There is a vague sense of unease these days in the corridors of the White House and the old Executive Office Building.
The reason has nothing to do with the state of the presidency, the directtion of the Carter administrationor any impending crisis. It has to do, rather, with the age-old government game of protecting one's bureaucratic turf. It has to do, in the end, with the jobs of some of the people who now roam in the heady atmosphere of those corridors.
In about two weeks, President Carter will recieve from the Office of Management and Budget recommendations on reorganizing the Executive Office of the President, which includes the White House staff, Vice President Mondale's staff and ralted agencies such as the National Security Council.
Moreover, one of the reorganization options that, OMB will present to the President will show him how he can do what he promised to do and which, much to his embrassment, he has so far failed to do - cut the size of the White House staff by about 30 per cent.
"We're going to recommend it," one OMB official said with a hint of pride in his voice.
"There's no doubt about it, it's coming," a White House aide said of the expected cuts.
Carter, in fact, all but ordered OMB to come up with options to remove functions - and with them people - out of the White House and the larger Executive Office.
"The President has made it clear [to OMB] that he intends to keep his commitment about the size of the White House staff," said Harrison Wellford, who heads OMB's reorganizations staff.
Thus, the source of the unease, which varies depending on how vulberable various depending on how vulnerable various officials feel they are to the OMB reorgaanizers. According to one White House, officials, most of the some 1,400 people who work in the Executive Office of the President don't feel any aprehension because they simply don't realize what the reorganization is likely to involve.
Among those who do, another official, who is given to overstatement, says, "people are hysterical." A third aide says it is "more of a general anxiety."
The OMB sraff is holding the details of its recommendations closely, so it is not known whether firings are being cotemplated or merely transfers into other agencies. The latter is regarded as more likely.
Nor is it know where the ax may fall the hardest. But officials in the White House are making some educated guesses, saying they generally coincide with the White House units where anxiety seems to be running the highest.
The most frequently mentioned target is the office of pinlic liaison, headed by the Midge Costanza. Costanza is the only woman on the White House senior staff, but she is a member of the inner circle only as a name on an organization chart. Given to describing herself as the President's "window to the world," Costanza and her staff of 15 - who deal with outside interest groups - are frequently ridiculed by other White House officials.
Asecond possible target for staff cuts is the 26-member congressional relations staff headed by Frank Moore. Initially understaffed, which Carter's aides blamed for some of their early problems with Congress, Moore's office has been beefed up. But since then, the congressional relations staffs of the various government agencies have taken shape and there is now some feeling that some of Moore's functions could be transferred to the departments.
Two other White House units are mentioned as possibilites for some trimming. One is the 12-member staff of Jack Watson Jr., the Cabinet secretary who also handles intergovernmental relations. "It's hard to know what a lot of his folks do," one White House official said.
he other, and by far most-intriguing, possible place where OMB might recommend some cuts is in the staff of the President's chief political aide, Hamiltion Jordan. In an interview last week in Time magazine, Jordan himself wistfully recalled the days in Georgia when it was just him and his deputy, Landon Butler.
But now Jordan, whose duties are general and ill defined, had staff of 11.
In a comparison of staff places and needs, that's one place where you might look," one official suggested.
The OMB reorganizers are now going back to the various White House unit head with their preliminary findings. And that, in turn, has set off what some officials call "infighting" between the White House senior staff and the OMB and what Wellford more gently describes as "arguing back and forth."
The decisions, of course, will not be known until Carter chooses among the options OMB will propose. But among some White House aides there is a feeling that the President is so wedded to the idea of a 30 per cent cut that only a finding by OMB that a drastic cur would be counterproductive could dissuade him from that course.
The irony in this is that it is the OMB reorganizers who seem to be having second thoughts about the President's campaign promise to cut the White House down to size. Even OMB Director Bert Lance, at a recent lunch with reporters and editors of The Washington Post, questioned the wisdom of beginning a reorganization process with a goal of a specific reduction - which is exactly what Carter appears to have had in mind.
Said another OMB official who has been closely involved in the reorganization planning:
"There is not a lot of wasted motion over here, which is something I did'nt fully understand at first . . . There are good reasons to maintain some things at their current levels. If you talk about cuts, you're going to have to give up some things which are not altogether of marginal importance."
The President has pledge to reorganize the entire executive branch of the government. He began with his own Executive Office of the President, he said, to provide an example.So what is happening now in the White House and the Executive Office Building - the anxiety and infighting, whatever their levels - may be a preview of what awaits other government agencies as the reorganization effort moves along.
"If you are going to be serious about this ," one OMB official said, "there is going ot be blood."