Transportation Secretary Brock Adams, who prided himself on being a team player who carried the White House message even if he disliked it, broke with that philosophy in a remarkable way yesterday and thus virtually guaranteed his dismissal.
According to both White House and Department of Transportation sources, Adams was told by Hamilton Jordan, President Carter's chief of staff, that he could remain as secretary but that several of his top aides had to go as part of the governmental reorganization.
That was at a 9:30 a.m. meeting in the White House, and Adams said he would think about it. Then he left for Boston to hand out a $187.5 million federal grant to extend the Boston subway.
When Adams stepped off the plane with two of his aides who are believed to be on the White House "hit list," he released this statement:
"I have been asked to stay on in the Carter Cabinet. I am considering whether or not I should. My decision depends on a number of factors, including the commitment of this administration to mass transportation moving Detroit toward a fuel-efficient automobile, the direct accessibility of the president to the Cabinet, and the responsiveness of those with enhanced authority in the White House staff to the Congress and the American people."
There, in three sentences, Adams managed to take a shot at Jordan, with whome he has had difficulty from the earliest days of the Carter administration, and vent his frustration at the lack of White House support for his two pet programs: an efficient automobile and mass transit.
The White House learned of Adams' statement from a wire service ticker, and top aides there were infuriated. White House sources said that, while Adams had fought for his top staff member in his meeting with Jordan, he never raised the issues of mass transit, automobiles or accessibility to the president.
There were conflicting reports about who was on the White House's DOT "hit list," but it was agreed that it included the names of the two people Adams trust the most in his department: Deputy Secretary Alan Butchman, Adams' administrative assistant when he was in Congress, and Assistant Secretary Terrence L. Bracy, who officially handles legislative liaison and press relations for Adams, but is really his chief of staff. Butchman and Bracy accompanied Adams to Boston yesterday.
Others considered to be in disfavor at the White House, according to several reports, included DOT general counsel Linda Kamm, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Joan Claybrook, Assistant Secretary John J. Fearnsides, and acting urban mass transportation administrator Gary Gayton.
Adams began feuding with Jordan in the early weeks of the administration when the secretary deftly installed several top congressional aides in key DOT positions before the White House was organized enough to complain. Butchman, Bracy and Kamm fall into that category.
Then the budget battles began. Adams tried for three years to get dramatic increase in funding for urgan transit stytems, but lost at the White House and at the Office of Management and Budget. He then vigorously defended the lower budget levels in congressional testimony. Adams thought he persuaded Carter in a telephone call to Camp David to include $10 billion in new aid for mass transit in the energy program. But by the time Adams testified on Capitol Hill about that money Wednesday, OMB had reduced the program to $7 billion in new money, and Adams' prepared testimony was gutted.
Adams has resisted pressure from some administration officials to relax his department's regulations that require the fleets of U.S. auto manufacturers to average 27.5 miles per gall by 1985.