Grin-and-bear it bureaucats and political appointees may have a new folk hero in the person of Jack Eckerd, late of the General Services Administration.
Eckerd did what many public and private wage slaves only dream of, i.e., quit and tell the boss in no uncertain terms what he can do with his job.
For a while it appeared that Eckerd, who owns a chain of Florida drug stores, was just a run-of-the-mill political Ford to take over - and clean up - the GSA which has been used by both Democrats and Republicans (but mainly Republicans) as a dumping ground for out-of-work sins, in-laws and friends of the mighty.
After Carter took over, Eckerd let it be known he would like to stay on at GSA, the government's housekeeping agency. Carter got good reports on Eckerd (and Florida Democrats were anxious to keep him out of the state).So he reappointed Eckerd, telling him to continue keeping politics out of the agency.
Meantime, Eckerd ran foud of one of his congressional bosses Rep. John D. Dingell the powerful Democrat from Detroit. Dingell heads a subcommittee that does a lot of business with GSA. Suffice to say that Dingell and Eckerd took an instant dislike to each other, Dingell, however, was in the driver's seat in the relationship.
Just before Christmas, Eckerd and Dingell tangled over the date of a subcommittee hearing. Eckerd was schedule to testify, then the hearing date was moved to a time when Eckerd planned to be on vacation in Florida. On the date of the rescheduled hearing Eckerd went south, Dingell went through the roof and ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate Eckerd's travel habits.
GAO concluded, in effect, that the head of an agency can take vacation when he wants - if he doesn't mind treading on some influential congressional toes.
Dingell and Eckerd fenced back and forth on the no-show hearing. Dingell charged it was an example of lame duck Republican arrogance (Eckerd had not yet been reappointed by Carter) and Eckerd implying, politely, that the congressman was insensitive and selfish. All this was done with kid gloves.
Then came Eckerd's emancipation. Carter canned him, diplomatically, because Eckerd refused to accept as his deputy a GSA employee who has close political ties with House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill (D-Mass.). Despite his keep-politics-out-of-GSA order, Carter felt he had to make the move to appease O'Neill. Eckerd said he would quit if the appointment was made. Carter said goodbye.
That left Eckerd without employment, but also put him in the position of having nothing to lose. He had the dual advantage of being tough, and a self-made millionaire. So he got out his typewriter and dashed off a couple of I've-wanted-to-do-this-for-a-long-time notes, the main one to Dingell.
In the letter to Dingell (delivered on Valentine's day), Eckerd said the congressman had impressed him with his "petty vindictiveness" over the hearing snaful. He said Dingell's conduct was "disgraceful" that it was none of the congressman's business where he went on vacation. Eckerd said the hearings were pointless except as "a dog-and-pony show for whatever political mileage you thought you could gain from it."
Eckerd said the congressman had fibbed - made an "utterly false statement" is the way he put it - when Dingell said he didn't know where Eckerd was when he was supposed to be at the hearing. Eckerd said Dingell's staff had been informed of his vcation schedule, and he had left his private Florida number with Dingell. The letter goes on, and on, but you get the drift and see why it was one of Dingell's least favorite valentines.
"Though most of my encounters with members of Congress have been constructive, and on the whole I have enjoyed my relationship with the Legislative Branch," Eckerd wrote, "one pleasant aspect of leaving GSA is being able to write this letter." Copies of the letter have circulated around Capitol Hill, and some timid bureaucrats are said to be carrying them next to their hearts.