Brock Adams says he thinks he's doing well as Secretary of Transportation, an opinion not universally held in the hand.
There are criticims from some corners of Congress, but praise from others. There is grumbling in the ranks to the top, including careerists with numerous fiefdoms. But these closer to the top, including careerists with no previous ties to Adams, are increasingly impressed with him.
Some members of the aviation aviation community are angry, but the railroads think he's right on the big issues.
Then there was that devastating article in The Wall Street[WORD ILLEGIBLE] which, in the very first paragaraph, that Brock Adams was the biggest disappointment in Jimmy Carter's Cabinet and went on to call him obsequious.
"Wherever that came from, it must have been from some guys who haven't dealt with him on policy matters," said a White House official who has dealt with Adams on policy matters.
In any event, Brock Adams does not act or talk like a man who is afraid he is about to be fired or wo feels uncomfortable in his relationship with the boss.
"The basic relationship I have with the President," Adams said. "It that he thinks this is a big operation and he likes the fact that we run it."
Adams has disposed of a member of nagging transportation questions of both local and national importance in which the only possible result was that somebody was going to be angry. In the process, he concedes, he has spread himself too thin.
But he now feels that, with his desk cleared, he can get about the business of seriously developing national transortation policy.
He is only the fifth secretary in a department of 110,000 employees ranging from air traffic controllers to highway engineers to Coast Guard admirals. He will be the first secretary with a real opportuniy to make that department speak with one voice, in the view of one of his close associates.
But is he a disappointment?
Adams was furious when the story tagging him as such came out and it was a severe blow to the morale in the departmental employees live off the relationship of their Cabinet officer to the President," said a former top DOT official.
"The torpedo hurt," said David Jewell, Adams' press secretary.
Carter himself moved to repair the damage. After the article appeared, he called Adams. "The President was most upset," Adams said. "He said, 'I have never criticized a member of this Cabinet, even to Rosalynn, and if I find where this is happening I would see to it those people understood they were no longer wauted in the administration.'
"My reaction was - don't worry about it. It's the sort of thing that will happen any time you have a new group of people and they are looking at their areas and trying to do their things . . . "
"One of the things you learn in the political life of Washington," Adams said, " . . . is to always fight somebody on an issue, but don't fight somebody on a personality."
Sources in the White House and the Departments of Transportation think that Adams' undenied skills as a pragmatic politician may have clashed with the idealism of some of the White House staff.
"Adams is cautious," one White House official said of the former Washington congressman. "He'll look at the lay of the alnd, try and figure out what he can get, and try and fit his proposals in there.
"We think we can pull the consensus along a little bit."
The labeling of Adams as a disappointment seems to center on one issue: deregulation of the airline industry, a Carter campaign promise. Adams himself conceded in a recent speech that "I have seemed to be the reluctant dragon in all the regulatory reform measures."
He was not the administration's leadoff witness in Senate Commerce subcommittee hearings on deregulation and was seen by some on the committee staff as working against the White House.
Adams insists, however, that he was on board all along - it was a question of tactics, no goals. "I don't think I did that incorrectly," he said. "That bill is going to come out about where I said it would. Others were taking the position that it would sail right through on a groundswell of public support. But only 15 per cent of the public flies and not all of that 15 per cent cares about low fares. My role was saying. "This is going to be more difficult than you think.'"
A deregulation bill is nearing completion in the Senate. The bill supposed to make it easier for airlines to enter new markets and revise fares without awaiting Civil Aeronautics Board action.
When President Carter recently overturned the CAB after it had barred lower rates on some transatlantic flights, he was acting on Adams' recommendation, according to Adams' associates. If there was any foot-draggin, Adams is now out in front on deregulation.
It was easier being a congressman from Seattle, which is what Brock Adams was for 12 years before he took the Cabinet post.
Before that he had been a U.S. attorney, a lawyer in private practice, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the first in his class academcially at the University of Washington.
His liberal Democratic credentials are hsiny, but he also built a reputation on Capitol Hill as being a centrist in spending matters.
He guided the D.C. hoem rule bill through the House in 1973 and put together the legislative railroads in 1974. When the Congress reorganized its budget process. Adams was chosen as the first chairman of the House Budget Committee in 1974. He is generally credited with single-handedly making that new process work.
Even with his budget expertise, however, transportation was regarded as Adams' specialty in Congress and he told friends he wanted tobe Secretary of Transportation. A potential Senate seat was closed to him when Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) lost out in the Democratic presidential primaries, and "it was time to leave the House," as Adams said in an interview.
When he took over the Department of Transportation, he was already familiar with the public manifestations of its internal problems.
There has been open competition among the various DOT agencies for the federal dollar, the most obvious being between the Urban Mass Transportation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration. Sometimes both have sought massive amounts of money for transportation projects in the same corridor. Both have strong constituencies on Capitol Hill.
The Federal Aviation Administration, anther DOT agency, has always felt it belonged off by itself someplace, preferably with his own Cabinet officer.
Adams was determined, he said, that his department would speak with one voice, his, and that the internal skirmishes would cease.
To that end, he installed his congrssional staff in key positions - deputy under secretary, special affairs officer. He did so at the cost of some good will with the White House staff ,it is widely believed.
Then, in coordination with the White Houe, he picked administrators for the various agencies. But it was not until July that he last administrator - Richard Page at UMTA - was in place.
During those months, Adams and his "congresional Mafia," as some DOT employees called them, began to pick their way through the varioius DOT offices, deciding whom they could trust.
It was a period of considerable tension for both sides because DOT professionals were convinced that the congressional types didn't know anything. Some of them still feel that way.
There was the same concern over at the White House. "We didn't know any of those people," a White House official said of Adams' top staff. "But I must say that I think they have performed very, very well."
Adams' staff recently delivered to the White House a zero-base budget, complete with options, on time and in the ball park, and that fact has won points there.
Another complaint from DOT employess and DOT constituencies is that Adams "has no Barnum."
That is a reference to John Barnaum, who was the deputy to former Secretary William T. Coleman Jr. Barnum shared policy with Coleman on many issues and was the action officer on some questions. "You always knew you could get an answer if you went to John," a longtime official said. "The only one with answers here is Adams, and he is not accessible."
"There's not going to be a Barnum," said Adams. "There is noe policy-maker, the Secretary of Transportation." Alan A. Butchman, the deputy secretary, is Adams' former administrative assistant and he performs much the same function at DOT.
In furtherance of Adams' one-voice rule, the rheif press officer in each agency has been personally approved by Jewell, a departure from the past!
Jewell himself infuriated a number of reporters early in the admininstration when he insisted that all questions come to his office. Sometimes he did not provide answers. Some of the bad press Adams has received can be traced to that situation, observers think.
But despite this, there has been a steady procession of decisions form Adams' office.
A treaty was negotiated with Great Britain on landing righs for both countries' airlines: some have question aboutit, but a deadline was met. Adams decided to overturn COleman and require airbags or other automatic passenger restraints on new cars beginning in 1982.
Adams let stand two Coleman-approved highway projects, Insterstate 66 here and Westway in New York City. Both were enormously controversial local issues.
Adams turned down the Tennessee Highway Department's request to build Interstate 40 through Overton Park in Memphis. That controversy dates to 1956.
Although Carter made the decision to propose rules that would give the Anglo-French supersonic Concord permanent landing rights in the United States, it was Adams' recommendation that Carter adopted.
All those issues were tough and required substantive breifings from longtime DOT professionals, Adams said he was "very pleased" with the qualtiy of the people he found in the department. Some of them have been impressed with Adams's grasp of the problems and their technicalities.
They also agree, as do his close associates, that Adams talks a lot. "Loquacious, not obsequious," said one. "But he learns by talking," said another. "He really hears what's being said."
Butchman, his deputy, said, "I can express another point of view and do it strenously. I think the last thing the secretary needs of thinks he has it is yes man."
Negatives include complaints that paperwork gets lost in the department and that important letters back up for weeks.
And, there have been substantive mistakes. Adams blames himself for the fact that the Carter administration energy packeage now floudering in the Senate did not place more empphasis on transportation's role in energy conservation.
"We told them all of the things that I knew about what would happen on Capitol Hill and how energy should tie to transportation," Adams said. "I talked" to Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger "about it, but I did not do that well in terms of their operation . . . We didn't succeed.
That was early in the Carter administration. Now, after almost nine months in his new job, "we are in a position where we can complete . . . the pulling together of the conglomerate that is transportation."
That includes adapting transportation to serve energy - rail to haul coal, for example, or mass transit to haul people. That does not mean continuing programs that might not be working well.
Adams sees DOT developing two sets of policies, one to deal with national and interstate concerns, another with local problems. As far as federal involvement in local matters is concerned, he said, "We want to watch those programs like somebody who would be investing . . . "
Adams does not deny political ambitions. "I'm only 50," he said. But he signed the Carter pledge to fulfill his term and the most logical place for him to go - the Senate seat for Warren G. Magnason (D-Wash.) - will not be available until 1980, if then.
If there is a summary of Brock Adams that emerges from many interviews, it would be that he is intelligent, talkative and astute politically, but his administrative skills are still being tested.