THE INAUGURATION OF GEORGE BUSH : Bush Likely to Be Hands-On Leader : New President’s Style Viewed as More Energetic, Decisive Than Reagan’s
Each weekday morning just before 9--an hour later if he was sleeping in after the occasional late night out--President Reagan would board an elevator on the second floor of the White House, ride down to the ground floor, pick up a few Secret Service agents and the appointments secretary awaiting him and stroll along a colonnade past the Rose Garden to begin his workday in the Oval Office.
Under George Bush, there will be some changes made.
If the new President sticks to the schedule he has told aides to expect, he will get up by 6 a.m., cruise through the morning papers, drink a cup or two of de-acidified coffee, head over to the Oval Office, meet with senior staff members and review overnight intelligence reports with a CIA staff member. By 9, he will have been in the Oval Office for two hours and will already have conducted perhaps three meetings and completed several phone calls.
“He’s a morning person,” said one senior aide, who asked not to be identified. “That’s when he’s really clicking.”
And that portends a much more hands-on President in the next four years than in the previous eight. Bush’s aides foresee a President who will immerse himself in the details of governing. He will break through the chain of command to consult with many people rather than rely on his staff as his only source of information.
What these changes will mean--good or bad--for the fortunes of the Bush presidency and the nation he heads is impossible to tell. The work styles and biorhythms of chief executives have varied enormously in the 200 years since George Washington took the first oath of office. And it is far from clear which details of operating style make presidents effective.
Moreover, there is little of the unconventional in Bush’s approach to problems. And, although he is famed for consulting widely before reaching decisions, most of those he talks to appear to reflect established points of view.
Change Termed Positive
As Bush aides see it, however, the more energetic style of the new President will be a positive change.
“President Reagan would lay out the broad policy goals and wait for others to bring back information to him,” said a former senior member of Reagan’s staff who was able to watch Bush up close in recent years. “You’re going to find that George Bush . . . will be much more decisive, rather than waiting for someone to walk him through (an issue) and tell him where he ought to go.”
This picture of Bush’s management style is drawn from those who have watched him as he ran his vice presidential office, a very small fiefdom. It differs from the public image of Reagan’s vice president, but in that role Bush deliberately assumed a back seat to the President and kept his thoughts a carefully guarded secret.
People who worked closely with Bush during his vice presidency say he wants a careful, efficient routine.
Bush, a longtime aide who has just moved into a senior White House job said, “appreciates an organized decision-making structure. He appreciates a good staff structure, and he knows that it is important for him to do his job well.”
But aides say his routine is often disrupted as he free-lances his way through the week, picking up the telephone day and night to verify facts, check up on friends, send out orders and just plain schmooze, or, as supper time approaches, to commandeer friends to join him for dinner at a suburban Chinese restaurant.
Reagan’s detached, carefully scripted management style will be a thing of the past.
“There was a tremendous amount of isolation for Reagan. That’s not going to happen with Bush,” said Peter Teeley, a former Bush aide who remains an occasional adviser close to the President. “You won’t be able to isolate him. He’ll call and talk to Sam Skinner (the transportation secretary-designate), invite him up to the house on Saturday.”
Whereas Reagan would ask few spontaneous questions at briefings by aides or meetings with congressional leaders--often adhering to note cards that offered a script of questions or sidetracking a discussion with his often-amusing Hollywood anecdotes--Bush peppers his briefers with questions, often reflecting his prior exposure to the topic under discussion, his aides say.
“He’s very direct with his questions. If he doesn’t understand it, he asks the question why, or how, or where,” said Bush’s White House Chief of Staff, John H. Sununu.
Whereas Reagan followed a strict agenda, moving through his daily appointments and telephone calls just as they were blocked out for him--sometimes weeks in advance--Bush’s aides expect more sudden changes from Bush. They are preparing to deal with the information he gathers--and then scribbles for his aides on small squares of self-sticking yellow paper--in the never-ending stream of telephone calls he places.
“It’s the President who will determine the kinds of interactions that take place,” Sununu said in an interview. " . . . He is just as likely to pick up the telephone and call a staff member three layers down to get an answer as he is to call the chief of staff and have the chief of staff go chase it. Or he’ll pick up the phone and call somebody in a department.”
‘Capture the Commitments’
That style, of course, does not make life easier for those around the President who must follow up on conversations to which they were not privy. The trick, Sununu said, will be to “capture the information exchange, capture the commitments that are made.”
“The nightmare that I have are these little notes that he types himself on his little typewriter defining policy sometimes,” Sununu said. “You’re not going to change that and you ought not even to try and change that. You just build the system to adapt to it and recognize it’s going to continue.”
Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire who was trained as an engineer, said he has been amazed at the public attention paid to the hiring of the President’s personal staff at the White House. Those close to Bush predict that the White House staff will be a weaker organization with a shorter reach than Reagan’s staff.
Although Bush has been described as a voracious reader, he prefers to receive his written briefings in small doses.
“If you give him a big briefing book,” an aide said, the reaction is certain: a groan and a grimace. Rather, he said, Bush “likes the one-pager” that succinctly captures the various arguments of an issue.
But he is likely to delve into the details of legislation as a bill is being written by members of Congress, said Vic Gold, a longtime friend of Bush who has been an occasional political adviser to him.
“Some of those congressional meetings” at the White House “are going to be fun,” he said. “They’re going to be talking about markups (the writing of legislation by congressional committees) in a nitty-gritty way that not even Gerald Ford did.”
But, aides take pains to note, Bush is not so preoccupied by detail that he will monitor the use of the White House tennis courts--reportedly a preoccupation of former President Jimmy Carter.
Bush also has a tendency to work too long without a break, although he has been careful about taking short vacations since the election on Nov. 8.
‘Going Like Jet Propulsion’
“Unless he is managed and unless somebody pins him down, he gets going like jet propulsion,” said an adviser who has worked closely with Bush for a decade. “George will go ahead and get started and he’ll work on adrenaline. He goes too long without a rest, and along comes a mistake.”
Central to Bush’s operating style are his network of friends and his broad experience in Washington in general and foreign policy issues in particular. After serving in the House of Representatives, as chairman of the Republican Party, as director of the CIA and as vice president, he has developed a talent for working his way through or around the obstacles mounted by a skillful bureaucracy.
He has also become accustomed to long hours, at the end of the day as well as the beginning.
Reagan, rarely later than 5 p.m., would retreat to the family quarters of the executive mansion. From time to time, he would make a complaining crack about the amount of paper work he was forced to plow through at night, but he also managed to slip out of his business suit and watch television with his wife, Nancy, often eating dinner on trays in front of the set.
Bush, his aides say, rarely leaves the office much before 6 p.m., and usually with a briefcase full of work. And each morning when he returns, the homework has been completed.