Six of President Reagan's 11 special assistants for public liaison have been fired by Faith Ryan Whittlesey, the new director of the White House office of public liaison.
Whittlesey, who succeeded Elizabeth Hanford Dole on Monday as head of the office that deals with public interest groups, on Tuesday fired the White House representatives to organized labor, environmentalists, major business groups, blacks, Hispanics and those concerned with crime and education. No replacements have been named.
Last night Whittlesey said the firings were done on her second day in office to make room for the "team of people" she has asked to join her.
She said the firings were done immediately upon arrival to make clear that they were not due to ideology or job performance.
"These people are a mixed bag," Whittlesey said. "No one is more conservative than Wayne Valis," who dealt with business groups, she said. "He came from the American Enterprise Institute. It's not a question of ideology. I am just bringing in people as any new coach would do when he comes in. I'm bringing in people I've been associated with and can count on based on my own experience with them.
"This is a fresh start," added Whittlesey, who resigned as ambassador to Switzerland to take the White House job. "I'm held accountable for what happens in this office, and I want people I know and trust."
Whittlesey, 43, is no newcomer to administrative purges. In 1975, her first act as new chairman of the county commission in Delaware County, Pa., was to fire 300 holders of patronage jobs.
Whittlesey said her decision to dismiss the six aides was made after "close contact" with Dole. She added that while she did not consult Reagan on the firings she is "a team player," and reports to White House chief of staff James A. Baker III. Whittlesey would not say if she had spoken to Baker about the firings.
Whittlesey added that she is reorganizing the public liaison office because the number of people in it has been reduced from 35 to 30.
The organization of the office is under study by consultant John Herrington. Herrington, who has been named the new White House director of personnel, also is reviewing the organization of the White House communications office and the press office.
Herrington was unavailable for comment last night. When his review of the organization of the three offices was announced in January, it was widely taken as a signal of Baker's dissatisfaction with their performance.
The six special assistants fired:
Robert F. Bonitati, liaison to organized labor and environmental groups; John F. Burgess, liaison to Catholics and agriculture groups; Wayne Valis, liaison to major businesses and trade associations; Thelma Duggin, liaison to blacks and head of the Fifty States Project, a review of discrimination against women in state laws; Henry Zuniga, liaison to Hispanics and other minorities, and William Triplett, liaison to groups concerned with crime and education.
According to Whittlesey, the special assistants asked to stay were Dee Jepsen, the White House liaison to women's groups; Michael Gale, liaison to Jewish groups; Adis Vila, the youth liaison; Morton C. Blackwell, who handles veterans groups and national security organizations, and Virginia Knauer, the liaison with consumer groups.
Whittlesey said Burgess has been offered another job in the administration, but she would not elaborate.
Some of those fired may follow Dole to her new position as secretary of the Department of Transportation, where a similar shakeup is under way, according to one source.