Anne M. Burford, frequently appearing close to tears, said yesterday that it had become impossible for her to continue as administrator of the embattled Environmental Protection Agency because she had "become the issue" in an atmosphere of "government by allegation."
Burford made a farewell appearance in the glare of television lights in the crowded ballroom of the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, facing hundreds of the reporters, photographers and technicians who have doggedly trailed her for more than a month.
Standing beside her was her husband, Robert Burford, head of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, who introduced the former Anne Gorsuch "just in case you didn't recognize her."
"The agency has of late become embroiled in a who-hit-John episode that I have become the focus of . . . . It was getting to the point where I couldn't do my job anymore," Burford said of her final days as EPA administrator before giving President Reagan her resignation on Wednesday.
"I am not a bitter person," she said when asked if she had been treated unfairly. "I'm not going to comment on fairness."
But she added, "I personally feel that this is government by allegation . . . . If there's any wrongdoing, it ought to be formally investigated and people ought to be put in jail or turned loose, one or the other . . . . I think if we have government by allegation, we do ourselves a disservice . . . [and it does] democracy a disservice."
Surrounded by dozens of photographers clicking away, Burford said she had become uncomfortable with the news media's intense focus on her.
"It is difficult to lead a normal life when there are people camped outside on my front lawn and who follow me during my whole day," she said. "I always try to conduct business openly--with the windows open, with the lights on, and when you have to operate with the drapes closed, you can't go on."
In a news conference that lasted less than 15 minutes, Burford reiterated her loyalty to President Reagan, saying, "That man is a fine man, and he has a real commitment to the environment. He is right for this country, and I'm proud to have worked for him. I'd be proud to work for him again."
White House officials said Burford would soon be given a part-time job on a government board or commission.
Asked whether she knows what kind of job Reagan would give her, Burford, 40, a former Colorado state legislator, said, "No I don't. Those are the president's choices. I'd be proud to work for the president in any job, and I look forward to working for the president."
"I never claimed victimization, and I won't now," she said. "I proudly served this president and I proudly led many fine people who worked hard on his programs."
But, she added, "I don't feel that I can continue to do that. I want to let the agency get back to work . . . . I resigned because I felt that I had become the issue. I'm very concerned that the agency and many fine people who work there . . . be allowed to get on with their work."
Yesterday, the White House turned over EPA documents that a House subcommittee has been seeking in its investigation of allegations of mismanagement, political favoritism and conflicts of interest in the EPA's $1.6 billion "Superfund" program to clean up the nation's most dangerous hazardous waste dumps. The House voted Dec. 16 to hold Burford in contempt of Congress for refusing, on Reagan's orders, to turn over the EPA documents.
Asked about the original White House decision to withhold the documents and reports that she would have been willing to provide them to Congress, Burford said, "I have been proud to [withhold the documents]. I strongly believe in executive privilege . . . . I was proud to follow [the president's] directions."
Despite her departure, she said she would "continue to cooperate with Congress" in its investigations of the EPA.
Burford did not mention the recent decision by the Justice Department to stop representing her before the congressional committees investigating EPA. Justice officials said they had decided to withdraw because of the conflict in representing Burford while the FBI conducts its investigation of allegations concerning the agency.
Burford aides have said she was bitterly critical of that decision. And her husband pointedly introduced reporters yesterday to her lawyer, Douglas Bennett, noting he was hired after "Justice said it was not going to represent her."
Burford said she has not recommended anyone to replace her as administrator of the EPA.
Asked whether she had any regrets or would have done anything differently, she smiled and said, "Well, there's one thing."
But before she could finish, her husband interrupted to say, "Yes, that she didn't go on her honeymoon." They were married Feb. 20.
Wearing a pale gray suit and a single strand of pearls, Burford said quietly, "I'm going to take some time off, take a well-deserved rest with my new spouse."
In recent encounters with the media, Burford had appeared tense and angry and almost a caricature of her nickname, "the Ice Queen." But yesterday, despite the obvious emotion accompanying some of her comments, she seemed much more relaxed, almost relieved.
Turning toward EPA employes who had crowded into the hotel ballroom to witness her departure, she said, "I hope you can get back to protecting the environment . . . . thank you all."
As the employes stood and applauded, Burford, along with her husband and lawyer, made their exit through a wall of television cameras.