President Carter agreed yesterday to speed the appointment of an inspector general for the General Services Administration, yielding to a request of Jay Solomon, the man he plans to replace as head of the agency.
But there is no indication that Carter will select Solomon's candidate for the job, Irwin Borowski, a Securities and Exchange Commission official. In fact, one White House official said, Borowski may have damaged his chances of being named by his recent statements criticizing the administration's move to replace Solomon.
Carter met with Solomon yesterday morning, following a Washington Post report that the White House was searching for a successor to the GSA administrator.
White House press secretary Jody Powell said Carter promised to "expedite" the nomination of an inspector general for the embattled agency. A White House official said the selection would be made by the end of this week or early next week.
The selection had been a major point of contention between Solomon and the White House. The president took no immediate action on Solomon's recommendation, made before Christmas. A White House official explained that the White House had held off on the selection because Carter was moving to replace Solomon and the new GSA head should be consulted on the choice of ar inspector general. Solomon reportedly was upset by the delay.
But yesterday, Powell said that Carter had decided "it would involve too long a delay" to wait until a new GSA administrator is chosen in order to choose an inspector general.
Powell said Attorney General Griffin B. Bell and Office of Management and Budget Director James McIntyre also would make recommendations on the selection of the GSA inspector general.
A White House aide told House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) a month ago that Solomon was leaving in May as GSA chief, a member of O'Neill's staff said last night.
The staff member identified the aide as White House congressional liaison chief Frank Moore. Last night, Moore said that he could not recall making such a statement to O'Neill. Moore said, however, that Solomon had told him "some time ago" he wanted to leave his GSA post "in the spirng."
A White House official said last night that O'Neill was not consulted in the replacement of Solomon, would have no role in the matter, and had said he did not want one. O'Neill, through an aide, said last night he is "not interested in any input about his [Solomon's] successor."
O'Neill had complained last July that President Carter had allowed his friend, Robert T. Griffin, to be treated in a "cruel" manner when Solomon fired him as deputy GSA administrator. At the time, O'Neill called the action "one of the worst things I have ever seen."
Carter then gave Griffin a job in the office of his special representative for trade.
Shortly after Carter became president, O'Neill asked him to name Griffin administrator of GSA. Carter declined, but told then administrator Jack M. Eckerd he would have to name Griffin as his deputy. Eckerd resigned rather than do so, and Carter named Solomon to the top GSA post, with Griffin as his deputy.
Yesterday, Borowski, spoke critically of the administration's move to replace Solomon.
"I feel that having Solomon leave at this time in midstream is going to have a very adverse effect on the success of the investigation," he told The Washington Post. And in an Associated Press interview, he said that if Solomon is replaced "people might get the improssion that the administration is not prepared to clean up corruption."
Borowski's comments did not go over well at the Carter White House. One senior official there said: "Borowski's apparent inclination to involve himself in the decision of who is to be the director of the agency is not a point in his favor... Prudence would have dictated that he not make those comments."
Powell said yesterday the White House believes "that the investigation is proceeding aggressively and in a satisfactory manner."
The GSA scandals, which predate the Carter administration, have resulted so far in 40 indictments alleging GSA employes accepted payoffs in return for certifying the GSA received goods and services that were never received.
Powell emphasized yesterday that the president still has "full confidence" in Solomon. He said Solomon had asked last fall to be replaced sometime after the first of the year.
Solomon first maintained, when asked by a reporter, that he had not asked to be replaced and did not know his successor was being sought. Yesterday, he said in an interview that he had, in fact, mentioned to the president and other officials that he would like to leave the agency post this spring. But he said he had never followed that up with any other discussions, that presidential aides had urged him to reconsider, and he had. Meanwhile, however, the White House was searching for his replacement.
Presidential aides have been upset with Solomon's frequent contacts with reporters and the generally high public profile he has maintained during the investigation.
They were also infuriated at Solomon last summer because they believe he touched off a public feud between O'Neil and the White House by leaking to the press the news that Griffin was about to be fired by the GSA.
Last night Solomon touched off minor White House consternation with a statement issued to the press in his name. After he had said in an interview that he would be leaving his job in a couple of months, he released a statement that said the opposite.
"I told the president I intended to see through the investigations...," the statement said. "I think the only chance to see this investigation through is for me to stay on. And when I do leave, it will be at a time and in a manner of my own choosing."
When questioned about the statement, GSA press officer Peter Hickman said Solomon had not "meant to imply" that he would be staying on to see the investigation through, but meant to say he intended to leave in the spring. Hickman said he had written the statement for Solomon and that Solomon "just didn't pay that much attention to it when he approved it." Hickman told a reporter, "You can reword it anyway you want so it says he will leave in the spring."
The White House, meanwhile, was displeased by the statement and Powell suggested Hickman rewrite it so that it would say exactly what Solomon meant it to say.