LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Former South Carolina Gov. Richard W. Riley, a candidate for a top job in President-elect Bill Clinton's administration, was given the sensitive task yesterday of helping him fill as many as 4,000 government posts.
In making the announcement, Clinton aides made clear that the incoming president will limit the autonomy of his Cabinet secretaries.
The selection of political appointees below the rank of Cabinet secretary "will be a cooperative endeavor between the president-elect and his Cabinet officers," said Warren M. Christopher, director of Mr. Clinton's transition team.
Clinton aides have said they believe former President Jimmy Carter, the last Democrat to occupy the White House, weakened his administration by giving his Cabinet chiefs too much latitude in filling positions.
The selection of Mr. Riley, a soft-spoken lawyer who was governor from 1979 through 1986, demonstrates Mr. Clinton's determination to "look beyond Washington for ideas and talent," Mr. Christopher said.
Mr. Clinton has been mildly criticized by some for naming quintessential capital insiders like Vernon Jordan, a Washington lawyer who is chairman of the board managing the transition.
Some sources speculate Mr. Riley, a friend of Mr. Clinton since the late 1970s, is in the running for White House chief of staff. If so, then his transition team assignment could prove to be a tryout.
Mr. Clinton strongly hinted yesterday that Mr. Riley might have some role in his administration, saying, "The work that he has to do in helping us fill out these departments may not be completely done on Jan. 20 [the inauguration date], so his job may require him to be part of the administration."
Mr. Riley's major concern will be helping Mr. Clinton select sub-Cabinet posts, such as assistant secretaries, and members of specialized agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission.
Mr. Clinton will have authority to fill roughly 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, said his communications director, George Stephanopoulos.
He said there are "resumes piling up in the headquarters" and "thousands of letters" pouring in daily.
One top adviser who won't have to submit a resume is Mr. Clinton's wife, Hillary, who has always been an influential adviser to her husband. She participated yesterday in a meeting of top transition leaders, presided over by Mr. Clinton himself.
"She's part of it," Mr. Clinton said of the transition leadership, although Mrs. Clinton does not have a formal title.
Mr. Clinton indicated yesterday that his wife is one of four core people "around this table every day," along with the president-elect, Vice President-elect Al Gore and Mr. Christopher.
Mr. Clinton answered only a handful of reporters' questions during what was otherwise a day of private business.
He denied speculation that he was backing away from pushing a middle-class tax cut, which was a campaign promise.
"I intend to present to the Congress the economic program I outlined. If there is any substantial change, I'll let you know, but I have not made a decision to change it."
Aides to Mr. Clinton said they weren't sure of his schedule after he completes a visit to Washington today and tomorrow, although they said they expect him to spend Thanksgiving in Little Rock.
Press secretary Dee Dee Myers said it is "likely" he will squeeze in some campaigning for Georgia Sen. Wyche Fowler, a Democrat involved in a runoff election Tuesday.
She said the planned economic summit, now being called an "economic retreat," would occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas.