It was a vintage hearing. One senator, attacking policies at the Environmental Protection Agency, asked administrator Anne M. Gorsuch to consider resigning. Another patronizingly called her by her first name. A third said she was doing a fine job; a fourth complained that she had talked a lot but had said nothing.
"Welcome to the pit," summed up Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.).
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee gave Gorsuch her first ordeal by inquiry yesterday, having halted work on environmental legislation to find out whether the EPA could survive under future spending plans as revealed in leaked budget documents.
Gorsuch, her low voice never wavering, refused to hint whether the leaks were accurate, even when Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) waved a sheaf of proposed 1983 numbers.
"Copies of this are all over this desk," he said. "I don't think they came from the tooth fairy."
They came, he said, from EPA staff people worried about the agency's ability to do its job and demoralized over looming staff cuts. EPA funding for fiscal 1982 has been reduced 12 percent from former president Carter's proposals, and President Reagan wants it cut by another 12 percent.
The 1983 documents propose another 18 percent reduction, and, if you add it all up and consider 10 percent inflation per year, said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), it means 50 to 60 percent less than 1981 figures in buying power. That, he said, is "clear-cutting, not pruning."
Gorsuch responded that such addition was irrelevant and mathematically inaccurate, and refused to speculate on what it might mean to her 12,000 subordinates.
"I spend my time examining those things that have some relationship to reality," she snapped.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) complained that the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program was losing too much money, and asked if it was her idea. "If you do approve you have more to explain to this committee than you have done, and if you don't you ought to consider resigning," he said.
"Thank you for your advice," Gorsuch responded.
Gorsuch insisted that, whatever the cuts, her agency will not only survive but prosper: "We have taken significant management initiatives, with a focus on results rather than procedures."
She admitted that the EPA has "a very serious morale problem," which she said was "created in large part by speculative reports of the type that brought us all here together today." She promised that the new 12 percent budget cuts would cause no personnel reductions this year.
She said she had inherited "chaos" at the EPA when she took office May 20, and had installed "a new accountability system that will track every manager's performance according to predetermined goals" as part of her changes.
Her review has found 43 lawsuits the EPA referred to the Department of Justice for action "which do not merit prosecuting," she said, calling them "trivial, stale or weak." Highly paid and manager-heavy staffing "raises serious questions" about EPA efficiency, she said, and promised "better coordinated policies and improved results with fewer resources."
Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.) twice called Gorsuch by her first name, assuring her that the committee had not intended the hearing as "a sparring contest."
Sen. James Abdnor (D-S.D.) objected to the proceeding, saying it was sparked by rumors and that Gorsuch deserved "a big slap on the back for trying to do something here."
Hart tried to find out if Gorsuch planned to offer comprehensive Clean Air Act legislation or individual amendments, and if so how many, to the committee in its effort to rewrite the 1970 law.
"We will work closely with the committee on that," Gorsuch said.
"That's hardly helpful," Hart said. "I don't feel I know much more than I did before."
The committee chairman, Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), induced Gorsuch to agree to review the leaked 1983 budget proposals for authenticity, but she cautioned, "The document may or may not reflect any reality that is offered by the president in January of 1983."
When it was all over, Stafford allowed that the jammed hearing room and the whirring cameras had gotten what they had come for.
"It was a pretty good television show," he said.