprehensions that the Endowments' budgets would be slashed. "Reagan isn't the kind of fellow who's going to cut back on the arts," said Carter.
"There was no mention of finding places to cut back in funds," said Bishirjian of his instructions. "I dn't think there is any fact in NEH's budget. Most of the grants are small. I don't think they could cut back administratively. Everyone I've talked to said the staff was overworked."
But both men were cautious on the question of whether the Reagan administration would favor funding increases for the arts. "President-elect Reagan wants to feel he's getting as much bang for the buck as he can. We want to make sure the maximum dollar is going where it should. As for what's going to happen with the budgetary process in fiscal '82, I wouldn't dare guess."
Each tries to dispel the suspicion that a conservative Reagan administration might be prejudiced against the arts."Those are all thoughtful men in there," said Bishirjian. "I haven't met a hack all day."
Carter said, "There's a lot of misunderstanding about what Governor Reagan did in California," referring to a story circulating that Reagan had restricted funding for the California State Arts Council. "Actually he increased their budget." In fact, state arts funding did increase after Reagan took office in 1967, but when the California legislature sent a doubled arts budget to then Governor Reagan in 1974, he reduced it to its originial $1 million, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. According to state arts executive Susan Hooper Billstein, the governor first wanted to see more participation from the private sector, the Times said.
Both Bishirjian and Carter are determined to dispel anxieties. "I'm a very friendly person," said Carter last week. "I thought I'd stop over at the National Council on the Arts meeting Friday or Saturday and let them get a look at this creature. I just wanted to assure them I'm a nice guy and my view is non partisan."
Carter expects to begin working with NEA staff and chairman Livingston Biddle -- whose term expires in November of 1981 -- the Monday after Thanksgiving. "We won't go in necessary looking for [defects]. I know people who've received grants. I know there's some concern that people don't have enough input in policy. I'm not sure exactly how their input can be increased."
Among other documents, Carter has read a report on the Endowments prepared by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The report -- part of a voluminous study of all government agencies prepared for Reagan -- is highly critical of the NEA, saying the organization is more concerned "with politically calculated goals of social policy than with the arts." The study criticizes NEH for funding some projects for which it says humanists are unequalified -- including taxes, land development and retirement -- and warns against "sociological crusades." The project chairman of the Endowment study -- Michael Joyce of the John M. Olin Foundation in New York -- is a member of the Humanities transition team. However, neither Bishirjian nor Carter seemed to feel the Heritage report would have more impact than anything else.
For his part, Bishirjian planned last week to have lunch with NEH chairman Joseph Duffey. "It's the simplest thing to do -- to put aside fears the Endowment may have." Birhirjian has recruited university officials, a foundation director and a vice president of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants for the committee. He also has a group of senior advisers, whom he calls conservative intellectuals, including Russell Kirk, author of "The Conservative Mind."
Carter, a former trustee of the Kennedy Center and the man who ran the Republican Convention, is still putting together his transition team and advisors. The team will include two staff people from Republican House and Senate members' offices. Advisers will include art critics from "major newspapers" -- but not from New York or Washington.
Neither Endowment chairman seemed anxious about the Reagan transition last week. "I don't think the Endowments will change dramatically from one administration to another," said Duffey, whose term as NEH chairman ends in September 1981. "It hasn't happened in the past. My worries have nothing to do with a Reagan administration. My worries are about inflation an the continuing problem of interpreting the humanities to the American public."