Within hours of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, R. Richard Newcomb was summoned from his bed in Alexandria, Va., to the White House, where he worked through the night. The pace has slowed only slightly in the five weeks since then.
"It's part of the job," Newcomb said during a break between rounds of meetings and phone calls in his spacious but Spartan office overlooking Washington's Lafayette Park. "It's understood that when you need to go around the clock, you do."
As director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Newcomb is charged with implementing President Bush's order to freeze tens of billions of dollars worth of Iraqi and Kuwaiti assets. He was among a dozen top officials who drafted the executive order authorizing the freeze and imposing a trade embargo in the early hours of Aug. 2.
Newcomb, 44, a trim, buttoned-down lawyer who has worked his way up the federal bureaucracy for the last 16 years, seems to thrive on the challenge of 14-hour days, workweeks without end and high-stakes decisions. Associates describe him as meticulous, unflappable and tireless.
For Newcomb, handling the crisis has required policy coordination with the State Department, Justice Department, FBI and Customs Service and frequent consultations with his counterparts in Britain, Japan, Canada and other nations.
He also oversees his staff's answers to about 500 inquiries a day from attorneys whose clients have shipments that are held up, tankers unable to discharge oil, checks they cannot clear or assets frozen in Kuwaiti-owned banks.
Though Newcomb downplays them, there have been sacrifices. He canceled a weeklong vacation to Canada with his wife, Katherine, a management analyst at the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
There has been no time for weekend antique forays or new novels--his book club will do John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" this month without him. In fact, Newcomb has not taken a day off since the invasion, and he recalls only a single social lunch in five weeks.
The rewards, he says, are intrinsic. Still, "someone suggested (that) for all his effort, he might get a pet camel from the Kuwaitis," said Steven I. Pinter, Newcomb's chief of licensing.