Incoming Cabinet members, with some key exceptions, have been told by top aides to President-elect George Bush that they can select their own senior assistants but that the Bush political operation wants about 700 or 800 other high-level government jobs reserved for campaign workers and key supporters. Interviews with aides to some designated members of the Cabinet and with transition officials indicate that the political patronage operation being put in place by the Bush team is similar to that envisioned by Ronald Reagan's team when he took office in 1981, with one major exception: it is aimed at getting jobs for Bush supporters, not imposing an ideological change on the government. Said one top transition aide involved in placing Bush people in jobs: "Our people don't have agendas. They have mortgages. They want jobs." In the case of the Reagan administration, ideological litmus tests became a key part of the job-placement process, particularly in certain executive departments. Aides to incoming Cabinet members said they are being given few "must" appointees for top posts below the Cabinet level, but are being told that up to half of their Schedule C jobs should be left open for Bush supporters. There are 1,600 to 1,800 Schedule C posts in the government. They are noncivil service jobs defined as those of a confidential or policy-making nature that can range from secretarial to senior policy posts. At least two incoming Cabinet members, Secretary of State-designate James A. Baker III and Treasury Secretary-designate Nicholas F. Brady, have been exempted from the patronage edict. Both are longtime, personal friends of Bush who have been deeply involved in his campaigns. "We're hardly going to tell Jim Baker how many political appointees he's got to take or in what jobs," one transition aide said. According to an aide involved in the process, each incoming Cabinet member has been given or soon will receive a list of candidates for specific presidential-appointee jobs. "We say to them, here are our suggestions. In some cases, we say, here are our strong suggestions . . . but nobody is trying to cram guys down secretaries' throats." For example, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development-designate Jack Kemp was given only one "strong suggestion," a potential nominee for an assistant secretary post who is close to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an early and strong Bush supporter. The incoming Cabinet secretaries are told to pick their top assistants "in consultation" with the president-elect, but one transition source said, "In fact, most of them are doing exactly what they want." When it comes to the Schedule C appointments, however, a more mandatory system is supposed to take over. Incoming heads of departments this week began getting lists of mostly Bush campaign aides or longtime supporters from which they are being told to select one person who will be the "White House liaison." The job has a variety of titles, depending on which agency is involved. But the role is to be the job-placement person in the agency who answers to the White House personnel operation. Ron Kaufman, a key campaign operative for Bush, has been offered the post of deputy director of White House personnel and his task would be to see that Bush supporters get executive department jobs. Incoming White House personnel director Chase Untermeyer is considered less political -- and less politically knowledgeable -- than Kaufman. Mary Matalin, another top campaign aide who helped to set up the system, said the instructions to department heads to hold open Schedule C jobs is not a mandatory quota system. "They are not being told how many they have to take," she said. "Our commitment is to our people, it's not to a specific number of jobs." A transition source said a secretary may be given a list of "let's say 50 names. We don't except him to take all 50 people or even necessarily half of them. But if he comes back and says he has jobs for only three, we're going to say, sorry, try again." The source said four or five transition personnel people have been trying to match skills to jobs so that "we don't give them janitors for nuclear physicist jobs." The key question of how many Bush political operatives end up in Bush's administration, officials involved in other transitions said, is whether Bush or John H. Sununu, his White House chief of staff, will make clear that some job "suggestions" are more than suggestions.