Secretary of State-designate Alexander M. Haig Jr. has moved quickly to take command of that department by dismissing the transition team that had been working there since mid-November and starting to build his own staff.
The dismissal of the roughly 20 members of the transition team came rather abruptly on Monday, sources said, at a meeting with Haig in which he thanked them for their work but made clear that it was now over.
In a formal case, the transition team's work had come to a conclusion that same day with submission to Haig of a final report on the team's various recommendations about State Department personnel needs, structural changes and foreign policy problems that are apt to confront the new secretary immediately.
But the suddenness with which the end came was a surprise to many team members. Some of them took it badly, and, according to transition officials, there were a few bruised egos among some members who apparently assumed that they would be moving on to the next phase of the transition in helping Haig put his personal imprint on the department and then perhaps into key policy jobs.
Haig has retained a few transition officials, including the team leader, former Ambassador Robert G. Neumann, and made known that others may be considered for future jobs.
The major and perhaps most important reaction to this first move on Haig's part, however, was the the former general had acted boldly to take charge within days of his nomination to the post by President-elect Ronald Reagan and that his move was being privately applauded by senior officials in the State Department and some in the transition team.
"It was a very skillful performance by a man who knows how to use power," according to one transition official who was at the meeting.
The State Department transition team had become a source of considerable controversy during its brief lifetime. Leaks to the press of a number of initial and interim team reports had appeared, including one which outlined a "hit list" of U.S. ambassadors around the world who were recommended for firing or retirement under the new administration.
Through these were not final or offical documents, they served to cause anger and unrest within the career Foreign Service, and some State Department officials argued that they also contributed to U.S. problems in certain regions, such as Central America.
Then there were leaks of secret cables describing conversations held in Moscow by Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), which the FBI is still investigating. Though the sources have not been pinpointed, the team was suspect.
Mixed in with this was what some career officials at State felt was an excessive dose of right-wing ideology by some team members. One official said that the department had become "a place full of innuendo, of vindictiveness with ominous implications of purges."
Thus, Haig's clearing out of the team, even if it was coming to its natural end, is being viewed among a number of career officials as of symbolic importance in terms of reassuring professional U.S. foreign policy officials. "Everybody I've talked to is absolutely delighted," is the way one top official put it."
Earlier on Monday, Haig had met privately with outgoing Secretary of State Edmund S.Muskie. In that meeting, sources said, Haig also made "all the right noises" about his respect for the career Foreign Service and his high regard for its professionals. This had added to the sense of reassurance within the department at a sensative time and has contributed to the view that Haig is skillfully managing his initial moves.
On the other hand, Haig still must get through potentially difficult confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he will certainly be grilled by committee Democrats on his years in the Nixon White House.
But Haig will also need conservative support, and does not want to alienate influential conservative lawmakers before those hearings by tossing out a transition team without leaving open the possibility that some of them may come back into important jobs in the department.
So far, Haig has brought with him to State as a personal assistant a Philidelphia lawyer, Sherwood D. (Woody) Goldberg, who joined Haig initially in August 1979. Besides Neumann, Haig also has asked two former members of the transition team -- Roberft McFarlane, a retired colonel who previously worked on the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Paul Wolfwitz, a former civilian official at the Pentagon -- plus former New York Times reporter Richard Burt to join his staff.
Reagan press spokesman James Brady yesterday sought to squash any implication that the State team had been fired. He said that teams throughout the government had wrapped up their work on schedule "and were disestablished at the same time from here, the transition office." The final State Department report was due Monday and was completed on that day, officials said.
But other teams are still in operation. Sources on the Pentagon transition team, for example, said they had not yet completed their work, which is more extensive because it includes budget estimates, and the team had not been disbanded.
Several officials pointed out that while transition team members should not assume that they will serve beyond that brief period between the election and the inauguration, the term of service for this transition was left vague. Also, several members of the previous team wound up with sub-Cabinet posts in the administration, thus fueling the view that some in this transition would also make the leap into official positions.
Few of the State working team officials, however, were known to Haig personally. His meeting with the team Monday was his first. Rather than simply receiving the team report at that session, Haig is said to have gone around the room asking each member to give a 60-second summation of the key points of his or her work.