An article yesterday said the U.S. Information Agency had hired the relatives of some senior administration officials, including the secretary of state. The reference should have been to former secretary of state Alexander M. Haig Jr.
The day after he was confirmed as director of the U.S. Information Agency, Charles Z. Wick flew to Paris for a three-week tour of Europe's leading capitals. He hasn't slowed down since.
In the last two years, Wick has spent 177 days abroad in such places as London (three times), Paris (five times), Geneva (three times), Rome, Amsterdam, Bonn, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Peking, Tokyo, Vienna, Bangkok, Budapest, Jakarta, Johannesburg and Casablanca.
He travels with three or four bodyguards, flies either first class or on the supersonic Concorde, stays in luxury hotel suites, is met by limousines and hands out $5 tips to bellhops and pool attendants. Wick, a one-time music arranger and show-business agent, has brought a box-office approach to the USIA, transforming it from a rather stodgy bureaucracy to a Hollywood-style production in which Wick is unquestionably the star. He has dispatched leading actors abroad to pitch the values of capitalism, and he staged the controverisal television spectacular "Let Poland be Poland."
In the process, Wick has turned the USIA--a government agency responsible for disseminating American viewpoints overseas--into a showcase for the Reagan administration.
Agency records show that Wick's office has handpicked 27 senior White House officials, Republican Party leaders and conservative spokesmen for expense-paid speaking trips from Paris to Peking under the USIA's American Participation Program. The program was created to send about 1,200 college professors and other nonpartisan speakers abroad each year.
Most of the 27 are prominent Republicans--including White House counselor Edwin Meese III, White House director of communications David R. Gergen, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Republican National Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf--some of whom combined their assignments with family vacations.
Wick also has given the USIA a more aggressive, anti-communist stance by launching efforts to counter Soviet propaganda and by arranging a host of grants to far-right organizations. Some projects have been blocked by members of Congress, who have complained that Wick has turned formerly nonpolitical programs into partisan vehicles.
Wick also has been criticized on Capitol Hill for arranging USIA jobs for relatives of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, national security affairs adviser William P. Clark and other Reagan administration officials.
Wick, 65, a longtime friend of President Reagan, called the recent criticism "a crock" and forcefully defended his management style and travel expenses.
"I'm a top government official," Wick said in an interview. "I don't stay in the cheapest hotels around and I haven't for 40 years. You entertain different people . . . . I don't think it's any different from what any CEO chief executive officer at any company would stay at . . . .
"My job has a direct impact to some degree on how you and your families' well-being will be advanced . . . . We have done a tremendous amount of things that are good for America and the public that have never been done before," he added.
Wick said his USIA travel and that of leading Republicans is important to explain American policy to foreign leaders, interest groups, academics and journalists. He contended that his ceremonial visits, such as dedicating an art exhibit in Paris, strengthen cultural ties.
"Is this kind of a nice little boondoggle to travel around the world?" Wick asked. " . . . I have anywhere from five to seven meetings per day. It starts very early in the morning and goes right through dinner . . . . It ain't much fun. It's very taxing. There's very little sightseeing, other than through the windows of the car."
Records show that Wick has traveled nearly twice as much in two years as his Democratic predecessor, Foreign Service officer John E. Reinhardt, did in four. Reinhardt also did not select what Wick aides freely call "political appointees" for the American Participation Program.
Wick maintained that his recruitment of conservative speakers has not given the program an overly partisan cast.
"It's like box office," Wick said. "This is a star performance. The better the box office, the greater impact you can make for your post there. If you can get a guy like Ed Meese to take the time, who is one of the closest advisers to the president . . . , this is one of the most effective things you can do . . . .
"It'd be one thing to take some guy who helped us get elected, and nobody ever heard of, and say, well, you know, he's an expert on toenail procurement and to send him out because everybody's got a toenail. That obviously does not serve us well . . . .
"We're supposed to be partisan to a certain degree as far as advertising what we're doing in this administration . . . . We get people who are trying to support what this country is trying to do. None of them are related to me, by the way."
Wick, who helped stage Reagan's inaugural celebration, is pleased to tell visitors he is a key adviser to the president. He wears a tie clip and cuff links emblazoned with the presidential seal. His visage dominates the pages of USIA World, an in-house newsletter, which recently featured a 14-picture photo essay of Wick's trip to East Asia.
Wick was in the news again last week when he reimbursed the government $22,000 of the $32,000 he spent on a home security system after the White House told him that the issue could embarrass the president.
During the 90-minute interview, Wick sat at a long conference table flanked by 15 aides, who vied with each other to praise Wick's performance, slip him notes and expand on his accomplishments. He frequently pointed to a pile of leather-bound notebooks that his staff assembled to document his achievements.
One volume detailed 29 initiatives, ranging from an increased youth exchange program and new satellite transmissions to Europe to new financing for English teachers abroad and the opening of a foreign press center in Los Angeles. Wick also has started Project Truth, which the agency says includes a monthly "Soviet propaganda alert" that "exposes Soviet disinformation around the world."
Such projects have caused some concern in Congress that the agency might be sacrificing its longstanding reputation for objectivity.
The same issue was debated in 1981, when Wick's deputy program director at the Voice of America urged that the USIA overseas radio network be used as "a propaganda agency" to portray the Soviet Union as "the last great predatory empire on earth." The official later resigned in a shakeup.
"Their view is that they ought to have a propaganda agency to counter the Soviet propaganda agency," said a Democratic Senate aide. "They say that if the Soviets use terms like 'imperialist blood suckers,' we ought to respond in kind. That misses our great strength, which is that we're different than the Soviet Union."
Congressional critics charge that ultra-conservative groups have been the main recipients of USIA grants. The Ethics and Public Policy Center, run by Ernest Lefever, whom the White House unsuccessfully proposed for the State Department's top human rights post in 1981, received $192,000 to promote the views of Europeans who support U.S. nuclear policy.
The grant agreement said that the European peace movement is "inflamed by the media and has had the direct and indirect support of the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council."
A $162,000 grant to the Mid-America Committee was used to bring 14 press spokesmen from friendly Latin American regimes to Washington for seminars on dealing with American reporters. A $59,000 grant to the Center for Education and Research in Free Enterprise helped stage seminars for young Guatemalans worried about "the threat of socialism."
Still another grant to Young America's Foundation brought 36 European journalists here to meet mainly with conservative leaders, which left the Europeans so frustrated that they demanded to see some liberals before they went home.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has imposed strict guidelines designed to keep these grants nonpolitical. The panel also has rejected Wick's 50 percent cut in USIA educational and cultural programs, and recently eliminated all funds for Wick's ambitious Project Democracy, a political and media offensive abroad, directing that the money be spent instead for educational and bipartisan exchanges.
But even Wick's detractors give him high marks for his relations with Congress, noting that he managed to boost his 1984 budget to $701 million, nearly double the level of four years ago.
"Wick has made some mistakes, but whenever there's been a criticism, he's responded very quickly to make the necessary corrections," said Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.).
Yet, some USIA officials have said Wick's personal style often overshadows his achievements.
"Charlie made a serious mistake when he came to this town," one official said. "He had a flamboyant style of living and he was flaunting it. He grew up poor in Cleveland and he's an American success story, and he wants people to know it."
While on official travel, Wick often stays in a $300-a-day suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, a $463 suite at Chicago's Ritz-Carlton and a $185 suite at New York's Mayfair Regent. The government pays for these suites because Wick says he needs the extra space for meetings with other agency officials.
At Wick's request, he is accompanied on all foreign trips by three or four bodyguards provided by the State Department, which has cost more than $165,000 since he took office. Wick also takes his wife, Mary Jane, on most of the trips at personal expense.
Wick said his daily travel expenses, aside from hotel suites, generally exceed his $75-a-day government allowance and that he pays the difference out of his pocket. He twice paid the higher fare to take the Concorde to Europe with a bodyguard.
Vouchers show that the government pays for Wick's limousines and for his frequent tips to porters and bellhops, which came to $195 on one foreign trip. Other items listed on Wick's expense accounts--500 francs (about $65) for his wife's lunch in Paris, $38 in flowers for Smithsonian Institution Secretary S. Dillon Ripley and his wife, and a $40 hotel massage--are part of an overall bill that is partially paid by the government.
Wick has gone to Los Angeles seven times at USIA expense, including Christmas visits the last two years in which a number of "personal" days were not charged to the government. Last winter, for example, he stayed in Los Angeles from Dec. 21 to Jan. 4, but charged expenses for only three days of business before flying back with Reagan on Air Force One.
Wick said that the California trips involved legitimate business and were not "a subterfuge" for him to take vacations at home. He added that official entertaining cost him $20,000 last year.
"I never charge the agency for any domestic entertainment," Wick said. "I never charge the agency for anything pertaining to my wife. We pick up a lot of tabs ourselves . . . . We have worked hard all of our lives to achieve some dignity on a meritorious basis, and having it shredded just destroys her more than it does me . . . .
"I think that traveling first class, being able to stretch out, is a minimal sort of accommodation . . . . I'm not going to fly coach to Europe and Africa and that kind of thing and ruin my health . . . . I think it is an empty gesture."
Wick said that he is making a sacrifice to work for the government. In his most recent financial disclosure statement he reported more than $500,000 in 1981 income from securities, commodities, a hospital and nursing home and two management firms. Still, he said, the rent on his two-acre home here is more than the take-home pay from his $69,800 USIA salary.
"I think you have to be wealthy to do this," Wick said.