Former California lawyer John S. Herrington, 45, newly appointed head of the Department of Energy, has little experience in energy issues but, as a trusted trouble-shooter for the president, carries traces of the megawatt Reagan political glow.
A levelheaded conservative with a flair for organization, Herrington is credited with bringing order out of chaos in the White House personnel office early in the first term and seeing that Reagan loyalists were rewarded with jobs.
Later, as the Navy's assistant secretary for manpower, he pushed hard for prosecution of draft evaders.
A year ago, he was brought back to the White House as a consultant to streamline management procedures in the communications and press divisions and then was made White House personnel director.
He was an advance man for the 1980 Reagan campaign and has worked in every Reagan campaign in some capacity.
Herrington's appointment brought an immediate outcry from several energy interest groups, denouncing his apparent lack of expertise on energy issues.
The decision "is a transparent farce," said Alden Meyer, director of Environmental Action. "The president seems to be more interested in dismantling the agency than in creating a strong, sensible balanced energy policy.
"Mr. Herrington appears destined for a caretaker role," Meyer said. "His background seems more political than substantive, although his Navy ties may come in handy at an agency Reagan has effectively transformed into the Department of Nuclear Weapons and Power."
Ed Rothschild of the Citizen Labor Energy Coalition compared the appointment to those of two other recent energy secretaries, a dentist-politician and a soft-drink company executive.
"This appointment says, 'We don't care very much what happens at the DOE,' " he said. Even though his group opposes most administration energy policies, he added, he would rather have a knowledgeable opponent. "I'd rather have someone who can understand what we're saying. With Hodel, at least we knew where he was on the issues."
Energy Secretary Donald P. Hodel, nominated yesterday to head the Interior Department, had a professional background in energy matters.
Diane MacEachern of the Sierra Club said, "We don't know anything about Herrington and we don't know anybody who does. He would be singularly unsuited for the job given his complete lack of experience in the energy field."
In an interview yesterday, Herrington denied that he was totally lacking in experience.
"I feel comfortable" with nuclear and other energy issues, he said. During 17 years practicing law in California, "I had a number of clients in the energy field."
He was again exposed to the subject, he said, during his tenure with the Navy, which he called "one of the biggest users in the nuclear area."
Regarding the administration's leanings toward abolishing the Energy Department or folding it into various other bureaucracies, he said:
"I am definitely not being sent over to dismantle it."
Herrington repeatedly emphasized the necessity to work with Congress, which must consent to any dismantlement and has already rejected one attempt, in 1982, to merge the agency with the Commerce Department.
He said he would not comment on specific policy plans until his Senate confirmation hearings.
His general approach will be that "the natural resources, energy and defense areas are intricately interrelated; it is a bipartisan-type area. The relationship between those needs to be handled on a national security level."
As for his personal management style, Herrington said, "I use Ronald Reagan as my model. He's low key. He gets the job done. He trusts people that work for him. He's likable and available."
Also, he added, "I have very little ego."
A Los Angeles native who served in the Marine Corps, Herrington majored in economics at Stanford and obtained his law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law. In addition to practicing law, he expanded into real estate development, ranching, restoration of historic buildings and other business pursuits.
His wife, Lois Haight Herrington, is assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs and has headed a task force on victims of violent crime. She reportedly is a longtime associate of presidential counselor Edwin Meese III, having worked with him as a prosecutor in the Alameda County (Calif.) district attorney's office.