When Vincent E. McKelvey was fired last summer as director of the U.S. Geological Survey he got four telephone calls from Capitol Hill asking why.
One came from Rep. Jack Kemp (R. N.Y.), another from Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) and the other two from aides to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.). All four callers wanted to know if politics had squeezed McKelvey from the job he'd held for six years.
The question was a good one. McKelvy was the first of nine directors in the 99-year history of the survey to be fired for any reason, including politics.
The aides to Moynihan and Jackson wanted to know if McKelvy's dismissal meant the White House wanted more control over the Geological Survey. Kemp and Packwood asked the same question a different way was McKelvy fired because he had said the United States has made oil and natural gas in the ground than the Carter administration was saying it has.
McKelvy told his callers he didn't know why he'd been faired . . . and apparently he didn't. Which helps to explain why he was fired: so issolated had the U.S. Geological Survey been from politics in 99 years that its director could no longer read the politics of the times. TO hear those who asked for his resignation, McKelvy was fired in part because he had so few friends on Capital Hill and in the White House that he did not know he was falling from favor.
It's no accident Vince had no more than four calls from the Hill about his dismissal," said one high-level source in the Carter administration. "He's not a political animal, which in the long run may be what did him in."
McKelvy had cultivated few political friendship. He "barely knows" Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-ARIZ), whose committee has heard McKelvy's testimony on oil and gas reserves. He doesn't know Jackson, who chairs the Senate committee that confirmed him and will consider his successor.Whe asked if he thought Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger said he doubted it: "I've never been in the same [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with him."
According to McKelvy, he was told by Assistant Interior Secretary Joan M. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] last spring that she was contemplating replacing him. Two weeks later, Davenport "accepted" McKelvy's [WORD ILLEGIBLE] McKelvy appealed the acceptance to Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus, who told him he would not interfere with Davenport's decision. A letter followed from the White House signed by "Jimmy Carter" formalizing the resignation.
"The only reason Davenport gave me that a change would be good for the survey," McKelvy said recently. "She did not explain why a change would be good for the survey."
When pressed on the reason for his dismissal, McKelvy falls back on a single speculation - age. "I'm 61." he said, "and Joan Davenport's 34. She's the same age as my son. That could be it."
But age is not the reason McKelvy was fired. Highly placed administration sources said McKelvy was replaced because the Carter administration feels the agency he directed for six years was losing its vigor. The same sources said the Geological Survey can ill afford to lose its vigor when oil and gas reserve estimates are so vital and regulation of oil, gas and coal production so important.
Capitol Hill sources point out that McKelvy did not fare well in congressional budget battles . Two out of the last four years McKelvy suffered budget cuts on Capitol Hill, even though demands on the survey were growing. The two years the survey budget was not cut it managed only modest increases that the Carter administration did not think were enough to do its job.
One source close to the White House said McKelvy spent too much time managing the survey's Conservation Division, which supervises the drilling and digging of federal oil, gas and coal leases and collects production royalties from those leases.
By McKelvy's own estimate, three-fourths of his time went to the Conservation Division. The division employs 1,500 of the 10,000 employees in the survey. It spends $75 million a year, less than on-fourth of the survey's $320 million-a-year budget.
"The survey needs somebody wh's more vigorous who will defend it better and can pattern it better to the country's needs," one source said. "To be perfectly honest, the survey needs fresh blood."
The firing of McKelvy almost went unnoticed when it was announced last July 26. The few reports written at the time gave the wrong reasons for his dismissal. The only notice given the firing on Capitol Hill came from Rep. Kemp. a Republican who tied McKelvey's dismissal to Carter's call for war on energy consumption.
The survey has had a 99-year tradition of getting its directors from slates nominated in secret ballot by the National Academy of Sciences. It is the only federal agency that does so. McKelvey was nominated in the same way and was appointed to the post by President Nixon even though he is a Democrat.
There are an estimated 25,000 geologists in the United States, a fifth of them employed by the survey in places like Denver. Flagstaff and Menlo Park and many nervous that politics has intruded into the survey's affairs. Sources inside the Interior Department insist this isn't the case.
"It is not political instruction to want an agency director who is vigorous," one source said, "who will look at his agency from a standpoint of reorganization and how it can be patterned into the country's needs instead of the way it was 50 years ago."
As it has nine times in the past, the National Academy of Sciences has submitted a slate of nominees to suceed McKelvey and become the survey's 10th director. Davenport has interviewed four candidates and this week will interview a fifth. The White House hints it is confident that if she does not want any of the five nominees she will ask the academy for more names.
Meanwhile, McKelvey stays on as director until January. After that, he will remain as a senior geologist with no cut in salary.
McKelvey has few regrets. "They've been very gracious about it," he says wistfully. "They never asked me to clean out my desk and be gone. They've let me stay on and that's very decent of them."