Official Washington has just begun a new round of its favorite, never-ending game: Name That Successor.
A vacancy somewhere on the political job board sets the game in play. Participants include the political and bureaucratic establishment and the media. There is no time limit. But like a good cricket match, the game rarely lasts more than a few weeks.
Civil servants and political types float names of persons said to be in line for whatever the job. The media sends those balloons up, testing public reaction. Finally, the real power brokers, Congress and the White House, decide who gets the appointment. Because of the face-saving "fudge factor" built in the game, all the players win.
The job of the moment is, of course, director of the Office of Personnel Management.
Until Donald J. Devine came along, OPM and its predecessor agency, the caretakers of the old Civil Service Commission, were virtually unknown to most Americans outside of the District of Columbia. After four years of Devine, the job is much better known. He withdrew his nomination last week, setting the stage for a new guessing game.
Conservative Republicans are out for blood, specificallly that of acting OPM Director Loretta Cornelius, whom they blame for bringing Devine down. Her crime, in their eyes, was telling Congress under oath that she did not know that Devine had delegated himself power to run the OPM while serving as a temporary assistant to Cornelius.
But the conservatives could be surprised. Senate sources say that Cornelius is definitely in the running, that she has the experience and credentials as well as widespread backing from people who were happy to see Devine go.
Other names being floated for the job:
*Gerald Carmen, former head of the General Services Administration. The Washington Times reported yesterday that Carmen, a tough-minded conservative who is now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations office in Geneva, is the leading candidate. An aide to Carmen said yesterday that his boss didn't know about the report, but said that he would be a natural because of his track record at GSA.
When he left that agency, Carmen had hopes of taking over the Office of Management and Budget. But his timing was bad because the job was (and still is) occupied by David Stockman.
*White House staffer Ralph Bledsoe Jr. Bledsoe ran the White House councils on management and administration, and became a great favorite of then-chief of staff Edwin Meese. Moderates, who would like to see the administration bury the hatchet with (not in) the federal bureaucracy believe that Bledsoe has all the credentials.
*Edward J. Derwinski, former representative from Illinois. Derwinski, now at the State Department, became an expert on civil service matters during his years on the Post Office-Civil Service Committee. He had hoped to be named postmaster general and told friends months ago that he wasn't interested in OPM. But he's been less than happy at State, according to friends, and might have changed his mind now that the OPM job is vacant.
*Becky Norton Dunlop, former top personnel official at the White House. She has strong conservative backing, and now works for the attorney general.
*None of the above. This is the "fudge factor." Senate Republican staffers say that a "surprise" name, which they won't reveal, has been bounced off key members with no negative reactions.