Jimmy Carter is not the only politician in town who's been having problems with his staff.
Ted Kennedy has been hearing the same complaints for months.
As Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) tells it, he wasn't getting appropriate consideration at the Senate Judiciary Committee a few months back for an amendment he wanted to offer on a bill to revamp the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.
Aides to new committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) didn't seem willing to work with Biden's staff. So Biden made an end run to the Budget Committee, on which he also serves, and persuaded his colleagues there to slash the appropriations ceiling for LEAA by 100 million.
Suddenly the Kennedy staff was quite willing to discuss Biden's amendment. He got what he wanted.
But the damage couldn't quite be undone. Though Biden later joined Kennedy on the Senate floor in trying to resotre the $100 million, they failed.
Examples like this have been circulating on Capital Hill recently as members, staff aides and interested observers try to explain what is generally considered to be the sputtering place and mood of the first months of Kennedy's reign at Judiciary.
The stories often have a common theme: the Kennedy staff, though consistently labeled the best and brightest in Washington, also can be heavyhanded back-biting and politically inept.They are able to generate headlines for the boss, but little legislative momentum.
The cause: Kennedy himself, because he has purposely set up a staff network run by a competitive cluster of senior aides with no one really able to take charge.
The result of Kennedy's operating style, according to one senator on the committee, "is the most intense, uncommon competition I've ever seen on a staff. They can be ruthless, a bunch of prima donnas trying to outproduce each other to get his attention.... I'd rather have bright people who know how to get along."
This feeling among several participants in the committee's work comes at a time when Kennedy is riding high in polls as an alternative to the troubled President Carter. It leads inevitably to a question now being whispered by some, how can Kennedy control a White House staff if he can't effectively manage Judiciary?
Critics of the Kennedy staff operation say, in fairness, that the close committee split on some issues and the growing conservative mood of Congress also are factors in the lackluster pace at Judiciary so far.
They acknowledge that some of their concerns so far are evidenced more in a general about how the committee is working rather than any dramatic effects on legislation. But they say the other problems make a smooth-running staff machinery even more important to the passage of major bills to come.
Kennedy, not surprisingly, rejects this critical analysis of the system he has in place at Judiciary. In a recent interview he said he was well satisfied with the progress of the committee staff and its agenda so far.
He acknowledged that the structure, which dilutes authority among several senior aides with different experitise, might foster infighting. But, he said, "One of the reasons we've been able to attract top-flight people is that they felt they have a degree of access for their views and ideas, as well as trying to implement positions I've taken."
He said his idea has been to delegate responsibility to staff aides and then hold them accountable. He seemed annoyed at suggestions that bad blood between some members of his senior staff, and their strained relaitons with other senators' staff aides, might be affecting the pace of legislation in his committee.
Kennedy noted that two major bills, the proposed charter for the FBI and the latest version of the revised federal criminal code, which he pushed through the Senate last year, will be introduced in the next month or so.
"A fair judgment is where we end up at the end of the session.The Founding Fathers gave us two years. I think we're entitled to it," he said.
"This isn't an executive office, where you can execute these choices. It's a legislative body, where othere members have other interests and responsibilities."
It is just that point that some feel Kennedy's staff hasn't fully recognized. Subcommittee chairmen such as Biden and Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) watched as Kennedy transferred major criminal and antitrust legislation from their jurisdiction to the full committee early this year.
Democratic members had to give up hallowed office space, one of the symbolic currencies of Congress, as well, as Kennedy moved to give Republican members a full one-third of the staff space.
This meant adoubling of minority offices and let to a weeks-long dispute between Kennedy and fellow Democratic liberal Birch Bayh, of Indiana, over what some wags call the Saga of Russell 108.
It seems that the staff on Bayh's subcommittee on Constitution was so upset about the prospect of losing a room in the Russell Office Building that someone actually went around measuring office dimensions so Bayh could make a case before Kennedy.
At one point the debate reportedly got down to the issue that Kennedy had more square feet of space per staff employee than Bayh did. Kennedy finally sent Bayh an eviction notice.
That episode is not the type to affect future Bayh votes, according to aides. But it does demonstrate the tensions between staffs, as well as the less glamorous duties of the new chairman.
The battle over "Illinois Brick," a controbersial antitrust bill, was more substantive, and perhaps, more illustrative of the problems critics cite.
The bill would overturn a Supreme Court decision and allow consumers and businesses harmed by price-fixing to sue for damages even if they didn't deal directly with the offending seller. The business community lobbied hard against it, and it's apparent that Kennedy aides just didn't count votes well enough before it was first considered, other committee aides say.
A committee vote in late April had to be postponed, and Kennedy was reported to be both embarrassed and furious. Then the new chairman had to accept amendments by Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) to woo the minority member to his side and get the bill reported, 9 to 8, last month.
The result is considered an empty victory by many, because the bill faces a certain Republican filibuster on the Senate floor and it's not likely that Kennedy can line up the 60 votes needed to cut off debate.
Kennedy's work on the criminal code last year is cited by several observers as an example of what Kennedy can accomplish when he sets his mind to it. He worked then with a coalition of conservatives, such as retiring committee chairman James O. Eastland (D-Miss.) and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).
"He cut some deals there that were almost uncuttable," said an admiring aide to a Democratic member of Judiciary.
But the same aide said Kennedy seems to be having trouble deciding whether to pay enough attention to Judiciary to become a consistently effective legislator or just to use the committee as a forum to score debating points for his poor and minority group constituencies.
"As long as the presidential thing is out there as an option it's doubtful he'll make the choice," he said.
There are some changes in the works on Kennedy's staff at Judiciary, Davie Boies, the staff director, is returning to private practice. He is to be replaced by Stephen Breyer, a Harvard Law School professor.
Edward A. Meriis, a veteran administrator at the Senate Commerce and Appropriations committees, also is leaving Judiciary.
And Ken Feinberg, who was Kennedy's administrative assistant, is moving formally to the committee staff to handle criminal law matters.
Boies and Merlis say their departures were planned. Other Kennedy aides suggest privately, in a sign of the competition among senior aides, that the changes were designed to shore up lines of authority at the committee.
Whether Breyer will have more success than Boies is running a smooth operation is problematic, many say.
"It all comes back to Ted, in the end," one senator on the committee said. "He has proved he's a great charismatic leader. He hasn't really proved he's an administrative leader who can get things done." CAPTION: Picture, Judiciary Committee Chairman Kennedy: "This isn't an executive office, where you can execute these choices.It's a legislative body..." By James K. W. Atherton - The Washington Post