"Here are all kinds of employers wanting all sorts of servants, and all sorts of servants wanting all kinds of employers and they never seem to come together." -- Charles Dickens.
"We would rather have vacant chairs than holdovers." -- Pendleton James, Reagan personnel chief.
Most Washingtonians know where they will be next Tuesday, Inauguration Day. Either at home, at work or watching the parade. But for a couple of thousand lame duck movers and shakers of the Carter administration, Tuesday is a big question mark.
Do they show up for work? Do they leave for lunch and never come back? Is the chauffeur who brought them in from McLean, Potomac or Georgetown going to take them home, or give them the number of Yellow Cab?
Most top level political appointees -- there are a couple thousand here -- have submitted their resignations. They knew, about 8 p.m. on November 4, that their days were numbered. But many say they had been led to believe by Reagan transition team members at their departments that they were to stay on until replacements had been found, and be allowed to keep doing their thing -- and drawing their salaries -- until they had found jobs.
The bottom fell out last Thursday when Reagan's personnel chief, Pendleton James, made it clear -- via the Wall Street Journal -- that he wants everybody out of the pool by noontime Jan. 20. When it was pointed out that the Reagan team is far from complete, James is quoted as saying, "We would rather have vacant chairs than holdovers." That line was a jolt, and salt in the wounds to appointees who thought they would be kept around a little longer, not given notice to clear out of town by high noon.
Since James made the pronouncement there has been something resembling chaos in the upper reaches of government. Some people -- political appointees and State and Defense, for example -- have been informed that their services are no longer needed, that the new team is ready to move in and take over when President-elect Reagan becomes President Reagan. No surprises for them. The transition teams have kept them informed as the days dwindled down. But for others, in places like Health and Human Services, Labor and the Department of Education, the question mark remains.
"Hell, I haven't even heard anyone rumored for any of the top jobs over here," said a Labor Department official."We have major operations -- like the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- that can be run by career deputies. But some places cannot operate without somebody designated by the secretary to sign this or that, stop programs or even have them continued."
At a recent farewell party given by Jody Powell for outgoing government public affairs and press brass, some of the spokespersons cried on each others' shoulders about how quickly four years can pass, or talked about future job prospects. Some said they were being treated most humanely by the incoming Reagan people. Others said they felt like mushrooms: kept in the dark, deep in manure, trying in vain to discover their fate.
Some so-called "political" types at places such as the Central Intelligence Agency have been told to stay on. At the Department of Transportation there is talk of giving the lame ducks jobs as 60-day consultants. Some at Interior have been told to stay on, that there would be no wholesale firings of Schedule C personnel and that some might be kept on indefinitely. Others say the Reagan people, who had been warm and charming through November and December, have become a little cool lately.
Please don't mistake this report as a Jobs-For-Democrats plea. They lost the election and the new team is more than entitled to bring in its own people. The Nixon people turned out the Johnsonians, the Carters got the Fords. That is the name of the game. But it has been traditional to give the transition, some time to figure out where they are going next, and where the rent money is coming from. Political appointees who were given proper notice should, of course, depart on time. But those left hanging until the last minute deserve a little compassion from the winners.