Loretta Cornelius, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, yesterday continued her purge of officials close to former director Donald J. Devine by firing public affairs director Mark S. Tapscott.
During the week, Cornelius dismissed George Nesterczuk, Devine's principal assistant, and sought the resignations of Devine's two secretaries and four of his personal representatives in OPM regional offices. The secretaries were quickly hired by the Education Department; the others have until Friday to clear out their desks.
Devine loyalists at OPM have been circulating stories about Cornelius, including rumors that the White House has decided to replace her. White House officials, however, have denied that her job is in danger.
J. (Lin) Kill Kelly, Cornelius' spokesman, said Tapscott was fired after Cornelius evaluated "his performance over a significant period of time" and "determined that he was not performing as a spokesman in an adequate fashion."
Tapscott, who earned $68,700 at OPM, said he will join The Washington Times next week as a reporter covering federal personnel issues.
In a formal statement, he said that "there is no question that Mrs. Cornelius has the statutory authority to take this action. Whether or not Mrs. Cornelius has exercised her authority recently in an ethical, honest or responsible manner are entirely separate, and I am confident that a satisfactory resolution of those issues will be forthcoming soon."
Cornelius has declined to be interviewed.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees OPM, said he would "fight any administration move" to fire Cornelius.
"If I were the acting director and someone was throwing knives at me, I'd have their fannies out of there in a minute," Stevens said. "This wave of hysteria about what is going on over there is misplaced. She should not have people around her who are disloyal."
Devine withdrew his nomination for a second four-year term as OPM director this month after Cornelius told a Senate committee that, on his last day as director March 25, he signed an order allowing him to act as director while he served as Cornelius' special assistant and awaited confirmation.
Cornelius testified that Devine had told her to say that she had known about the delegation of authority if she were asked about it. Cornelius testified that she did not know about the document for five weeks.
On Wednesday, 23 conservative senators on the Republican Steering Committee met with President Reagan and said they wanted Cornelius removed, according to an aide to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). Hatch was not available for comment.
Meanwhile, a source close to Gerald P. Carmen, former head of the General Services Administration, said that the White House had asked him to return to Washington as OPM director. Carmen is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations European mission in Geneva.
Stevens said, "I'd have no problems with that selection, [but] I'd have problems with anyone, even Carmen, if they said they'd fire her [Cornelius] because she was honest before this committee."
The source said Carmen was interested in the job but expected the White House to decide, before he arrived, which political appointees would stay.