Would you like to be paid $69,800 a year by the government and show up in the office three or four days a week?
That's what Loren A. Smith has done since President Reagan named him chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States 22 months ago.
The attorney acknowledged in an interview that he has not kept regular office hours as head of the federal agency in charge of improving government regulation and other procedures. But the former chief counsel for Reagan's presidential campaign said he conducted administrative conference business from his home in Yorklyn, Del., on the days that he didn't show up at the agency's offices at 2120 L St. NW.
"If I were asked under oath, at some point, how much time at work I have spent on conference business, I think I could say without any hesitation that I have spent over 50 hours a week, virtually every week," Smith said. "Now, some weeks, I may spend a Monday or Tuesday doing that in Delaware . . . but I'm still doing what has to be done."
Smith stayed home on most Mondays during 1981 and 1982, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. Between January and May, 1982, he taught Monday nights at the Delaware Law School in Wilmington, where he is listed as an adjunct professor. He said the class, for which he received about $2,500, and his "pattern of working at home on Mondays," were not related.
Smith also was out of the office every workday but one in December, 1982, because, he said, he had pneumonia.
Presidential appointees like Smith, who oversees a staff of 20 and a $1.1 million budget this fiscal year, are not required to keep regular office hours, according to Patrick Korten, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management. "Presidential appointees are considered on duty 24 hours a day, no matter where they are or what they are doing," Korten said.
During 1982, Smith said he also took off several Wednesdays and Fridays to work on a house he purchased in Arlington.
Smith said he took less time off than he could have for vacation days. Presidential appointees at his level are allowed to decide how much vacation time they take.
Administrative conference telephone records show that Smith charged the agency $459 in long distance calls from his Arlington home to his Delaware home, where his family lived. According to Stephen L. Babcock, executive director of the administrative conference, Smith reimbursed the independent agency the $459 when an official suggested he might want to after The Post made a Freedom of Information Act request for the phone records.
The agency's telephone records indicate that Smith made phone calls from his Delaware home to the agency's office on 189 workdays between August, 1981, and March, 1983.
"If I weren't working, I would think that it was excessive," Smith said. "But I could do some of the stuff better there at home , away from the phones, than at my desk here. I didn't think . . . when I took this job that I was supposed to be at a desk from 9 to 5."
Babcock said there's "no question" that Smith hasn't been in the office every day. "It's my job as chief of staff to make sure the office is open during normal working hours and that it runs efficiently . . . . Our chairmen have traditionally been academics. They provide intellectual leadership . . . . The fact that he hasn't been sitting at his desk here doesn't mean he hasn't been working."
But U.S. Appeals Court Judge Jerre S. Williams, who served as the conference's first chairman, said it was his policy and the policy of most subsequent chairmen to keep regular office hours.
In Smith's presence, Babcock said he would rank the chairman's attendance as "low-middle" when compared with the five permanent or acting chairmen for whom he has worked. The next day, Babcock telephoned The Post to change his answer to "middle or better."
"The real question is not whether he's at his desk," Babcock said. "The question is whether he is working." Babcock maintained that Smith accomplished more last year than the conference has in recent years.
Smith's performance also was praised by Thomas M. Susman, a former staff attorney on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who is a member of the conference.
Susman said that many observers had thought Smith would be a "caretaker" chairman because he lacked experience in administrative law. "But Loren has been very aggressive and he is one of the first chairmen to have the political connections to get things done," Susman said.
For instance, Susman said, Smith was the first chairman with enough clout to get a vice president to address the conference's annual meeting. Smith, who was in charge of judicial appointments for Reagan's transition team, also serves on the president's Cabinet Council for Legal Policy.
"Most administrations don't even know the conference exists until they have been in office for a year," Susman said.
A Democratic attorney who asked not to be named said, "Some past chairmen came in every day and sat in their offices and didn't do a damn thing. You tell me which is better? At least Loren is getting things done."