Shortly after Ronald Reagan's election last month, Washington lawyer William J. Kilberg was named deputy chief of the president-elect's transition team at the Department of Labor.
A few days later, on Nov. 20, he filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Asarco Inc. in a Supreme Court case challenging the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration as an example of "power run riot."
A former Labor Department solicitor, Kilberg takes strong exception to the notion that any conflict of interest might be involved. The Supreme Court brief, he points out, had been in preparation for weeks. He says he also made plain to OSHA officials that he does not want to discuss the case or any other legal matter involving his corporate clientele.
Kilberg is just one of many lawyers and businessmen on Reagan transition teams with interests in the departments or agencies to which they have been assigned. There are space-company executives at NASA, energy company men at Energy, defense contractors at the Pentagon, nuclear industry representation at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, mining interests at Interior, and even a registered foreign agent at the State Department.
It has gotten to the point that at the NRC, Energy and other agencies, officials are withholding what they regard as sensitive information from the transition forces.
"The composition of the transition teams is up to the president-elect," says Harrison Welford, a top official on the Carter administration's side of the transition effort. "We don't set the standards. We can't make any rules. But the information we give to them is within our discretion."
The stock answer of the Reagan hierarchy on the conflict question is that they need the expertise of the hundreds of people who have agreed to help the new administration get started. If the criteria become too strict, protests Reagan transition spokesman Jim Brady, then "all we can have is a 15-year-old nun."
Reagan advisers also insist they have been scrupulous above and beyond the call of duty, since conflict of interest laws do not apply to transition personnel. Reagan transition director Edwin Meese III said transition team members have been required to submit explicit listings of their personal holdings and interests. Beyond that, he said, they have been instructed to avoid any action or recommendation that might "even be in the area of anything that might, if they were government employes, pose a conflict of interest."
The conflict of interest statements are being kept confidential and it is impossible to tell how many of the farflung transition team members have actually filled them out. But a spot check shows repeated instances at one agency after another where transition team members say they have disqualified themselves from various matters because of potential conflicts.
Item: At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Grumman Inc. and its subsidiaries have, over the years, nailed down contracts and subcontracts worth more than $2.6 billion. Grumman is currently working on the wings and landing gear door for the space shuttle and has a "current backlog" of contracts totaling $152 million.
Frederick Haise, a former astronaut who is now vice president of Grumman Aerospace Corp., is a member of the Reagan transition team at NASA.
Another company, TRW Inc., built all the Pioneer spacecraft and has worked on other NASA projects for a grand total of $771.6 million. It has a current backlog of $42 million. And the Chrysler Corp. has done $694.4 million worht of NASA business in the past.
Samuel C. Phillips, former Apollo program manager and now vice president-general manager of the TRW Energy Products Group, is a member of the NASA transition team. So is Richard J. Muller, director of Chrysler Corp.'s Washington office.
Reagan press spokesman Brady said that while it is true that some members of the NASA transition team represent corporations that do business with NASA, "this fact is recognized by all members of the team, whose group discussions are aimed at consensus, and potential sources of bias are taken into account."
In addition, Brady said, the executives either hold corporate positions "that involve no direct contact with NASA or they have made arrangements to avoid any conflict of interest." For instance, he said, "Chrysler has not had major business with NASA since the end of the Skylab project" and the Trw Energy Products Group makes industrial equipment for companies that find and produce oil. "The Group has no business with the government or with NASA."
Grumman Aerospace's Haise, Brady continued in response to a series of queries, "will not have any contact whatsoever in his transition capacity with the space shuttle."
Item: The deputy chief of the Reagan transition team at the Interior Department, W. O. (Fred) Craft Jr., a former deputy undersecretary of the interior, is currently a senior executive with Sun Energy Development Co. in Dallas. i
Sun Energy, also called Sunedco, owns two federal coal leases, a one-third interest in a federal prototype oil shale lease, and several geothermal leases purchased from the Interior Department. The company also owns a mine in Wyoming that is regulated by state officials under a cooperative agreement with the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining.
Says Reagan headquarters: "Mr. Craft has not dealt directly with the Department of the Interior on any of these matters during his tenure at Sunedco." Brady said Craft will refrain from "involvement of any kind" in matters bearing on Sunedco or on "existing leases to any party."
Still another member on the Interior team, Fred Karem, a former department official and now partner in a Lexington, Key., law firm, has a number of coal industry clients whose activites are regulated by the Office of Surface Mining.
It is not clear just how many clients Karem has in that category or who they are. In any case, Reagan transition officials say that Karem has recused himself from any matters at Interior that bear on "any specific business" of his clients.
Item: At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, officials have adopted a restrictive information policy toward the Reagan transition team as a result of "associations with the nuclear industry on the transition team."
Says NRC general counsel Leonard Bickwit: "The staff of the commission has been instructed not to give any information to the transition team which is not simultaneously made public, unless specific approval is given by the commission or the general counsel's office. To this date, no such approvals have been given."
Bickwit named no names, but he was obviously alluding to the head of the NRC transition team for Reagan, Richard T. Kennedy, a former commissioner who was an outspoken advocate of more nuclear power and who has recently done consulting work for International Energy Associates Ltd., a firm that conducts nuclear power studies for energy industry clients.
IEA has contracts with laboratories which, in turn, have contracts with NRC. The firm also provides engineering support services for three public utilities with nuclear power plants, according to Reagan transition officials, and has been involved in a nuclear safeguards design study.
Brady said that Kennedy has instructed members of his firm not to contract him about any of its NRC-related work and he "explicitly avoids any contact" at NRC about the safeguards design study.
Item: One of the numbers of the State Department's transition team, Marion H. Smoak, a former chief of protocol in the Nixon Administration, is also a registered foreign agent for the Territory of South West Africa/Namibia.
Smoak and his law partner, former D.C. Republican chairman Carl L. Shipley, signed up in September to promote the territorial regime there and, as Shipley puts it, to "combat U.N. propaganda" about the Namibian olitical situation. Their contract, for fees to be determined, is with the administrator general of the territory, who, in turn, is an appointee of the South African government.
The first day he started on the transition team, Smoak found himself assigned to review the work of the Bureau of African Affairs at State, but he says he immediately recognized the potential conflict. He said he promptly disqualified himself from "any discussion or consideration of Namibia as well as the Republic of South Africa."
The Carter administration has been supporting a plan for U.N.-supervised elections leading to Namibian independence.
Item: The head of the Energy Department's transition team, Michel T. Hilbouty, is a Texas oil millionaire who began his career as a petroleum geologist and became one of the most successful independent oil producers in history. A man with a strong distaste for federal regulations, he said in a 1977 Associated Press interview that he believed "a conspiracy t nationalize the petroleum industry" was at work.
Other members of the Reagan team at Energy include deputy director James B. Atkin, whose West Coast law firm reportedly represents Standard Oil of California, and Thomas B. Peacock, a vice president of Wheelabrator-Frye Inc. who works closely on the company's synfuels project with the Energy Department. Wheelabrator-Frye's subsidiary, International Coal Refining, is a major contractor in the Energy Department's $1.4 billion synfuels demonstration plant at Newman, Ky.
Atkin, who returned a reporter's phone call to Halbouty, said transition staff members are deliberately kept away from matters that could pose potential conflicts. "Someone else handles it," he said.
The options being prepared by the Energy transition team include a possible rescheduling of the synfuels projects targeted for federal support. Sources say this could result in the slowing down of some and the termination of others, a prospect that Peacock's competitors might not relish.
Peacock says that when synfuels issues arise, "I leave the room."
Item: The Pentagon transition team inclues four men who work for defense contractors: Ben T. Plymale, a former Boeing Aerospace executive now working with the Boeing Commerical Flight Management System; Robert L. Sivlerstein, direct of the Northrop Corp.'s analysis center here, and William R. Graham and Roland F. Herbst, both officials of R&D Associates, a California-based firm.
The Boeing Co. got more than $1.5 billion in defense contracts in 1979, making it No. 7 on the Pentagon's hit parade of the 100 companies getting the most money. Northrop, with slightly over $800 million in the same fiscal year, ranked 13th. R&D Associates, meanwhile, got $15.9 million for Pentagon research and development work to rank 65th of the top 500 companies in that field.
Brady dismisses questions about the Plymale appointment as much ado about nothing. He says he's gotten "dozens of conflict of interest questions" in recent weeks, but maintains that "every time you look at them, they come up okay. For instance, we're told that 'you got a guy at Defense who works for Boeing.' Then we look. He's near retirement age. And he's in the commercial plane program."
Government officials, however, say they cannot remember any defense industry personnel being involved in at least the last two administration changeover teams.
Item: Back at the Labor Department, Kilberg isn't the only transition team member who has had to disqualify himself on varios matters. One of his partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (the Los Angeles firm where Reagan advisers have been sifting through proposed Cabinet appointments) is Stephen E. Tallent, another member of the Labor Department team.
Tallent also signed the Nov. 20 Supreme Court brief assailing OSHA's cotton dust standards. But some Labor Department officials remember him better for his denunications of the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs before an American Bar Asociation panel last summer.
According to the Daily Labor Reporter, Tallent, management co-chairman of an ABA subcommittee on equal employment opportunity law, was unreserved in lambasting OFCCP as a "paper monstrosity designed to continue itself." He received an enthusiastic reception although one attorney, the general counsel for a prominent labor union, got up to protest what he called the pro-management, anti-government tone of the meeting. p
According to Kilberg, Tallent has been working on job descriptions for top-level, non-career appointments at Labor -- including the two top jobs at OFCCP -- but he declared that Tallent "is not involved in any policy matters with OFCCP."
"Steve and I have both told the firm [Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher] not to discuss [pending Labor Department] cases with us," Kilberg added. "He's very much aware of the conflict stuff, too."
In fact, Tallent is also a member of the volunteer team of attorneys advising the transition groups on conflict of interest matters and other issues. In addition to his work at Labor on substantive matters, he is serving as legal adviser to the transition teams at the National Science Foundation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Other members of the Labor transition team who have recused themselves on various matters include Lawrence Z. Lorber, a former partner of Kilberg who contested OSHA's lead standard and other proposed Labor Department regulations in company with kilberg, and William Rodgers, another lawyer whose firm, Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, has tilted with the Labor Department on behalf of various management clients.
According to press spokesman Brady, Rodgers "will have no involvement in the labor-management relations area." Lorber, along with Kilberg and Tallent, also agreed not to discuss any pending Labor Department matters "if any team members have some involvement in that matter."
Asked about the head of the transition team, Richard Schubert, formerly president and now vice chairman of Bethlehem Steel, Reagan headquarters said Schubert has had only "limited direct interface" with Labor Department officials. "His primary role has been to deal with outside interests, including business and the like," Brady said.
The distinctions that Reagan transition officials draw are often cut rather fine. The Labor team, for instance, is reportedly preparing to submit a report that will include recommendations to switch OSHA from its "policeman's role" to a more cooperative approach. Transition team members, however, contend that they will simply report this to the Reagan high command as a course being urged on them by others rathers than as a "recommendation" of their own.
This presumably will be sufficient to keep them from breaking Meese's law against "any action or recommendation . . . that might, if they were government employes, pose a conflict of interest."
To some departing Carter administration officials the biggest danger in the makeup of some transition teams lies in the possible leakage of sensitive information, but to others, the problem is one of balance. The teams are longer than ever before -- often three to four times larger than Carter's were in 1977 -- but some who served on the Carter transition teams say theirs still represented more diverse interests.
"There's nothing innately sinister in the fact that corporate types are represented on the transition teams," said one administration official. "The Carter teams had industry people, too, but they also had people from consumer groups, civil rights organizations and other places."
Asked about the composition of the Reagan teams, Brady replied only that "we have not set quotas for any interest groups." He said the emphasis was on getting "professionals . . . who can step into the job with no learning time needed."