They were gatekeepers and headhunters, in other words, bureaucrats nobody ever hears about because usually they are under 10 feet of paper. One of the guests of honor even swore he had to sneak out of the office in order to get to his own party.

"My boss will say to me tomorrow, 'What the hell do you mean you had to sneak out?'" laughed Conrad Hausman, special assistant to the undersecretary of state for administration.

And while that may have been a slight, exaggeration, there were plenty of similar yarns being told last night at the party for Hausman and fellow guest of honor Sherwood Goldberg, executive assistant to the secretary of state.

In fact, being snowed under by mounds of work was one of the reasons a former colleague of theirs on the short-lived Draft Haig for President Committee, Lewis M. Helm, president of Capital Counselors, decided to throw the cocktail buffet at the International Club. He said another reason was to introduce them to their counterparts in some of the other departments because when he had been executive assistant to former interior secretary Walter Hickel, in the Nixon administration, he never got to meet anybody.

"Connie handles the ambassadors, assistant secretaries and other highlevel appointments at State," said Helm, introducing Hausman. "And of course Woody handles Secretary Haig," he said of Goldberg.

"He is in control," Goldberg said of Haig, to which choruses of "hear, hear" were heard from several in the group of nearly 40 executive and special assistants from the departments of Agriculture, Transportation, HUD, Education, Defense, Commerce, Treasury and Justice, as well as OMB, the White House, the Senate and House.

Guests got acquainted swapping stories about how they screen the material their bosses ought to see (the gatekeepers) and how they recruit for political appointments (the headhunters) -- in Helm's view, next to the Cabinet secretary, the two most important people in a department.

Hausman, vice president of an executive recruiting firm in Kansas City until Haig summoned him here, says finding ambassadors isn't much different from finding executives for big corporations. Among the things he looks for are a candidate's management style ("Will he win the loyalty of the people in that embassy?"), family life ("How does he interact with his spouse and what are his children like?") and "indicators" like visualizing how he or she handles power, authority and money ("Is it overtly conspicuous and would it turn off a small emerging nation?")

Vacancies are being filled according to political priorities ("We haven't even worried about France -- it would be absolutely crazy not to wait until after the election"). Sometimes it boils down to "availability."

"Queen Elizabeth's availability causes us to make sure that the ambassador-designate [John Louis] arrives there around mid-May," he said.