Bush officials have tough job ahead Getting new work isn't proving easy

January 11, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- When President Bush lost his re-election bid two months ago, he told his staff to use their last weeks on the government payroll to look for work. Nearly everyone took him up on it, but few with the intensity of speech writer Curt Smith.

Mr. Smith inundated prospective employers, including the Baltimore Sun, with a video-taped biography, press release from his publicist and photograph of himself with the president and first lady Barbara Bush at a White House Christmas party.

In his eagerness to impress, Mr. Smith sent his job solicitation letters out on White House letterhead stationery, a violation of White House policy he called "inadvertent" and for which he faces no punishment.

Panic is setting in

With only 11 days to go before some scribe for Bill Clinton will take his desk, Mr. Smith acknowledges he hasn't had much luck.

Peak season in Washington's quadrennial job hunt is just about over, and panic is setting in at George Bush's White House.

While the Clinton Democrats swagger around town with their saxophone lapel pins and visions of prestigious employment for the next four years, many Republicans they are about to replace still don't have anywhere else to go.

"A lot of us are planning to live on our savings for awhile," said White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater.

Between 3,000 to 5,000 political appointees are being displaced by the change in federal administration at time when the job market in Washington is no better than in the rest of the country. Fields that might typically attract White House staffers, such as journalism, public relations and political consulting are already overburdened with applicants here.

Further, Bush Republicans aren't very attractive at the moment to corporations, law firms and interest groups seeking influence with the Clinton team.

"Washington has a tendency to overreact to political change, and as a result some very competent, very experienced people are being passed by," said James Cicconi, who left the Bush White House two years ago for a private law firm. "It's very sad. These people have kids and mortgages, and on Jan. 20 they're out of work."

The most senior officials and Cabinet secretaries are having the easiest time. Several are joining think tanks or creating their own.

Think tank is popular

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynn, who heads the National Endowment for the Humanities, are both headed for the American Enterprise Institute. Michael Boskin, Mr. Bush's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has also found employment at the conservative think-tank.

Edward J. Derwinksi, the Veterans Affairs secretary Mr. Bush fired under political pressure near the end of his campaign, is joining the staff of the Heritage Foundation. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft is expected to wind up at a think tank specializing in foreign policy.

Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, former Education Secretary and drug czar Bill Bennett and former Rep. Vin Weber, a Minnesota Republican who retired from Congress this year, are forming their own study group to work on economic policy.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who said after he managed Mr. Bush's losing campaign as White House chief of staff that he was headed to his Wyoming ranch, is expected to stay in Washington to run the local office of his old Houston law firm.

Law firm connections are also proving useful to Attorney General William P. Barr and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Shirley Peterson, who both plan to return to their former Washington firms.

Money helps a lot, too, as in the case of White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, who inherited a family fortune. He and Dorrance Smith, presidential assistant for media affairs, say they will start a company to produce and syndicate programs for cable TV.

Senior aide to leave D.C.

One of the few senior Bush aides planning to leave Washington is Transportation Secretary Andrew Card, a former Massachusetts state legislator who may seek higher office in his home state.

Very junior Bush aides are also adjusting to the change relatively well. Some expect to find work on Capitol Hill; a few will go with Mr. Bush to Houston where he will maintain a small staff.

But for many in the middle range of their careers, this period is extremely difficult and depressing.

Mr. Fitzwater, for example, considered teaming with top Baker aide Margaret D. Tutwiler in a political consulting firm but says he isn't too enthusiastic about the idea now. He may also write a book, like all of predecessors since John F. Kennedy's administration. But that won't support him.

Staffers warned

"I think the best place for me is a corporation," said Mr. Fitzwater, 50, the only spokesman to serve two presidents, whose face became familiar worldwide during the Persian Gulf war. "I haven't really focused on it too much.

That certainly can't be said of Mr. Smith, 41, a former journalist who got sports announcer Mel Allen to narrate his video biography.

"I paid for everything myself," Mr. Smith said, except for the White House stationery, which the White House counsel's office recently warned staffers was not to be used for job-hunting.

"That was a mistake for which I apologize," Mr. Smith said.

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