President Reagan has called on Americans to give more money to charity, to help needy people make up for some of their losses in government-funded services.
At the same time, his administration is moving to restrict the range of private giving by federal employes. If a proposed executive order is put into effect, some charities will, by the president's order, be left with less.
The order concerns the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), the nation's largest single charity drive. It collected an estimated $84 million last year from federal employes, most of whom make their donations by payroll deduction.
Charities have to meet stiff eligibility standards in order to participate in the CFC--too stiff, many believe. When the NAACP Legal Defense Educational Fund was prevented from joining the charity drive, it took its case to court and won. Other organizations have also challenged the eligibility rules.
CFC giving is supposed to be voluntary. No one has to give to the NAACP or any other organization through payroll deductions. But a federal employe may not use the federal system to donate to his favorite charity unless that charity's name is on the approved list. So it's important to be on the list.
Donald Devine, head of the federal Office of Personnel Management, which runs the CFC campaign, proposes to knock some organizations off the list. Specifically, he is after advocacy groups, like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund; also, Planned Parenthood-World Population, because of services that refer women to abortion clinics (although the services use no federal funds).
In a memo, he called the above groups--and others that also would be knocked off the CFC list--"programs of lower priority," and "less critical to the national interest." And so they may be, to Donald Devine. But to many federal employes, these may be programs of high priority. Who is David Devine to tell 3.5 million federal employes what their personal priorities are? Isn't this the sort of thing that President Reagan was supposed to stop?
And it's not only advocacy groups that this administration is proposing to shortchange. The executive order siphons money away from many independent health and welfare organizations and gives it to the United Way.
As things now stand, a federal employe may "designate" his contribution to a certain charity, or he may give an undesignated gift. Undesignated money is divided up among most of the participating charities according to a controversial formula.
It's controversial because United Way gets the lion's share of the money. Last year, federal employes gave only 49 percent of their designated contributions to United Way--but the formula gave United Way a hefty 88 percent of all the undesignated contributions.
The National Health Agencies (NHA) recently lost a court case challenging the CFC's right to distribute employe contributions so unequally. (The NHA helps 27 organizations, including the March of Dimes, the American Heart Association and the National Association for Retarded Citizens.)
Donald Devine has decided that the most "equitable" way of distributing undesignated money is, effectively, to put United Way in control of the purse--a decision, I might add, that United Way heartily endorses. Had that order been in effect this year, some $5 million could have been taken away from the NHA, the International Service Agencies, the National Service Agencies, the American Red Cross and independent local charities, and given to the United Way.
A good many organizations have objected to the hammerlock that United Way seems to have over the federal charity drive. In 1980, the CFC was requested by Congress to make it easier for federal employes to give to other organizations.
When offered a chance to givemore easily to competing charities, employes responded enthusiastically. In San Francisco, where more open giving started in 1980, participation in the federal charity drive is up 25 percent, compared with a decline in CFC participation nationwide, according to George Lewis, executive director of NHA.
But United Way believes that it is losing money to competing charities. So it is lobbying strongly to cut them out of the formula that distributes undesignated CFC money. One can only hope that our "free-choice" president will, ultimately, resist.