In hiring, Clinton administration looks favorably on its extended family

May 23, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau Nelson Schwartz contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Four days ago, when the entire White House travel office was fired, top Clinton administration officials turned to a 25-year-old Arkansas travel agent to come in and take charge.

White House officials asserted that the seven-member travel office was guilty of shoddy bookkeeping and gross financial mismanagement. The fired employees responded that they had been moved out so the Clintonites could consolidate control with one of their own.

What no one disputes is that the young woman brought in to head the office is a distant relative of President Clinton.

Last week's events underscored a little-examined aspect of the new occupant of the White House: his tendency to give jobs to people who are related to him, to his top staffers or to other well-connected Democrats.

In an administration built on personal ties, this may be the ultimate connection. An extended form of nepotism is present in at least 20 appointments in President Clinton's new government.

"From the people who said they were going to 'reinvent government,' we instead get a reinvention of the family dole," said Roger Stone, a Republican political activist. "It's pretty elitist. They said, 'We're going to open up government.' Yeah, to their relatives."

The most famous example is the president's selection of the first lady as the unpaid chairwoman of a White House task force designing a national health care system. But there are plenty of others.

Andrew Cuomo, son of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York, who delivered the nominating speech at the Democratic National Convention, is an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ruth Harkin, the wife of Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, was named to head the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Unlike Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Harkin did run against Mr. Clinton for president, but he got out of the race early and swiftly rallied behind Mr. Clinton.

House members have spouses, too, and Doris Matsui, the wife of Rep. Robert T. Matsui of California, has been hired as a deputy assistant for public liaison in the White House.

An irate Stephanopoulos

George Stephanopoulos, the White House communications director, reacted heatedly Friday to a query about the proliferation of relatives in the administration's ranks.

"How can you make that case?" he responded. "This is not unheard of in other administrations."

He added, "I think when you look at our appointments, when you look at the breadth and the diversity of the president's Cabinet appointments . . . when you look at the thousands of people he's gone through, when you look at the extensive personnel system that we've set up to make sure that we get people of the highest quality, highest standards of excellence from across the country, you find that we have far greater diversity and a far greater commitment to excellence and merit than we've seen in the past."

In its search for excellence, however, the White House has tapped a few sons and daughters of prominent Democrats. It has chosen wives and husbands, too. And cousins, brothers-in-law. Even granddaughters.

Mr. Stephanopoulos is correct, however, in contending that the Clinton administration did not introduce nepotism to the White House.

President John F. Kennedy chose his brother Robert as attorney general, even though Robert Kennedy had had no courtroom experience.

Bill Moyers, press secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, brought his brother, Jim, into the White House press office. And George Christian, who also served as a press secretary under Johnson, helped secure a part-time job for his wife in the U.S. Information Agency when he moved up from Austin.

During the Carter administration, Hugh Carter, the president's first cousin, served in the White House as head of the Office of Administration.

In both the Reagan and Bush administrations, Elizabeth Dole, wife of Bob Dole, the Senate Republican leader, was given progressively important jobs, including two Cabinet posts.

Mr. Reagan also appointed Lynne Cheney, the wife of Dick Cheney, then a Republican member of Congress, to head the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In the Bush administration, this power couple was linked even more closely: Mr. Cheney became defense secretary.

Although precise records on family favoritism are hard to come by, there is a firm perception by both Republicans and Democrats that although Mr. Clinton may not have invented this practice, he has taken it to a higher art form.

"I think it's the trend," said Ellis Woodward, who headed the White House advance office in President Jimmy Carter's White House.

Reagan personnel office

John Buckley, a Republican who is a nephew of the conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr., declined to criticize the Clinton administration but said that the Reagan personnel office was more resistant to appointing relatives of influential Republicans -- especially after it was revealed that Maureen Reagan, the president's daughter, had received a contract from the Republican National Committee.

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