Although the White House intends to give its new management team at the Environmental Protection Agency "time to work," senior presidential aides said yesterday that the administration will not hesitate if necessary to take additional action, including firing EPA Administrator Anne M. Burford.
About two weeks ago, when the White House was rounding up a team of experts from other agencies to fill key management positions at the EPA, administration officials sounded out a former Illinois environmental official about the possibility of taking Burford's job, other sources said yesterday.
"It would be foolish to say we've ruled anything out," said Craig Fuller, secretary to President Reagan's Cabinet. Another administration official said replacing Burford remains "a possibility. It's an option that remains open."
White House officials also said they are particularly concerned about allegations that James W. Sanderson was involved as an adviser to Burford in EPA decisions affecting his legal clients.
Burford repulsed a White House attempt to fire Sanderson more than a year ago before he voluntarily left the EPA under Justice Department investigation, according to these officials.
They said Reagan's support of Burford could change if the allegations against Sanderson prove true. Details, Page A6.
Fuller and other administration officials said the White House has made no efforts to identify possible successors to Burford.
But in mid-February, the administration approached Michael Mauzy, former head of the Illinois state environmental agency, to "sound him out" about his availability for the top job at EPA, according to sources familiar with a conversation he had with a White House official.
Mauzy, who now works for a Pennsylvania consulting firm, reportedly indicated that he would not be able to accept the offer if it were made. Reached at his home, Mauzy said "it would not be appropriate for me to comment."
Burford already has clashed with one of the senior officials the White House put into a top EPA job last week, according to administration officials. She and Alfred M. Zuck, a Labor Department official named to replace John P. Horton as assistant administrator for administration, had a testy meeting last Friday over how much autonomy Zuck will have, the officials said. As a result, Zuck was not invited to pose with the rest of Burford's top current and new subordinates in a team picture.
Senior EPA officials said Zuck apparently believed that he was to take his direction from the White House, not Burford. They also said that he expected his "turf" at the EPA to be broader than Horton's.
Fuller said yesterday that all the new appointees "went over with the same directions. They were to strengthen the administration of the EPA, and report to her Burford ." He said Burford and Zuck agreed that "they need to talk more about his role. We're hopeful that there's not any problem."
But some former and current agency officials are skeptical of Reagan's attempt to quiet the chaos at the EPA with four fresh faces and promises of new official attention.
The picture that emerges in interviews with those officials is that of an agency tightly controlled at the top, characterized by paranoia, back-biting and little communication with subordinates.
Several agreed with the assessment of Rita M. Lavelle, ousted Feb. 7 as hazardous waste cleanup chief, who told a Senate hearing last week that there was "no direction from the top."
Senior administration officials said yesterday that Burford's "powerful" personality had created problems for her, particularly among career employes. "She's not the world's greatest manager," said one White House official. "You've got to romance the career people wherever you work and respect their role. I don't think that's happened over there."
One White House official said the furor threatens to overshadow what Burford has accomplished at the EPA. "She's grinding out those pretreatment regs and other stuff that will show impressive results," he said. Even some of Burford's most vocal critics acknowledge that the agency has made more progress in promulgating regulations than the Carter administration did. Some agency critics said the regulations are too loose, but they said Burford is producing them in a timely fashion.
A Reagan administration appointee at the agency recalled that attempts to sell Burford or her advisers on "moderate" approaches to achieve the administration's goals met with stony silence or retaliation. Another said, "I don't think she had the background to understand alternative agendas."
These officials repeatedly cited Burford's management style as the underlying reason for an exodus of high-level officials that began more than a year before the firing of Lavelle brought two years of criticism of EPA policies into sudden and sharp focus.
In addition to Lavelle and two other EPA officials asked to resign last week, five other officials who held or were nominated to jobs of assistant administrator or higher have vacated their offices at EPA headquarters in Waterside Mall in the last 18 months.
Several administration officials contended over the weekend that they had been unaware of the severity of the agency's management problems. But the high-level turnover at the EPA began in September, 1981, when two associate administrators resigned almost simultaneously.
One was Nolan E. Clark, a Washington attorney selected by Burford as associate administrator for policy and resource management. Clark cited "irreconcilable differences" with the administration.
Within a week of Clark's resignation, Frank A. Shepherd, a Miami attorney serving as associate administrator for legal counsel and enforcement, "got fed up with it and quit on his own," according to another Reagan administration appointee.
Shepherd, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly left because of differences with Sanderson, then Burford's top adviser, who was almost immediately nominated to replace Clark.
According to sources familiar with the agency's management, Shepherd and Clark found themselves at odds with Burford's "command and control" style.
Clark reportedly fell out of favor because of his insistence that the free-market system could not be counted on to install and enforce adequate environmental safeguards. In private conversations, Burford reportedly accused him of "selling out to the enemy."
William Drayton, who served as assistant administrator for planning in the Carter administration and who now heads a group called Save EPA, said Clark and Shepherd were victims of a poisonous atmosphere at the EPA that has taken a heavy toll on career employes.
"These are the administration's own people . . . the superior management they say makes it possible for them to take care of a doubling workload with more than a 45 percent cut in agency purchasing power," said Drayton, who is one of only a few current or former agency employes willing to be quoted by name. "If that's how they treat each other, contemplate how they are treating the civil servants, whom they perceived as the enemy."
To replace Shepherd, Burford named William A. Sullivan Jr., a consultant she had earlier named as Shepherd's deputy. Sullivan resigned 11 months later after losing a turf fight to general counsel Robert M. Perry. Perry, as associate administrator for legal and enforcement counsel, now holds both jobs and presided over the last reorganization of the enforcement wing, its fourth in less than a year.
Sanderson bowed out when it became evident that a Justice Department investigation into conflict-of-interest allegations against him would delay his confirmation indefinitely. Burford replaced him with Joseph A. Cannon, her special assistant for regulatory reform, who had been holding the policy job on an acting basis.
The investigation of Sanderson continues, and both of the officials fired last week, Horton and inspector general Matthew N. Novick, were under investigation for allegedly using government employes to conduct personal business.
Of the original top-level appointments at the EPA, Burford, and deputy administrator John W. Hernandez Jr. remain, as do Cannon and Perry in higher-ranking jobs than those to which they were originally appointed. Also still at the agency are chief of staff John E. Daniel and three assistant administrators with broad responsibility over pesticide, water and air pollution programs.
Of those, Perry is the subject of an inquiry into allegations that he may have perjured himself in congressional testimony, and most of the rest are under increasingly sharp attack from environmentalists, health officials and Congress.
Two of Burford's assistant administrators, pesticides chief John A. Todhunter and water chief Frederic A. Eidsness Jr., were closely questioned in congressional hearings last week on what some members of Congress and agency critics see as attempts to alter longstanding policies on carcinogens and water.
A third, assistant administrator for air, noise and radiation Kathleen M. Bennett, has been harshly criticized for her support of a less stringent version of the Clean Air Act.