President-elect George Bush may have overcome hostile audiences, antagonisticreporters, and an apathetic electorate, but he hasn't yet had to deal with Raymond Fontaine.
But for the next 10 weeks, Bush and his top campaign aides are going get to know Fontaine very well as they set their transition office and comb through applications for almost 5,000 "plum jobs" - political appointments that change with each administration.Fontaine is the federal government's hard-nosed transition czar. Through his job as comptroller of the General Services Administration, he's also the first federal bureaucrat many in the Bush campaign will deal with in Washington because he's handling the $3.5 million in funds Congress allocated for this year's presidential transition.
"It's easier if some of the people have been in government before, or have been in Washington before, so they know the dos and don'ts," says Fontaine, who's been handling presidential transitions ever since Lyndon Johnson handed over the White House to Richard Nixon in 1968.
Fontaine is used to handling presidents: He deals with Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter on a day-to-day basis since his regular duties involve overseeing the office spending of former presidents.
And while he's in charge of the president-elect's transition budget, he also supervises a $1.2 million allocation Congress provided for President Reagan's transition back to private life on his California ranch.
Fontaine says he's been looking forward to the next 10 weeks of transition turmoil.
"I haven't had one in eight years. It's kind of fun," he says.
Bush's transition office is already picked out - it's located in a bland office building in a downtown Washington area known as Dupont Circle.
This year, Fontaine also did some advance planning, calling in the campaign directors from both Bush and Dukakis camps for a meeting to urge them to start their planning early.
He explained that just getting FBI clearances for new appointees is time-consuming and could abort efforts by any new administration to propose revisions in Reagan's budget, revamp government spending programs or make other political changes by the Jan. 20 inauguration of the new president.
Bush's transition team isn't limited to spending only the $3.5 million; it can accept outside contributions. But Congress last year closed a loophole that permitted Reagan to keep secret a list of private donors to the 1980 transition team headed by former Attorney General Edwin Meese. If the president-elect takes the federal funds, he'll be obliged to report all private contributions.
The main job of the team is to screen applicants for political appointments.
Andrew Feinstein, who watches political appointments from his job on the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, estimates there are almost 4,500 vacancies of political appointees to be filled.
About 900 of the appointments are White House staff jobs, with an additional 1,750 "Schedule C" political appointments sprinkled through government agencies in posts as speechwriters and deputy assistant secretaries. Congress also permits 10 percent of the top-level civil servants - about 750 positions - to be filled with political appointments.
The rest are part-time appointments to commissions overseeing various activities involving the Postal Service, historical preservation, civil rights or the arts.
Feinstein said the number of political appointees gradually has been increasing through successive administrations, from 3,700 in 1968 to 4,500 in 1984.
The activities of the transition team are separate from the presidential inauguration ceremonies. Congress allocated $750,000 this year to build the stands on the Capitol's west side, where the new president will be sworn in Jan. 20. Other inauguration celebrations, including the gala balls, are financed by private donations.
Nixon's 1968 transition team was allocated $450,000 and raised an additional $1.1 million privately. Carter was allocated $2 million for his 1976 transition team expenses, but returned $325,000. Reagan spent $1.7 million of the $2 million he was allocated in 1980 for his transition.