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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : A Fat-Trimming Mission

The General Services Administration is in many ways a prototypical target for the barbs of Orange County conservatives fed up with “big government.” It is thus fitting somehow that Orange County is sending one of its most visible business leaders, high-tech executive Roger W. Johnson, to try to ride herd on an agency that almost everybody agrees is bloated and even tainted from past scandal.

Indeed, when the GSA comes to mind, one easily can imagine Southern California’s radio talk show switchboards lighting up as callers move from railing against excessive local government (the Air Quality Management District is a favorite scapegoat) to the shortcomings of the GSA as the federal government’s huge property manager and procurer. This fat target poses a fitting challenge for a business executive who took Irvine-based Western Digital Corp. from a relatively obscure computer products company in 1982 to Fortune 500 status.

The immediate challenge of reducing the huge agency’s work force and its annual budget of $10.4 billion should be a custom-tailored assignment for Johnson, who pared back his own company by hundreds of employees to ride out the bad weather of the recession. But whatever business acumen Johnson will bring to his new assignment, it is not only on the basis of his industry performance that he becomes the first Republican to hold a top Clinton Administration job.

His highly publicized break with Orange County Republicans showed cracks in the GOP’s armor last year, and indicated some of the true depths of resentment, even among loyalists, with the economic policies of the Bush Administration. But whatever the politics of the appointment, it signals a welcome willingness on the part of the Clinton Administration to approach problems of government on a bipartisan basis.

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President Clinton and Johnson are said to share an interest in “reinventing government.” The GSA offers plenty of room for such retooling.


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