During the Johnson Administration, running the crisis-plagued Office of Economic Opportunity was a thankless job and an administrative horror. Sargent Shriver escaped last spring after four high-pressure years, and President Johnson never formally nominated a replacement. The post seemed even less promising under the new Administration. OEO was a favorite target of Candidate Nixon, and one of the new President's first deeds was to strip the antipoverty agency of its major programs, including Head Start and the Job Corps. It was no wonder that Nixon was unable to find a new director for three months.
Last week he finally announced his man: Illinois Congressman Donald Rumsfeld. Presiding over OEO's burnt-out shell seemed to be an extremely un promising job for an ambitious, attractive young Republican like "Rummy" Rumsfeld. He would be giving up one of the safest seats in Congress: his constituents had sent him to Congress four straight times. But, argued the White House, running OEO will be only a portion of his responsibility. Rumsfeld will also have full Cabinet status and be a presidential assistant (salary: $42,500, equal to congressional pay). Finally, he will sit on Pat Moynihan's Urban Affairs Council as chairman of its OEO subcommittee.
Cramped Position. Rumsfeld had refused an administration post at first but changed his mind when Nixon sweetened the OEO job with status and responsibility. Also figuring in Rumsfeld's change of heart was his cramped position in the House. Rumsfeld had made a powerful enemy in Illinois' Les Arends by joining an unsuccessful attempt to replace Arends as Republican whip. In apparent retribution, the leadership denied Rumsfeld his preference in committee assignments and seemingly cut him off from advancement in the House hierarchy. Apparently, Rumsfeld was blocked.
The product of a wealthy, 97% white district of lakeshore suburbs north of Chicago, the Protestant, Princetonian Rumsfeld, 36, appears at first to be an unlikely choice to lead the nation's fight on poverty. He opposed much of the Johnson antipoverty legislation, including the measure setting up OEO. He says that his stand reflected a difference over methods, not goals. But since he came to Congress in 1963 as a crew-cut conservative, his sympathies for the poor, as well as his hair, have grown.