One minute you are Neil Goldschmidt, mayor of Portland, Ore., a continent away from Washington, fighting for dollars from the Feds like everyone else.
Then comes the call from the White House.
A federal chauffeur meets your plane, someone hands you the keys to a gold-carpeted suite on the tenth floor of the mammoth Transportation Department building in the heart of the capital and suddenly you are in charge. Mr. Insider, right?
Well, sort of.
Enter Edward W. Scott Jr., the highest ranking career civil servant in the Transportation Department.
Scott or someone like him appears out of a cloud of briefing books and background meetings to guide new Cabinet members to their jobs.
For Goldschmidt and former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, who were sworn in Sept. 24 as the heads of the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments, the training can be critical. As Washington outsiders joining the Cabinet in midstream, they cannot afford to waste time getting up to speed.
That is where Scott helps out. A self-described bureaucratic "lifer" who has watched department heads come and go for 18 years, Scott is one of the government's "godfathers." He reveals bureaucratic truths: Who you can fire without ticking off the White House or a powerful member of Congress. What decisions have to be made during the first 120 days. Who should get an appointment. What reporters will ask on "Meet the Press" next Sunday.
At the Housing and Urban Development Department, someone had to take care of the basic nuts and bolts for Landrieu as he took over the helm.
Administrative assistant James Walker signed out to the former mayor his set of keys to the secretary's suite; told him he had $3,000 a year to spend for receptions, assigned him a chauffeur and a Buick LeSabre, and explained under what conditions he could fly first class.
The success of the orientation process depends very much on the attitudes of the students, according to some of the officials who have taught incoming Cabinet members.
"If you, (a Cabinet member), come in and tell them, 'don't give me all that bureaucratic crud, just do it,' you risk one of two results," said one top career official at the Transportation Department. "Either the bureaucrats hunker down and prevent you from doing whatever it is you wanted. Or perhaps worse, they let you go ahead and do it. They don't warn you of the consequences and you end up with a bad press or the inspector general all over you."
In the case of Goldschmidt, only three weeks passed between the day President Carter asked him to take the job -- amidst the chaotic weeks of his July Cabinet shakeup -- and the day he took office as a recess appointment (since the Senate wasn't in session to confirm his nomination).
His education began that first day. After accepting Carter's job offer in a White House meeting, Goldschmidt met with W. Graham Claytor, the then-Navy secretary, who was filling in as acting transportation secretary following the firing of Brock Adams.
In what Scott calls "the handoff," Claytor outlined some of the pending issues before the department and handed over the heavy stack of briefing books that he had received only days before. Goldschmidt took them back with him on the plane to Portland.
The books themselves were huge looseleaf notebooks with tabs. There were three of them:
"Organization, Resources and Relationships" contained a summary of what the secretary does, a history of the department and fold-out charts showing how the department's 110,000 employes are organized, including "one for him to keep under his desk blotter," according to Scott.
A second book, entitled "Issues," summarized the live policy controversies facing the department. These included something called the San Antonio coal rate case, which required an early decision by Goldschmidt, the president's energy policy, the likelihood of a civil aviation agreement with China, and a variety of what Scott described as "old chestnuts," issues that have been around for awhile, all grouped according to importance by the staff.
Finally, the "Biographies" book detailed the background and location of the department's top officials. Photographs were included and -- to make things easier -- political appointees were described on blue pages and career civil servants on white.
This, Scott said, quickly lets the secretary know the 40 patronage appointees whom he can fire -- "the first piece of paper they always ask for."
As part of the staff biographies, the book detailed what their power bases were and how they got their present jobs. The book included similar information on members of key congressional committees and competing special interest groups.
After Goldschmidt's first trip, a number of top department officials traveled between Washington and Portland with "live" reports, as well as more written materials. Some were requested by Goldschmidt or the aides who were accompanying him to Washington.
Mortimer L. Downey, the department's assistant secretary for budget and programs, arrived with a rundown on the department's $16 billion fiscal 1980 budget request -- a rush because the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. The labyrinthine federal budget process is one of the biggest mysteries incoming officials face, according to Thomas Garcia, an official of the federal office of Personnel Management.
In addition, the department's resident expert on Congress brought a rundown of the problems Goldschmidt would face on the Hill. The former mayor and aide David Yaden, who once worked on Capitol Hill, later paid courtesy calls on members of Congress, talking about issues such as the president's "windfall profits" tax on oil companies.
The departmental briefing materials were backed up by a booklet put out by the Office of Personnel Management. Bacause of the rapid turnover of dissatisfied -- or fired -- political appointees, the office also holds classes for new officials.
As for the chances of making new policy, the booklet notes that top appointees stay an average of only two years. But then it tells officials that they should "expect to be bossing existing programs for the most part during your first year or so" because because of the lengthy budget and legislative processes.
It quotes experts who caution that new executives should temper their trust in the career staff with some street smarts. "Each person in his or her own way is jockeying for position with you, bombarding you with thoughts, 'facts,' and points of view. Are they speaking for the bureaucracy or for their own pet hobby? You set yourself back if you commit yourself to someone who commands respect in your organization."
Perhaps the biggest shock the new officials get is the list of things they are suddenly prohibited -- by law or regulation -- from doing, Garcia said.
These include conflict-of-interest laws under which Cabinet members can't, for instance, accept hotel rooms from groups whose conventions they are addressing; civil service regulations affecting the hiring and firing; and financial disclosure laws that require Cabinet members to list, among other things, the companies in which they and their spouses own stock.
As Goldschmidt started to get a feel for the issues, the Transportation Department's public affairs office starting juggling his schedule to fit in some of the long list of reporters who had requested interviews. It decided to put The New York Times ahead of The Washington Post, and held a reception to take care of the bulk of reporters who could not be granted individual interviews right away.
Press spokesman Bob Holland herded Goldschmidt into a tidy office to sit for his official "state photograph." But the new secretary had to pose in a brown suit instead of the requisite dark one.
"He hadn't moved his household goods here yet and it was all he had with him," Holland said.
In the meantime, someone took down photos of Brock Adams with Jimmy Carter and put up photos of Goldschmidt with Carter.
Goldschmidt brought along his own personal secretary from Portland, but he will be able to call on a cadre of personal assistants who stay on from administration to administration.
"Most [new appointees] keep the personal secretary of their predecessor, even though it's a political post," said a former top aide to a Cabinet member. "These women -- generally with just a high school education -- have tremendous power during a transitional period because they are the ones who say, in the most deferential notes imaginable, 'Well, you make your own decision, but what we always did in the past was. . . '"
Scott also made sure to put Goldschmidt and his aides on the federal payroll. As a Cabinet member, Goldschmidt will earn $66,000 -- $69,000 if a pending pay raise is approved. He will get the same health and retirement benefits as other employes: he can join the civil service retirement system by paying 7 percent of his salary into the fund and he has life insurance benefits totalling $68,000, with an option for an additional $10,000 in coverage.
In between the meetings, Goldschmidt found time to acquaint himself with Washington tourist attractions, taking a visit to National Zoo in shorts and a cowboy hat.
"Nobody even looked at me," he said. "It was wonderful. Back home, my face is known by almost everybody in the city."
Landrieu, meanwhile, was going through a similar process at HUD, He strolled around the headquarters on his own, getting to know the assistant secretaries, according to a department spokesman. "The basic arena" of people Landrieu will deal with at HUD is fairly small, "no more than 25 people, no one below the level of special assistant or assistant secretary." 2
What do the most recent graduates think their classes?
Goldschmidt said his briefing materials were "remarkable." They are not enough to make a person an expert on the issues, he said, "but they're a pretty good signal to you, looking inward only, about what's going on in the department."
"Frankly," he added, "I was surprised at how well equipped this organization was to bring somebody in at high speed."
Landrieu, meanwhile, was unavailable for comment. A spokesman said he has been skittish about giving interviews after a flurry of bad publicity about his personal finances after his nomination was submitted.
Could he be learning?