Harry Truman Was Only Half Right—Sometimes the Buck Stops at Cousin Hugh Carter
Washington reporters call him “Cousin Cheap,” the Scrooge-like scourge of official privilege in Jimmy Carter’s Executive Mansion. “They say I’m a hatchet man,” sighs Hugh Carter Jr. “It doesn’t bother me, but I’m sick of it. I want to be thought of as a businessman in the White House.”
Whatever they call him, 34-year-old cousin Hugh’s assignment as the President’s special assistant for administration is to excise many of the precious symbols of office that White House staffers have enjoyed for years. To wit: Senior aides once commuted between home and office in government limousines—but no more. The White House limo fleet, in fact, has shrunk from 56 cars to a more manageable 36. “Including drivers’ salaries,” Carter announces with pride, “we’ve cut it back about $200,000 right there.”
Gone too is the presidential yacht Sequoia, consigned to the used-boat market. The saving to taxpayers: “About $800,000 a year, counting the crew,” says Carter. And some $55,000 worth of individual newspaper and magazine subscriptions have been canceled. “The President asked for that. If a staff member took time to read all the newspapers coming in, there would be no time for work. People share them now.”
Along with fewer TV sets, stringent controls over who travels where and a reduced White House helicopter force, Hugh Carter reckons his economies have saved some $5 million so far. Sure, he admits, that’s peanuts—er, chicken feed—in terms of the overall federal budget. But Carter finds the effort replete with symbolism. “The President is the leader,” he says, “and if he’s got a lean, smooth-running operation himself, that will be an example for others to follow.”
Executive penny-pinching, of course, employs only a fragment of Hugh Carter’s talents. Among other things, he wants to bring more computers into the White House “to help track the flow of papers.” An industrial engineering graduate of Georgia Tech, Carter earned a master’s degree in business from Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School. He was a vice-president of an Atlanta-based bank stationery company when he enlisted last year in the campaign.
The son of Hugh Carter Sr., a Georgia state senator and Plains antique store owner, Hugh Jr. has been close to the current occupant of the Oval Office since the days when Jimmy was young Hugh’s Sunday school teacher and scoutmaster. Inevitably, their blood ties have provoked cries of nepotism. But the family relationship between Jimmy and Hugh Jr. is that of first cousins once removed—sufficiently distant in the eyes of a 1967 federal law prohibiting the appointment of closer relations.
Lanky (6’2″) and soft-spoken, ex-Army artillery lieutenant Carter was divorced nearly five years ago (with no children) and is one of the few bachelors on the White House staff. His home now is a two-bedroom condominium in Arlington, Va. Though he dates an Atlanta stewardess, his 12-hour workdays, he says, leave him little time for socializing. He has lunched out only twice since his arrival at the White House last January.
Such dedication enables the President to assure kinfolk back home that Hugh Jr. is earning every dollar of his $51,000-a-year salary. Cousin Jimmy has been less forthcoming with a personal pat-on-the-back. “He’s not one to say much,” observes Hugh Jr. without concern. “But if he wasn’t satisfied with my work, I’d know it soon enough.”