IF YOU regularly read the employment ads in The Wall Street Journal, Human Events, National Review or the National Law Journal, you know that the Legal Services Corporation is looking for a president. This private organization, which is federally funded and provides civil legal assistance to the poor, placed paid advertisements in these publications and also circulated notices to 1,500 legal services offices, all county and state bar associations and to newspapers with general readership, many of which have used the job search material on their news pages.
It's a good job involving the supervision of hundreds of programs across the country, a budget of $300 million and a salary of $68,700. But it's not an easy one, because the Corporation has been a center of controversy almost since its creation by Congress in 1974. In its early days, conservatives objected to the activities of Corporation-funded legal services groups that sued government agencies, organized large class-action cases, lobbied for legislative reforms and, in at least one case, used the taxpayers' money in political campaigns.
Restrictive legislation directed at some of these activities was adopted, but President Reagan continued to oppose the program and has yet to ask Congress for a single cent to continue it. Widespread support for the Corporation on the Hill, however, has kept it going, though the Senate refused last year to confirm the men and women appointed to the board of directors. They now serve by recess appointment. The Senate is expected to consider the nominations again soon.
It's easy to understand why the board wants to hire a president who has "experience with Congress" as well as a background in legal services. The stalemate and continuing struggle between the executive and legislative branches over this program are harmful and must be addressed by a new president right away. It is encouraging, in this connection, that the chairman of the board, W. Clark Durant III has expressed his commitment to providing "high-quality legal aid to all persons who seek assistance" and ensuring that the system "obeys its congressional mandate in all respects and . . . is adequately funded to the task at hand."
That attitude may not please the White House, but it should reassure supporters of the program who believe, correctly, that it ought to be run by people who support the concept of legal assistance for the poor. The new president must also share this commitment, whether the successful candidate reads the job notice in Human Events or in a ghetto legal services office. It's an important program, which needs and deserves a leader who believes in it and is dedicated to making it work well.