A month ago the hearing would have been packed, and a phalanx of reporters on hand to describe the fireworks as indignant members of Congress grilled officials of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But there weren't any EPA witnesses scheduled for a House subcommittee hearing last week on the agency's research budget, and at the appointed hearing time a hand-scrawled note hung forlornly from the Rayburn House Office Building door. The hearing, it announced, had been canceled.
So it goes in Washington, six weeks after EPA administrator Anne M. Burford handed in her resignation amid a storm of criticism of her agency.
The scene at EPA headquarters in Waterside Towers these days is a little like a stage show awaiting a tardy second act. The spotlight is still turned on, but it's shining on bare boards. The audience, meanwhile, has gone out for peanuts. "It's peaceful, sort of quiet," an EPA employe said last week. "Everything's dead in the water. We have very little testimony on the Hill, few personnel decisions. There's a vacuum at the moment."
The vacuum won't be filled until next month, when William D. Ruckelshaus is expected to reclaim the job he held 13 years ago as the first EPA administrator. Ruckelshaus was announced as Burford's successor on March 21, but his nomination still has not been sent to the Senate, and Environment and Public Works Committee aides don't expect confirmation hearings to take place until the first week in May. No one expects Ruckelshaus to have trouble winning Senate approval. As one Senate aide said, in a simple yet eloquent appraisal, "He testifies beautifully."
Meanwhile, routine paperwork is being processed at the EPA and some technical regulations continue to be published. But little of a controversial nature is being discussed, let alone acted upon. * * *
MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE . . . Some of the EPA's most vocal critics have been making use of the April calm to draw up lists of agency changes they'd like to see. The lists differ from group to group, but the umbrella term of "resources" heads most of them.
That means money and people, both of which have been in increasingly short supply after two years of the Reagan administration. While many critics put the blame for the EPA's shrinking resources on the Office of Management and Budget and the White House, rather than on the EPA, they contend that Ruckelshaus' ability to shake more cash out of the OMB penny pinchers will be a key indicator of his effectiveness.
In a meeting with environmental leaders last week, Ruckelshaus did not promise to seek a bigger budget for the agency. But EPA officials have been putting together budget options, a process they began under former acting administrator John W. Hernandez Jr.
"As a practical matter, Ruckelshaus can affect the budget pretty dramatically and so affect policy," a senior EPA aide said. But he contended that immediate add-ons to the budget for fiscal 1983, which already is more than half over, would be largely unusable and meaningless. * * *
ONE AREA NOT ON HOLD . . . While personnel decisions are on hold in Washington, at least one regional office is moving full speed ahead, dodging congressional torpedoes all the way. Steve Durham, regional administrator in Denver, has filled the region's third-ranking job with a former special assistant to Burford who is under investigation by the EPA inspector general for allegedly compiling a color-coded "hit list" of top agency managers.
The official is W. Clifton Miller, who handled personnel matters for Burford. According to agency officials, Miller compiled a chart of Senior Executive Service employes for Burford in late 1981, marking "loyalists" with blue dots and putting brown or red dots next to the names of those who should be fired or transferred.
In a letter to Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), acting Inspector General Charles Dempsey confirmed that an investigation of the allegation was under way and should be completed by early May.