There is more than one reason why the name Gramm is famous and feared in Washington. If Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) is one of the czars of automatic budget cutting, then Wendy Gramm might be called the czarina of federal rules, information and statistics.
They are often described as the No. 2 "power couple" in Washington after Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole.
Wendy Gramm laughs at the comparison -- laughs fast, the way she talks. "I'm flattered," she says. "It's a big long jump. Phil is a junior senator, first term. I'm a bureaucrat!"
Wendy Gramm is being modest. As head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget, she has one of the most powerful and controversial jobs in the executive branch. Industry, environmentalists, unions and trade groups all know that an issue won in Congress can be lost in the rules that implement the legislation, and Gramm is at the cusp of every regulatory controversy.
"I love this job," she says. "You get to see everything -- every issue, every agency."
She is described within OMB as the "nicest" person who moved with James C. Miller III from the Federal Trade Commission when he became OMB director six months ago. She also is called energetic and smart. But some lobbyists and career bureaucrats say they are waiting to see if she is up to the job.
It is not one for the meek. A former rulemaker says the job made him one of the most hated men in government. The role of OMB is frequently to say "no," not only to interest groups who oppose President Reagan, but to agency heads he appoints.
Critics contend that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs sits on safety and health rules indefinitely, has an open door to industry and not to consumers, has no scientific or technical expertise and decides important issues in secret.
Gramm counters that she signs off on rules in less time than the departments take to publish them in the Federal Register, that she or her deputy meets with both sides when asked, and that she applies the expertise of an economist to rulemaking.
Longtime OMB employes say the regulatory office fulfills the necessary function of seeing that the executive branch does not issue rules that are contradictory, unnecessary or contrary to the president's policies, but even its existence is controversial.
Wendy Gramm arrives each morning at OMB for a 7:30 staff meeting and tries to be home each night at 8. She relies on a housekeeper to take her children to after-school activities and to make dinner.
Her six months at OMB have been remarkably noncontroversial. She took heat, mostly from librarians, for a decision to require "maximum feasible reliance on the private sector" to distribute government information, but the rulemaking arena has been relatively calm. Environmentalists say this was because no major environmental rules were scheduled for review during the period. A major asbestos rule, banning some products and phasing down the production of others, has been issued during her tenure, but it was the culmination of a seven-year process and lobbyists described Gramm's role as "virtually nil."
Indeed, some congressional aides and Washington interest groups say Robert P. Bedell, Gramm's deputy administrator, really runs the office. But Bedell says Gramm does exactly what she is supposed to do. She is "more the chairman of the board than the chief chemist. My job is to make sure the work gets done. Her job is to make sure the work gets done right."
Wendy Lee Gramm is the granddaughter of a Korean immigrant who came to work as a contract laborer in the sugar cane fields of Hawaii. She met Phil Gramm when she was recruited by Texas A&M University as an economics PhD just out of Northwestern University. Phil Gramm, then an assistant professor at Texas A&M, kibitzed during her interview, ushered her out, ceremoniously helped into her coat and drawled, "As a single member of the faculty, I am especially interested in having you come here."
"Oh, yuck! I didn't say it, but I thought, 'Oh, yuck!' " she says. "Here's someone with a very thick Southern accent . . . . I'd not been exposed to that at all growing up in Hawaii . . . putting on my coat in an era when I'm always dragging on my own coat . . . and making this statement. He went back to the rest of the faculty and he told everybody, and they all swear this is true, that if I came to Texas A&M he would marry me.
"Well, I did, and he did, and bear in mind my frame of mind. I planned to go to this very good publish-or-perish institution, learn all I can, stay for five years and then go and teach at a small liberal arts college.
"I arrived in August, we were married November 2. Phil is pretty persuasive, very persuasive, and he's not shy."
Gramm had her children, Marshall and Jeff, during summer sessions when she wasn't teaching.
She was promoted to associate professor in 1975, and when Phil Gramm was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1978, she came with him to Washington.
After 1980, while her husband was crossing party lines to work secretly with the new Reagan administration to enact its budget policies, Wendy Gramm was working for the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria. A year later she joined Miller, an old friend from Texas A&M, at the Federal Trade Commission, heading a staff of 12 to 15 economists.
Her economic theories are pure free market. She is often asked about comparable worth -- the proposition, designed to remedy the concentration of women in traditionally low-paying jobs, that jobs should be salaried according to a calculation of their relative "worth."
Not surprisingly, she is against it. "I'm an economist. Markets work by supply and demand. Prices can't really be set -- you will get shortages or a surplus. It doesn't work."
Gramm took time out from the FTC during her husband's 1984 Republican campaign for the Senate and stumped "like the dickens." She specialized in talking to volunteers, telling them about her family history ("a phenomenal story of economic opportunity"), the role of women in Washington ("the administration is full of women at the top levels of government") and the lessons she had learned at the FTC.
Her parents came from Hawaii to stay with the children while she campaigned almost full time for three months. She doubts she'll be able to do it again. "When you've got kids you can't haul them around all the time," she says. The Gramms have sold their house in Texas with its five acres and swimming pool. "Maintaining two homes, it's not financially do-able," she says.
In 1985, when Miller became OMB director, he turned to his loyal friend Wendy Gramm to head the sensitive regulatory office. She took over six months ago today.
Gramm says she expects her job to become tougher and more controversial.
"As the pressures to reduce the budget continue, as the cash drawer gets shut, business as well as other groups often turn to government for regulations to solve a lot of problems for them. Like in the budget process, the benefits to one group from certain regulations are great and the benefits to the consumer are spread out among all groups," so the pressure is intense on one side and dissipated on the other, she says.
"A major part of the president's platform is to look at regulation," she says. "A little bit of regulation here, a little there and pretty soon the economy is strangled by red tape."