A Nationwide Talent Search Isn't Cheap : The process of finding and screening job candidates for the new Administration may be the most expensive ever.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clinton transition team's talent search--and the country's frantic response--seems likely to make this transition the most expensive ever.

Transition officials have launched a direct-mail campaign to raise up to $3.5 million in private donations, which could bring total revenues for the effort to $7 million. Former President Ronald Reagan's 1980 transition, the priciest and most elaborate so far, cost about $3 million by official estimates, although some believe the figure was higher.

Transition officials say the bills have been mounting because of the expense of contacting scores of groups in search of job candidates, as well as reaching the policy experts who are helping shape Clinton's legislative agenda. Also bumping up the cost has been the expense of running an operation that is split between Little Rock, Ark., and Washington, and the cost of the President-elect's travel.

"No one has conducted an outreach across America like this one," said Marla Romash, spokeswoman for the transition. "I would suggest it is historic."

In particular, aides say that it costs more to comb distant corners of the country for qualified women and minorities than to select from among the white males who tend to be visible from the seat of federal power.

Also adding to the cost is the vexing way pent-up Democratic job demand and new communications gadgets have combined to create an almost unmanageable information gusher at the transition's Washington offices. Fax machines and voice mail mean that Democrats who may have been yearning for government jobs for 12 years can bombard transition staff members with their resumes and entreaties around the clock.

The operation is receiving 2,000 to 3,000 resumes each day, in addition to about 500 drop-in visits from job seekers. Transition staff members say they expected 30,000 to 50,000 pieces of mail in all, and are committed to trying to at least acknowledge every resume.

"From the standpoint of managing the in-flow of information, it's just overwhelming," said one transition official. Compared to earlier transitions, he added, "we're in a totally different type of situation."

The transition has leased a fancy computer, called Resumix, that uses optical scanners and artificial intelligence to catalogue the resumes. Using the machine, made by a Santa Clara company of the same name, the talent hunters can identify all the applicants who might be, for example, female lawyers from Idaho with four years government experience and a knowledge of agricultural subsidy rules.

But officials say most of the transition's expenses are anything but exotic. Most prominent among them are the costs of personnel, travel, telephones, computers and mailing. The transition operation has about 400 paid staff members, and as many as 600 volunteers working each day in its offices on Vermont Avenue in Washington.

The Reagan transition, which involved a number of corporate executives, was criticized for its use of first-class air travel and limousines. Romash said transition officials have banned first-class air travel and, "probably," the use of limousines. "This is a Democratic Administration, after all," Romash said.

Following long tradition, the transition offices have been outfitted with standard government-issue furniture. Employees who want to drive pay their own $6-a-day parking bills.

Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution who has studied transitions, was skeptical that the Clinton team's candidate search is the broadest ever. Richard M. Nixon's team, he recalled, mailed letters inviting every person in "Who's Who in America" to apply for a job--then couldn't even open all the letters from the response.

Hess suggested the costs of the transition might be rising as the Clinton team adds more former campaign workers and other friends to the payroll. Transitions historically provide an occasion for presidential campaign organizations to provide such workers minimum salaries as they wait to join the government payroll after the inauguration, he said.

But Ron Walker, a senior official of the Reagan transition team, accepted the Clinton's team's assertion. He said the past decade has seen the evolution of new communications gadgets that permit the talent-hunters to search quickly from among huge pools of candidates.

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