[PARAGRAPHS ILLEGIBLE] this time on a fellowship from the Drug Abuse Council. And when that ended, he close to stay. His wife had a good teaching job and his kids were happily enrolled in Arlington schools.
Vargas, at 44, moved from the world of the academic into the world of the bureaucrat. But he operated, as he had often done in the past, essentially as an outsider, without knowing the alleys of power, without high-level contacts of a sure sense of the give and take that makes the wheels of official Washington turn.
"What matters in Washington is people who can move people and get things changed for the better - that's what Washington is about," says Warren Buhler. It's a principle he understands. At 33 he is already a veteran of officialdom. After completing his masters in politics at Princeton, Buhler left his native New Jersey for Washington to work in the Officd of Management and Budget. During the the Nixon years he joined the House Committee on Government Operations. Buhler became schooleld in official Washington, learning about and meeting the people who know how to get things done on Capitol Hill. One of those acquaintancens was Representative Frank Horton, a New York Republican who successfully sponsored a bill (drafted by Buhler) to get something done about "the paperwork problem."
The result; the Commission on Federal Paperwork, with one of the largest staffs (more than 200) and budgets ($10.5 million) of any commission ever created by Congress. Its basic purpose is to review the federal government's information gathering activities, proposing simplifications, and where possible, eliminating some of 5164 forms issued from Washington each year.
Fourteen commissioners - appointed by the President and Congres, and ranging from Indiana Governor Otis R. Bowen to consumer advocate Esther Peterson - are charged with the final responsibility to approve reports. The reports submitted to them, however, must pass through the office of the commission's director.
In January 1976, Warren Buhler was appointed director. His friends, knowing Buhler's political skills and ambitions, saw it as another step in his bright career.
A month later the commission hired Philip Vargas and Buhler were already at odds. Vargas strated by firing off memos protesting the blanket opening of mail (including personal letters) by office secretaries. Then he wrote Buhlet to point out that "Commission patterns of employment, in my view, reflect institutionalized discrinimatory patterns in employment of Blacks and other minorities, especially at the professional level," and he pressed until an equal opportunity program was begun.
Vargas' activities at one point led Michael McGinn, deputy director of the commission, to call Vargas "a professional Chicano," though he later apologized for his choice of words.
Soon there were commission staffers wary of being identified with Vargas. "Phil was considered the man who would make a lot of unpopular noise over a principle," said Elliott Morss, one of the study directors. "Most of thestaff wouldn't support him for fear of getting on the wrong side of Warren."
Nevertheless, Vargas was appointed a study director. His report was to consider, in the words of the enabling legislation, "the ways in which policies and practices relating to the maintenance of confidentiality impact upon federal information activities." In addition the study was to consider what changes are possible "to provide that information held by the federal government is processed and disseminated to maximize its usefulness to all federal agencies and the public."
Working on the report with Vargas were deputy study director Hubert Mitchell, a Washington attorney, and Eileen Bartscher, a researcher. Ann Macaluso, the assistant director of five "process" studies, would be his immediate supervisor. A 50-year-old former of management analyst at the Office of Management and Budget, Macaluso had earned a reputation in the government community as a knowledgeable woman who speaks her mind.
Vargas and his staff, along with three hired consulatants, reviewed court cases, congressional hearings, official policies of the major government agencies, relevant literature in books and periodicals, and interviewed fifty-odd people in different governemt agencies. Vargas met with representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and with Ralph Nader's associates. He interviewed the authors of reputable books on government secrecy, often travelling to the campuses where they teach. "Whistle-blowing" cases were interviewed.
Then the results started rolling in. "I have done about four things in my life that were the height for me in intellectual integrity," said Ann Macaluso. "This study has been even better. For four straight days I hit an intellectual high. I knew this was the kind of report which was needed badly."
The completed draft washandled in on March 1, 1977. The report ran six chapters totalling 152 pages. As deputy director Mitchell says, it "carried warts and all."
Chapters three and four - about confidentially restraints on government information and the effects of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts - were particularly "warty." The report showed that agency practices for collection, maintenance, and dissemination of personal information remain unchanged despite the enactment of these laws.
It revealed that the government agencieis' manipulation of information by timing its release has "developed into a fine art form, most effectively employed by the Defense Department and related national security agencies that report real or contrived threats or gaps at budget hearings to justify defense funding."
Some agencies avoid or subvert the Privacy Act requirements by changing their files or putting material which belons in permanent files into temporary files so investigators cannot get them.
The federal government hides data, both business and personal in systems maintained by organizations which are not subject to the Privacy Act of the Freedom of Information Act.
Varga's report also asserted that because corporations are licensided by the government they do not have the rights which private individuals have. And it recommended the repeal of Executive Order 11652, a Nixon directive that gives the executive branch potentially limitless power to restirct information.
There were also indications in the report's findings that officials at the policy-making level manipulate information to reflect a variety of personal interests and to increase their opportunities for career advancement.
Buhler did not like the report. In a meeting on March 7 he told Macaluso that it needed extensive reworking and rewritting. (When Macaluso told Vargas this, he independently sent some copies of the report to the offices of the President and Vice President.)
At a meeting with Vargas and his staff on Friday, March 11, Buhler told Vargas to report directly to him. Macaluso left the meeting angrily. To the staff that remained, Buhler outlined what he wanted in a new report. His main contention was that the report was "inconsistent with the charter." Vargas had reservations, believing that his study had done exactly what it had been supposed to do. The meeting broke up with the idea that everyone would think it over, cool off, and meet again soon.
Vargas thought it over, but he did not cool off. He disliked the way Buhler had treated Macaluso. He resented Buhler's judgment of the report.
On Monday, Vargas sent Buhler a memo saying he would not participate in the new report unless Macaluso played a "significant supervisory role." This way, Vargas thought, the direction and significance of their thirteen months of research would be better protected.
On Wednesday, Vargas got the call from Buhler's secretary summoning him to the commission director's office.As he walked in he found Buhler perched casually on the edge of his desk. With him were deputy director Michael McGinn and assistant director Pau Keenan. Vargas sat down on the sofa facing the three of them.
Buhler suggested that Vargas no longer trusted Macaluso. In reply, Vargas requested that Macaluso becalled to the meeting. Buhler denied the request. As Buhler talked on - about Vargas' performance, his relationship to the commission - Vargas says he felt that he was being set up. He again requested that, if not Macaluso, some other person be present as a friendly witness. Buhler said no, that wasn't necessafy. Vargas said that he would not take part in the discussion unless he had a witness, and began to leave the room.
"Phil," said Buhler, "your services are no longer needed."
Vargas has never been one to give up. A few days after the meeting with Buhler, he exercised his veteran's right to a thirty-day termination notice and went back to the building. Buhler ordered him off the property.
Some weeks after he was dismissed, Vargas discovered that the commission's personnel direcotr was telephoning places Vargas had worked in the past asking for details about his departures from his previous jobs. In the draft report that led to his firing, Vargas contended that surreptitious investigations of private citizens by federal agencies are violations of constitutional rights. Now he felt his confrontation with the bureaucracy had come full circle.
"There was a rumor floating around that Phil had had trouble at his former places of employment," said Buhler. "Naturally we wanted to check it out if we were going to take him back. But the rumors were not true." They did not, however, take him back.
Furious, and unwilling to let his report die or be diluted, Vargas wrote a letter to President Carter noting that, "The research and preparations of this study has already cost the public approximately $130,000 . . . Nonetheless, it is my firm conviction that the arbitrary suppression of this report is detrimental to a free and democratic government and is a matter that merits your serious attention . . . It exemplifies the abuse of federal employees who act on principle and in the public interest."
No one at the White House ever replied.
At one point Vargas was able to talk with Al Eisele of Vice President Mondale's office. Later Eisele wrote back to him saying he had read the report, but "was in limboas to what to do about it."
Meanwhile, at Buhler's direction, a new report has been prepared. Hubert Mithcell, who has worked on both, believes the Vargas version "pointed out too many warts. I don't think the staff of the commission wanted to make waves." He calls the new report a "placebo," and says no interviews were conducted in researching it. "It will look goodo, but it doesn't have much meat. The controversial chapter three has been reduced to four pages and chapter six has been eliminated. It's nice and soft."
Rubber stands behind the new version, calling it an "improvement" on the Vargas report.
What has become known as "the Vargas affair" at the Paperwork Commission has surfaced charges of content control by other study directors.
Feelings have been running high, have rashes of accusations.
Willaim Devine and his assistant, John Anderson, said they were shocked to learn on their last day of work at the commission that their draft report about the financial impact of paperwork on various segments of society had not been read, reviewed, or critized. Buhler said they didn't turn it in until the night before they left. Anderson said it was submitted ten days previously.
Even while working on the Vargas report, Eileen Bartshcer received directives to take out "the red-flag words like 'Watergate,' 'Vietnam' and 'Cambodia.'"
"We were told it would fly bettr if we didn't use words detrimental to the government," said Bartscher.
Elliott Morse says he was surprised to learn that Buhler has changed the whole concept of his report, which considered to citizen well-being, that is, as it relates to public need. But the concept has now been changed to information is valuable as it relates to government needs. In other words, if it suits bureaucratic desires, go with it."
The report,which roughly $210,000 to prepare, will probably be used as a background information paper.
Dick Teauber, who also served as a study director, found the whole situation perplexing.
"I have never been in a more bureaucratic environment in my whole life," said Teauber. "It seems to me what's wrong with government and paperwork is the Paperwork Commission."
Buhler sits in his office a little exasperated and apparently surprised at all the fuss. "It is my job to be responsible for what goes out of here," says Buhler, who feels that each report must satisfy the general interests of all fourteen commissioners. "I hope you note that this is the most successful commission of all time." By "successful" Buhler means that the commission's recommendations are leading to significant changes in the way government agencies operate.
"Phil Vargas sometimes seemed to have the impression that this whole commission was set up so Congress and the President could hear his views on privacy and confidentiality. It just wasn't the case."
Vargas, who has filed various suits against the commission, says "I just think it is ironic that we're doing a study on openness in government and we have our won report suppressed."
Observers of the Vargas affair point to it as a "classic example" of the tangle that ensues when academia encounters Capitol Hill. "ONe is in the pursuit of truth," said a longtime commission observer, "while the other is in pursuit of politics. Commissions always do well until it is time for the reports to come in. "That's when things start getting tense. These people put a year or two of their life in it and theyre not ready to bend an inch when changes occur."
"My position is that there are a number of primadonnas who are using this commission to launch their pet ideas," said Woody Horton, a consultant who has twenty-five years of experience in the bureaucracy. "It is completely natural. These clashes happen in commissions so much that they're almost laughable."