Clinton aides say unfilled positions will not hamper new administration


WASHINGTON -- Saying that more posts will be filled today aides to President-elect Bill Clinton strongly denied yesterday that the slow pace of appointments will handicap the administration in dealing with foreign crises and urgent domestic problems.

"He has an able and experienced team that will be able, in working with career foreign service officers and others, to deal with whatever might develop," said transition spokeswoman Marla Romash.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Dick Cheney warned Sunday that the need for continuity in national security appeared threatened because "most of the key spots below the Cabinet level have not been filled."

As of yesterday, Mr. Clinton had named only his Cabinet and White House staff.

But a top Clinton aide, speaking anonymously, said more appointments would be made today. But the aide said: "It won't be many."

The U.S. military strikes against Iraq and the problems in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia and Haiti have heightened concerns about the number of unfilled high-level jobs. Although Clinton aides have asked an unspecified number of Republicans to stay on the job temporarily, President Bush has put pressure on his successor by directing about 700 top appointees throughout government to leave their posts by noon tomorrow, when Mr. Clinton becomes president.

At the Defense Department, for instance, 44 jobs requiring Senate confirmation remain unfilled by the Clinton transition, Mr. Cheney noted.

One way or another, Clinton aides insisted, the administration will be up and running.

"The government will be opening and functioning once Bill Clinton takes the oath," transition chairman Vernon Jordan said yesterday in an interview with CNN.

"At noon on Wednesday we will have a government, and we will be on our way."

One nonpartisan specialist on government agrees.

With 2.9 million civil servants on the permanent payroll, "the government is not going to fall apart," said Mark A. Abramson, president of the Council for Excellence in Government, an organization of former federal executives.

"The Social Security checks in Baltimore are going to go out," he said, referring to the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.

The group of people Mr. Clinton has the power to appoint numbers about 2,900 -- all top jobs, said Mr. Abramson. Not filling those jobs more rapidly doesn't mean that government will shut down, but that policy-making will be delayed, he said.

In the areas of defense and national security, Mr. Clinton has named Rep. Les Aspin of Wisconsin to head the Pentagon and appointed Anthony Lake as his national security adviser.

Although Mr. Cheney expressed concern about the as yet unfilled jobs at the Pentagon, a transition defense source said there was no cause for alarm.

Mr. Cheney will remain on the job until Mr. Aspin is confirmed and sworn in, probably tomorrow, the source said, adding that other jobs can be filled in later days.

"The Pentagon manages itself. There are certain statutory requirements, and those are being met," the source said.

One former Republican staff member of the National Security Council agreed that the incoming administration was in a position to deal with national security issues.

Obviously, the sooner you get your own team on board the better," said Peter W. Rodman, who served on the NSC during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

In the meantime, he said, "You can ask some people to stay on."

Mr. Rodman said he knows of one NSC junior staff member who has been asked to do that.

And at the State Department, two top Middle East experts, Edward Djerejian and Dennis Ross, have been asked to continue temporarily, presumably to help further the peace talks in that region, according to news reports.

The assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Bernard Aronson, who is responsible for policy toward Haiti, also has agreed to remain until his replacement is confirmed.

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