ANY READER of the laments and exhortations that have appeared in this space over the past couple of years will know that Anne Gorsuch/Burford has not exactly been one of our role models: we think that much of what has been going on at the Environmental Protection Agency under her direction has been shortsighted and destructive. But that is one thing. The manner of Mrs. Burford's current lynching by anonymous colleagues and employers is another. There is something truly unattractive--expedient, self-serving, diversionary--in the cacophony of disgruntled noises and background intimations coming out of the administration on the subject of Mrs. Burford now.
What is objectionable is the odd and unpersuasive way in which the debacle at EPA is being personalized, reduced to a kind of melodrama about Anne Burford. "It's not a question of whether she's right or wrong," one unidentified administration source told The Post the other day, "or whether there's a moral issue here. She's a liability." This old political dodge never goes out of fashion as a way of evading the truth or standing it on its head. The assumption is that the condition of being a "liability" is some kind of mysterious or marginal or irrelevant affliction that has nothing to do with policy questions or, for that matter, anything beyond the unfortunate one's plummeting status and disintegrating image in the press.
Well, we beg to differ. It is precisely a question of whether Mrs. Burford is right or wrong--and there are moral aspects to some of these questions too-- that is what confronts the administration and the public now. Does anyone really believe that the apparent managerial hash she has made of things at EPA (with the help of a bunch of White House, not Burford, appointees) is the sole or even principal issue? And does anyone really believe that her policy misjudgments are some kind of accident or that she is herself some kind of rogue elephant in this administration? Mrs. Burford came to Washington and to the Reagan administration a known quantity--and a damned articulate one. Her appointment was the logical fulfillment of the candidate's campaign and pre-campaign arguments and pledges on the subject of environmental protection. What she did was what she was expected to do. It was policy--Reagan policy.
EPA under Mrs. Burford is a presidential responsibility, and there is much the president is required to tell us now. What does he think--what do his close advisers think?--is the trouble at EPA? What do they think went wrong? Does he believe that the source of the turmoil is merely a series of administrative and managerial bungles and misjudgments or the consequence of someone's personal inadequacies? Does he continue to hold that the EPA budget and its enforcement procedures can be drastically cut and that doing so will in fact improve the nation's health? The question that matters is not whether, when or how Mrs. Burford will or won't depart the administration. It is whether the president and his top aides will both recognize and acknowledge what they have done to the EPA and its essential mission--and set about repairing the damage fast.