July 26, 1993 12:00 PM

He has been in office barely six months, but he is already referred to as the late President Clinton—chronically late, that is. Often behind schedule, the nation’s Chief Executive operates on what Washington jokingly—if at times ruefully—calls Clinton Standard Time. Few have been spared Mr. Bill’s wating game. In January, Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist cut short a private meeting with Clinton after the President left him waiting for 45 minutes. On the morning of Inauguration Day, George and Barbara Bush were kept waiting at the White House for coffee with the Clintons. And at the Japan summit earlier this month, Clinton arrived 22 minutes late for a speech at Waseda University. Vice President Al Gore recently referred to the Administration as “punctually challenged,” and even wife Hillary conceded, “It’s maddening to try to keep him on any kind of schedule.”

While he has improved his on-time performance somewhat since counselor David Gergen came aboard in May, Gergen reportedly has had a tardiness problem himself. To find out what keeps Clinton and others of his kind at war with the clock, correspondent Stanley Young talked to psychologists Lenora Yuen, 41, and Jane Burka, 46, coauthors of Procrastination, at Yuen’s office in Palo Alto, Calif.

A lot of us operate on oar own version of CST. What contributes to chronic lateness?

Yuen: Like Clinton, many people who need a lot of interpersonal contact behave as if the person in front of him is more important than the constraints of an abstract schedule. Others have a child’s sense of time—which is really timeless. To a child, it’s FOREVER till Christmas.

Burka: Lateness can also be a tool, used consciously or not. for people to assert themselves. In effect they are saying, “I’m in control. I run on my own schedule.” They make other people wait for them.

Doesn’t it bother latecomers that their behavior affects other people?

Burka: Most are oblivious to the needs of others—they get so self-absorbed they literally lose track of time.

We’re often able to tolerate chronic latecomers. Why?

Yuen: Sometimes they are the very talented. Being late is part of their mystique.

Why are celebrities so often late?

Yuen: Stars have a sense of entitlement. They feel they deserve it all.

Burka: And the culture feeds it. When you’re revered, admired and everyone wants to be like you, you’re held to different standards. We don’t apply ordinary rules to stars.

Or to the President. But is there any hope that Clinton can be reformed?

Yuen: Yes, but he has to want to change. If he remains unconcerned about being late, we can’t impose a solution on him. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to plan ahead for Clinton Standard Time.

Has being late ever been an issue with yon?

Yuen: Our book on procrastination was two years past deadline.

Any thoughts about people who are habitually on time?

Burka: I don’t understand them.

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