Secretary Malcolm (Mac) Baldrige, part-time rodeo rider has roped a few calves in his time, but he's got a buffalo on his hands at the Department of Commerce.
First there was the problem of murky language. His flunkpersons at Commerce were writing prose that was fat, illogical and not to the point.
Baldrige sat out to tie that rhetorical dogie. He put out a memo in March, laying it on the line to his bureaucrats: Answer questions directly, clearly, in logical sequence and in lean prose.
At least someone paid attention. "Glad to know there's another English major aboard," said a message from Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan.
But there was another problem. The prose might be neater and leaner, but it still wasn't good enough -- and it was talking too long. Out of the chute Baldrige again, trying to ride that one to the ground.
Last month he sent out another memo. "Our executive correspondence process has drifted into serious disrepair in terms of timing and quality," Baldrige wrote. ". . . In many cases, our responses have been late and the answers did not respond to the questions."
The point: "In part, the reputation of a Cabinet department can be both positively and negatively perceived depending on how quickly it responds to correspondence and what it says."
His solution: A scheduled of priorities for answering the mail, with names taken of Commerce writers who don't meet their deadlines.
The schedule tells you something about the new administration. Top priority, naturally, goes to the president. Last priority is assigned to labor organizations. Middle category goes to any letters answering first-name mail sent to Baldrige or Deputy Secretary Joseph R. Wright Jr.
Priority A-1 and A-2 mail must be answered in no more than 48 hours. These cover messages to the president, the vice president, the Cabinet and White House advisers.
Priority A-3 (three-day turn-around time) includes Cabinet and subcabinet members, chairmen of House and Senate committees and subcommittees and all the councils, task forces and committees on which Baldrige sits.
"Dear Mac" and "Dear Joe" letters get four-day treatment, along with members of Congress, corporate chief executives and Fortune 500 companies, the Business Council and Business Roundtable. That's called A-4.
Independent agency heads, ambassadors and foreign officials, mayors of major cities, heads of chambers of commerce, trade associations and labor groups, are in A-5, the five-day turnaround.