If you've called the White House recently and gotten only busy signals, take heart. The 17 White House telephone operators may be even more frustrated than you are.
Chief operator Mary Burns said yesterday her two-dozen-plus incoming lines are averaging 80,000 calls each working day since the Carter administration took office, double the normal load.
"I don't ever remember being this busy at transition time," said Burns, who came to the switchboard in 1949 when the calls averaging only about 5,000 a day.
She said there were 102,000 calls just before President Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, when rumors about his impending resignation were rampant.
"I don't know what it was at assassination time, that was a norible time," she said, referring to President Kennedy's assassination Nov. 22, 1963.
What are people so anxious to call the Carter administration about?
"I can't really say," Burns said. "We're so frightfully busy here we don't have time to listen to them." Last Friday and Saturday, she said, a lot of people called to express an opinion on the pardon for draft resisters, which Carter announced Friday afternoon.
White House operators really have no place to refer such calls to, Burns said, except for "a volunteer group here sometimes during the day. I think they're going to have to set something up."
Burns said she hasn't asked Carter to go against his promise to decrease the White House staff and hire more operators. "But we're going to have to do something, because we can just do so much," she said. "Sometimes we may get a little short, but we do the best we can."