Kevin Sakow, a New Jersey contractor, says the Health and Human Services Department called him a few weeks ago and asked how quickly he could put together an exhibit for an upcoming trip by HHS Secretary Margaret M. Heckler.
"They were really hot to go to the Paris Air Show," Sakow said.
While the U.S. contingent to the air show is generally limited to Pentagon, NASA and Commerce Department officials, Heckler, her chief of staff and seven aides are making the trip next week at a cost of $18,000. Heckler will be unveiling a $20,000 exhibit on "technology and the handicapped."
C. McClain Haddow, Heckler's chief of staff, said yesterday that President Reagan asked Heckler to be part of the U.S. delegation because of her initiative to utilize aerospace industry developments to help disabled people. He said Heckler will visit Stockholm to sign a bilateral agreement on coordination of Social Security payments for people who have worked in both countries. She also will meet with French health officials and attend a briefing on acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) research during her four days in Paris.
"This is a legitimate thing," Haddow said. "This is no junket . . . . I'll bet there are 50 people that wanted to go. I said no to anything but a skeleton crew.
"The premier aerospace industry conference is the Paris Air Show. It was a perfect time for us to access these people . . . . It's Margaret Heckler's leadership in this area that prompts our participation in what has heretofore been a gun show."
Haddow said the travel costs were "a small price to pay" for Heckler to try to enlist aerospace executives in the volunteer program, which is designed to foster research and exchange information on products for the disabled. He said it would be unfair to denigrate the effort by "sensationalizing" the Paris trip.
Heckler's interest in the program stems in part from Boeing Co. Treasurer Jack Pierce, who persuaded her to join forces with his nonprofit group on the disabled when they met last year. Pierce, described by Haddow as a frequent escort of Heckler, also is to attend the air show.
Sakow, exhibits manager for a Passaic, N.J., firm run by his father, said HHS officials did not award the contract until two weeks ago. He said his firm was chosen because it has handled National Aeronautics and Space Administration exhibits at the Paris Air Show for three years.
"They came to us and said, 'What can we get for $20,000?' " Sakow recalled. "We got some off-the-shelf type exhibitry. It's a pre-fab exhibit . . . . You look at it and read the graphics. It's the best you can do in about a week and a half."
Haddow said it is not unusual for Heckler to travel abroad, noting that she recently attended a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva. He confirmed that Heckler attended the Farnborough Air Show near London last year.
Those in the booth will be Eric Tressler, Haddow's special assistant; Steve Ritchie, director of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, and Linda Tarr, an aide to Heckler. Two security agents, an advance man and the head of HHS' international office will be going to Sweden and France CAPTION: Picture, Trip for Heckler, eight aides to cost $18,000. By K.W. Atherton -- The Washington Post