President Carter has agreed to defer action on "major policy questions" and appointments for the rest of his term, White House chief of staff Jack Watson announced yesterday, so as not to clutter the path of the incoming Ronald Reagan administration.
In a session with reporters yesterday just after he had met with Reagan's transition chief, Edwin Meese, Watson said he had informed the Reagan team that "the president is interested in seeing that major matters, major policy questions and issues that will need to be addressed in the next four years, both legislative and otherwise, be deferred for their [the new administration's] action post Jan. 20."
Meese, who had said earlier in the day that he hoped Carter would adopt this course, told the reporters that Watson had volunteered the deferral policy at the start of their meeting, "before I had a chance to ask."
Watson said the Carter administration would take a similar approach toward pending judicial appointments. Only those nominations that have bipartisan support in the Senate will go forward, Watson said. Meese said he interprets this pledge to mean that the Carter people will check with Reagan's staff before asking for Senate approval of nominees.
In a separate meeting with reporters, Carter seemed to qualify the deferral approach slightly. He said: "Obviously, we'll try to accommodate Gov. Reagan as much as we can, but the ultimate judgment about what I do and what I don't do will have to be made by me unilaterally."
In a news conference yesterday morning, Meese also said the Reagan transition team is confident it can deliver on the president-elect's promise to cut the federal budget by 2 percent as soon as he is sworn in. [Details on Page A7].
Meese said economic advisers have identified potential cuts between $33 billion and $40 billion, three times more than would be required to cut the budget by 2 percent.
Meese formally announced the creation of an executive branch management office in the transition operation, to be headed by William E. Timmons, an old Washington hand who was a White House lobbyist under presidents Nixon and Ford and now runs a private lobbying firm here.
As previously reported, this management office will divide the government into five categories. Former Federal Trade Commission member Elizabeth Dole will head a "human services" group that deals with departments and agencies handling such areas as education, welfare, housing and health. Richard Fairbanks, a domestic policy official in the Nixon White House, will direct a "resources and development" unit dealing with agriculture, energy, environment, and related offices. David Abshire, an assistant secretary of state under Nixon, will head the "national security" group, overseeing transition at the State and Defense departments and other agencies concerned with international affairs.
Loren Smith, the Reagan campaign's lawyer, will head the "legal and administrative agencies" group, covering the Justice Department and two dozen assorted boards, commissions, and endowments. Stanton D. Anderson, a White House aide under Nixon, will direct the "economic affairs" group, covering the Commerce, Treasury, Transportation and Labor departments and related agencies.
Working under these five group leaders will be up to 100 separate teams that will work with specific agencies. Timmons said yesterday these teams will begin today to set up shop at the headquarters of the various agencies.
The transition also set up yesterday its congressional liaison office, which will be headed by Tom C. Korologos, a jaunty Capitol Hill veteran who worked with Timmons in the White House and is now a partner in Timmon's lobbying firm.
The outgoing and incoming sides of the transition yesterday began working together on various aspects of the transfer of power. In addition to the Meese-Watson session at the White House, Abshire, the transition team's national security chief, met with Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinki, and Timmons and his group leaders had a session with White House aides and agency officials.
Reagan will come to Washington Monday and will meet with Carter sometime next week. Meese said the president-elect does not now plan to meet with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who will be in Washington on a state visit at the same time. According to Jim Brady, the transition team's press secretary, Reagan plans to spend another week in Washington early in December and then one or two weeks here in January before the inauguration. Otherwise, Reagan will work in Los Angeles, where he is currently reviewing possible Cabinet appointees.
Yesterday's hot personnel item on the rumor circuit was a Washington Star story suggesting that Texas lawyer James A. Baker III will be named White House chief of staff. Most prognosticators had predicted Meese would get that job. Meese had no comment yesterday.
Another possibility for the Reagan administration team is John F. Lehman Jr., former deputy director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and a Reagan adviser, who reportedly is under consideration for the job of secretary of the Navy.