The Chamber of Commerce of the United States met with President Reagan's personnel director in 1981 and provided "hit lists" of career government employes that the Chamber wanted fired, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) has charged. Dingell asked Chamber President Richard Lesher to provide copies of all related documents and memos by Friday.
John Daniel, former chief of staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, confirmed yesterday that the White House passed along such a list, with the names of eight employes, to then-EPA Administrator Anne M. Burford.
Sources said Dingell believes that hit lists were prepared for other federal agencies.
Daniel said the top name on the list was Walter Barber, a highly respected career employe who was heading the agency on an acting basis when Burford took over.
"Anne thought the world of him," Daniel said. "When she saw his name was first, she threw it in the trash can. She didn't find the thing credible."
Charges of hit lists at the EPA were among the allegations of unethical conduct, mismanagement and political manipulation of agency funds that led to the resignations of more than a dozen high-level agency officials, including Burford, in February and March 1983.
At that time, White House officials denied any direct involvement in EPA personnel policies or day-to-day decision-making.
But knowledgeable sources said yesterday that the memo to Burford, which was sent by E. Pendleton James, Reagan's personnel director at that time, included a notation that copies had been sent to White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, White House Counselor Edwin Meese III and Lyn Nofziger, a former Reagan aide who is now a consultant to the Reagan-Bush reelection campaign.
James did not respond to a telephone request for an interview. Burford could not be reached for comment.
Transcripts and documents recently released by Dingell's subcommittee on investigations and oversight indicate that the Chamber's list was discussed at a White House meeting March 3, 1983, as Congress was escalating its investigations of the EPA.
According to notes that Daniel took during a telephone conversation with presidential assistant Craig Fuller, the meeting was attended by Fuller, Baker, White House Counsel Fred Fielding and spokesman Larry Speakes. The White House had no comment yesterday, but Speakes, questioned aboard Air Force One about the matter, said, "I don't have any recollection of it. I think I slept through that meeting."
At that time, there were news reports of another hit list that conservative groups had submitted to EPA officials, leading to the removal of several scientists from EPA advisory boards.
Daniel's notes quoted Fuller as saying that the White House hadn't seen a "hit list" of scientists. Daniel's account of the conversation goes on to say:
"They did locate Chamber of Commerce list -- sent from Pen James to Anne in 1981 -- (Not acknowledging this)."
In a letter he sent Lesher on Tuesday, Dingell said, "At a luncheon meeting, in late summer, 1981, you discussed with James that there were holdovers from the Carter administration who were 'unsympathetic to the objectives of the Reagan administration's economic recovery programs' and who continued in key positions in the federal government. You provided Mr. James with a list of such officials employed by the EPA and other government agencies . . . . "
Winston Leavell, a Chamber spokesman, said yesterday that it is searching its files and plans to have the information to Dingell by his Friday deadline.
Leavell said he was not aware of any hit lists, but added that there had been communications between Lesher and James.
Documents released by Dingell's committee also showed that Burford disagreed strongly with the White House decision to claim executive privilege and refuse to turn over EPA documents to Congress and that she objected to issuing public statements in support of new appointees named by the White House in 1983 as her own staff was forced to resign.
According to Daniel's notes of her conversation with Fuller, Burford said, "I've never lied and I don't like it praising the new officials . I think we ought to turn these GD documents over or we're going to bring this president to his knees."
Fuller answered, "Personally, my heart goes out to you. And I don't like asking you to [lie]."