WASHINGTON — President Clinton on Tuesday announced his long-promised plan to reduce the size of the White House staff--a move designed to demonstrate his willingness to pare government spending--but aides also said the Administration would continue to keep most White House costs hidden from the public.
The Administration said the White House cuts will reduce the size of the staff by 25%, or 350 positions, although 70 of those jobs belong to personnel on assignment to the White House from other agencies, at least some of whom will be able to return to their original agencies and thereby stay on the government payroll.
"Most families in this country have had to adjust their priorities and tighten their belts in the last decade," Clinton said as he announced his plans. "And so, too, the government must do more and make due with less."
The President also moved forward with his fitful hunt for an attorney general. Janet Reno, the chief state prosecutor in Miami for the last 15 years, arrived in Washington for interviews, and sources said the White House had requested extensive information from her and her staff on prominent cases she has handled.
Picking Reno, 54, would give Clinton an attorney general with substantial criminal law experience. As an elected official, she also has considerable political experience, which may be an argument in her favor.
Reno is single and has no children, making her less susceptible to what the White House now calls "the Zoe Baird problem." Baird withdrew as the attorney general-designate after a controversy over her employment of illegal immigrants in her household.
White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said no announcement on the attorney general was likely today, but aides did not rule out the possibility of a decision later this week.
The new cuts in the White House staff will not take effect until Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.
The cuts fulfill Clinton's campaign promise to reduce the size of the George Bush White House staff by 25%. Bush's White House, however, was considerably leaner at the outset of his Administration, and deputy chief of staff Mark D. Gearan said he could not promise that Clinton's staff would not grow as well as the years go on.
In announcing his staff reductions, Clinton and his aides insisted the move was rare in presidential history. However, both presidents Jimmy Carter and Bush announced White House cost-cutting at the outset of their administrations. That most of those reductions disappeared over time sparked skepticism about how lasting Clinton's reductions would be.
The skepticism was reinforced by the insistence of Clinton aides that "security reasons" barred them from revealing the budgets for huge chunks of White House operations.
For the last several years, Democrats in Congress repeatedly denounced the Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations for using such arguments to shield the overall cost of White House operations.
When asked Tuesday whether the new Administration would agree to release such information, Gearan told reporters "we cannot commit to that," adding that "a lot of the budget information is classified."
Calculating how many people actually work at the White House and how much their services cost has always been a difficult proposition because so much of the money that goes into supporting the President's activities is contained in the budgets of other agencies.
White House aides confirmed Tuesday, for example, that the Department of Health and Human Services has hired numerous consultants who will advise the White House health reform task force as it develops Clinton's health care package but who will appear on the HHS budget, not the President's.
In addition, many White House operating costs, such as the money for running Air Force One, are included in the budgets of other departments.
In addition to staff cuts, Clinton also announced some small but symbolic reductions in perks. Only two officials--National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and his deputy, Samuel (Sandy) Berger--will receive a chauffeured ride to work every morning, a reduction from the six who received such treatment in the Bush White House. The White House will, however, still keep a motor pool of 104 cars on call to ferry White House aides around town once they arrive for work.
And the White House mess, formerly reserved for top-level aides, will be converted to a cafeteria open to all White House employees, putting an end to what has over the years been one of the great dividing lines in the status of presidential aides. White House aides also will receive salaries 6% to 10% smaller than their predecessors got, Chief of Staff Thomas (Mack) McLarty said.
The announcements were clearly a preface to next week's unveiling of the Clinton Administration's economic plan. The point, Clinton says, is to demonstrate to the public that he is asking government to sacrifice before asking for sacrifices from taxpayers.