THAT faint buzzing in the background is power. It is the noise of public places and private spaces in this city when things are about to happen. It is here in H-227 of the Capitol, where the civil service conferees are about to meet, twisting through the crystal teardrops of the Victorian chandelier, snaking around the government-issue briefcases plopped on the yellow carpet.

Some 60 people who have managed to squeeze into a room that might comfortably hold 20 are realizing suddenly that they own too many elbows and feet. Threading his way through this crowd is Alan Campbell, chairman of the Civil Service Commission, followed half a moccasin step behind by Pat Swygert, his general counsel, and Paul Newton, his congressional liaison.

As Campbell enters, an NBC reporter leaps to his feet and stabs the air with an insistent finger. Kleig lights flare on; a camera man scurries toward Campbell.

At 55 Campbell has that growing-old-with-grace air that hovers about many public figures. The blond curls his wife fell in love with 34 years ago when she was a coed and he was a dashing Naval cadet have turned that ever-so-distinguished shade of gray. They no longer tickle his forehead, but they still flirt with the back of his suit collar. Traces of tan from his Cape Cod vacation, postponed once, twice, three times because of the civil service reform bill, linger three weeks later.

Campbell inches toward the mahogany conference table. A handshake for Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.). A few words with Rep. James Hanley (D-N.Y.), whose 32nd District encompasses Syracuse University where Campbell once taught. The chairman's laugh, the throaty kind that makes others long to join in, reaches to the back of the room.

Campbell settles into a metal folding chair in the front row. He crosses his legs and his too-short socks begin to creep down his ankles into brown slip-on shoes. A new white legal pad and a freshly sharpened pencil appear out of nowhere for him.

The conference begins.

Civil service reform will be the centerpiece of government reorganization during my term in office.

President Jimmy Carter

Every president since Theodore Roosevelt has taken office promising to reorganize the federal government. All have left town sadder and wiser men. That Carter has succeeded at all where others before him failed says a lot about the man he picked to head the Civil Service Commission.

Alan Campbell, Scotty Campbell to everyone except his mother and his boss Jimmy Carter, is not exactly a household name in Washington -- yet. There are rumors fluttering in the autumn breezes these days that bigger and better things are ahead for Scotty Campbell. In an administration that has been long on rhetoric and short on accomplishment, Campbell delivered. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the first reform of the civil service system in nearly 100 years.

Dad, you just got the s -- iest job in the federal government.

Kimberly Ann Campbell

Two war buddies have gathered for drinks and hors d'oeuvres in Jane and Scotty Campbell's apartment just off upper Connecticut Avenue. They haven't seen each other in years. They have begun to catch up.

Jane Campbell is telling the story of Scotty's appointment. She remembers it well. On Feb. 8 last year they moved into their new home in Austin, Tex. On Feb. 28 Hamilton Jordan called.

"I burst into tears," Jane says. "I said, 'No.' I said, 'I'm not going.'"

She glances at her husband, who is nibbling on a turnip slice and watching ice cubes do-si-do in his martini.

"That shows how much he listens to me," she says.

Jordan asked Campbell if he would like to drop by the Oval Office. By chance Campbell was going to Washington the next week. A brief meeting was arranged with Carter and Bert Lance. Afterwards, Campbell submitted a three-page memo which outlined his ideas about civil service reform.

Two weeks later when he was offered the $52,500-a-year job, he accepted. In doing so, he took a $15,000-to $20,000-a-year cut in income. His salary as dean of the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas was roughly the same, but his outside income from articles, books, speaking engagements and such has ended.

Along with the chairmanship went a mandate to reform the civil service system. Campbell says he would not have accepted otherwise. Although Campbell says in a slightly astonished tone that he has become interested in the "nitty-gritty details" of the civil service system, he is clearly not mesmerized by the routine business of the commission.

An aide said, "I have had three or four memos sitting on his desk for weeks about internal matters. I just can't get his attention."

Unlike his immediate predecessors Campbell has been forced to learn about both the system and the commission. His heart may not have been in it, but he has tried to master its intricacies. He took Federal Pay Comparability - Fact or Fiction? on his vacation. When he first arrived at the commission, he threw Sunday afternoon get-acquainted parties for the staff. He strolled through the building and stopped to chat with employes. They loved it, but he felt vaguely uncomfortable. "I don't feel that morale is engendered by rah-rah speeches," he said.

Passage of civil service reform came first. Everything else came fifth.

"What interests me," Campbell says, "is the intersection of issues and politics. That fascinates me intellectually." The professor as politician -- he likes that image. Once an Albany, N.Y., newspaper ran an article under the headline, "'Scotty,' The Political Egghead," which cast Campbell into the company of Theodore Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger. Campbell was not insulted.

Civil service reform has substance and plenty of politicking. Campbell tackled it, as he does everything else, with hard work and thoroughness.

His work habits are legendary among former colleagues. Guthrie Birkhead, who succeeded Campbell as dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, said, "His real strength is total immersion in whatever he does." Last spring Jane Campbell mailed her husband's birthday card to his office. The secretaries thought that was funny. Jane just wanted to be certain he got it. "I am a workaholic with all the unattractive things that implies," he said.

Campbell set about mastering the civil service system. No one would know the issues better than he. Middle managers found their way to his fifth-floor rust-and-beige office to explain the inner workings. "My God, he didn't just want to know about veterans' disability. He wanted to know the percent of disability for different diseases," said an aide, awed.

Later, when Campbell made the rounds on the Hill, congressmen and staff were impressed. A Senate staffer said, "He's not like those other agency heads who come up here with eight aides carrying briefing books. He knows his stuff."

Politics he had learned a long time ago. Campbell spent a decade in New York politics and in the process he was tutored by a few masters, including Bobby Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller.

At Kennedy's insistence Campbell was nominated as an at-large delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1967. He ran second only to Robert Wagner, the former mayor of New York City. Ruffling through his press clippings, Campbell began to fantasize about running for governor. In the end he decided not to run. "I held a press conference to announce my decision," he said and paused. "There was no loud outcry for me to change my mind."

Campbell is not very introspective, which may account for some faulty self-perceptions. He says the part of his job that he likes the least is bringing people together. "You never know how people are going to react."

Butterflies danced in his stomach the first time he called Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), who managed the civil service reform bill in the House. Yet that is a part of the job Campbell does extraordinarily well. Kenneth Blaylock, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said, "Scotty Campbell did one outstanding job in bringing the parties involved together. He was able to deal with all the players and keep all flexible, including us. He pushes and pushes until you're to the wall but not quite ready to break, and then relaxes so you can give a little. Then he pushes until you're damn near ready to break again."

His is a small domain as bureaucratic empires go. The Civil Service Commission employs 6,672 people and last year had an operating budget of $197 million. As chairman, however, Campbell is the top personnel officer for the entire federal government and therein lies his power.

Campbell has the ability to shape policy about who is hired and who is promoted and through that to influence the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government. He is involved in everything that touches federal personnel policies. The Civil Service Commission, for instance, was brought into the negotiations on the Panama Canal treaties because of the federal workers employed in the Canal Zone.

Campbell came to town to shake things up. To the Hill aides who dealt with the civil service system and to the career bureaucrats at the Civil Service Commission, he was a sign that things were going to be different.

The civil service system was still reeling from the subversion of the merit principles during the Nixon era. The commission itself was ingrown and inbred. Al Johnson, staff director of the House Subcommittee on Civil Service, said, "The commission was so bad when Campbell came that he started off with a lot of good will. He represented a clean sweep; he was someone who did not have to defend the past."

Down at the Civil Service Commission Ray Jacobson, the executive director, agreed. "I think it was clear to most of us career bureaucrats for many years that something pretty fundamental needed to be done. When Scotty came, I think there was a sense of, 'Okay, great, you're here to reform things,' and a great deal of staff attention was immediately turned in that direction."

Civil service reform is the most highly visible and publicized example of the new directions in which the system is moving, but it is not the only one. Although Campbell winces at the word elitist, he is creating an elite cadre of civil servants who will be able to move more freely into, through and around the federal government.

The Senior Executive Service created by the civil service reform act and composed of GS-15s and up will comprise the top echelon of that system within a system. The supergrades of the future who will be eligible for the Senior Executive Service are already being recruited through two new programs, a work-study internship for graduate students in various fields and the Presidential Management Intern Program for top graduates of the country's public management schools.

In both cases interns hold temporary appointments, ranging from GS-5s to GS-9s, which can later be converted into regular career positions.

"What we're doing is to create a career pattern," said Campbell. That career pattern is intended to bring the best and brightest into the civil service and hold out special rewards for those who make their way to the top.

Not all the career civil servants have greeted the interns with unalloyed joy. "There is resentment," a presidential management intern told Campbell at an 8 a.m. meeting. "There is a feeling that they [career civil servants] did it the hard way so why shouldn't we [interns]."

Nor have all the Civil Service Commission employes been pleased that Campbell has chosen to shake up the commission by hiring from without.During the last 18 months a significant number of key slots such as deputy bureau directors and program heads have been filled from outside. Jacobson, a 36-year veteran of the Civil Service Commission, said, "There was some unhappiness and resentment among those who had grown up in the system and knew how the career pattern went. There was a period of what I would call upsetness."

"A government as good as the people," vowed Jimmy Carter in 1976, but to judge by the civil service system, the people are mostly white and male. That hasn't changed since Campbell arrived, but he is generally credited with raising the consciousness of department and agency heads about affirmative action.

Through better statistical gathering techniques and semiannual reports to the president, Campbell is nudging his counterparts around town to hire more women and minorities.

Al Johnson, who is black and has observed previous chairmen, said, "Opportunities for blacks, Hispanics and women have opened up considerably. Affirmative action is given significantly higher priority. The fact that among the commissioners' top aides only one now is a white male is a symbolism that speaks for itself."

To accomplish all this and civil service reform as well, Campbell puts in prodigious hours. Yet he scoffs at the 18-hour workday some top Washington bureaucrats say they put in, attributing that to "poor personal time management."

His work day? "Oh," he says cavalierly, "I usually get in sometime between 6 and 7 a.m., and I'm home by 8 p.m." On weekends he says it is less, although Nancy Dalton, his chief secretary, rarely makes plans before 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and a bleary-eyed reporter once found herself arriving at his apartment for an interview at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning. His concern for "good personal time management" compels Campbell to scurry back to his office to make telephone calls when he has 15 minutes between appointments and to chafe visibly when he happens to be in his government limousine without papers to be signed.

Campbell likes to think of himself as a "resultsoriented manager" and as a "non-hierarchical agency head." Unlike other chairmen, he has delegated major and specific responsibilities for bureaus and programs within the Civil Service Commission to Jule Sugarman, the vice chairman of the commission, and Ersa Poston, the third commissioner. Still, he admits he remains compulsive about details, a personality trait he says was the result of early toilet training.

His aides say he is one of the nicest people they've ever worked for but also one of the toughest. "He is not a stroker," said one.

Indoor toilets are still sort of a luxury for me.

Scotty Campbell

Scotty is a farm boy who decided he was going to make good.

Guthrie Birkhead

Campbell was born the third of four sons in the prairie town of Elgin, Neb., on May 31, 1923. The senior Campbell, a farmer, presided over a prosperous family until the drought and the Depression swept away the good times. Scotty Campbell's son, Duncan, is fond of twitting his father: "Dad, tell us again how hard you had it in the Depression."

The Campbells migrated "almost like Okies" to the state of Washington and settled in a small town whose very name seemed to offer hope -- Greenacres. The talk around the kitchen table in those days was of failing banks and the hope that Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered. Scotty Campbell listened and learned.

Today four pages of his curriculum vitae are devoted to books and articles he has written on urban policy and finances.

Campbell grew up believing that life was hard and work was salvation. Odd jobs paid his way through Whitman College in Walla Walla. Up at 4 a.m., he hoisted sacks off the mail train. After class he washed dishes in a Seventh-Day Adventist Hospital. He discovered an attraction to the life of the professional academic.

"I never got over going to school," said Campbell with an impish grin.

The war, however, came first. Campbell enlisted in the Navy where he attended Japanese language school. Then, while stationed in Bloomington, Ind., he met Jane Owen.

"We always argue about how we met," said his 55-year-old wife. "He will tell you he picked me up in a bar.

"Actually," she stresses the word and lobs a swift glance across the melon rinds on the breakfast table at her husband, "it was a campus hangout, and I was there with a girlfriend. I saw this adorable Naval cadet -- he had curly blond hair in those days -- smiling and smiling at me across the room. After a while he came over.

"Dear," Jane pauses, "do you remember what you said?"

"It wasn't very imaginative, whatever it was."

"Not like those lines you read in Playboy."

"Have you been reading Playboy?" he asks.

"Well, you know what I mean: 'Do you like to have sex in the morning?'

"Yes, I guess that would be good. Especially if it were morning. I wasn't that creative."

Whatever he said worked. Campbell, who says that impatience is his biggest fault, didn't waste time. Three months after they met, he proposed. A year later they were married.

They have two children: Kimberly Ann, 26, who recently completed her master's in public administration at Harvard University and now works for the state of Massachusetts; and Duncan, 24, who will be graduated this month from the school of forestry at the University of Montana and who wishes to be a forest ranger.

After the war Campbell was assigned to Army Intelligence in Tokyo. Later, Jane typed his way to a Ph.D at Harvard. Along with Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who were also graduate students, Campbell taught freshman government.

"One of the things that Harvard did was to give me considerable self-confidence," he says now. "I went expecting to find all these supposedly bright people, but hell, they were not any brighter than I was."

Had it not been for a bungling file clerk, Campbell might now be a GS-18. Before he went to England to write his dissertation on public management of the British coal industry, Campbell took the Civil Service exam.

In due course a letter arrived with the offer of a job as an assistant examiner at the Bureau of the Budget. Campbell wrote for more information. Nothing happened. Months later, when he had already accepted a job elsewhere, he discovered what went wrong. The response to his letter, along with its carbon copy, had been neatly tucked away in a file cabinet.

Meanwhile, Campbell was scrambling up the academic ladder: tenure, full professor, chairman of political science departments and time out to serve as deputy comptroller of the state of New York. In 1969 he nimbly hurdled the last rung and came to rest as dean of the prestige-laden Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. (Some 250 of his former students are scattered throughout the federal bureaucracy, and form a useful network of information for him.)

Campbell dragged the Maxwell School, over the opposition of some colleagues, into the real world. He emphasized metropolitan studies. "He was never of the academy," said former student John White, now assistant secretary of defense. Not all the faculty members were pleased with his approach. His political activities created headlines.

"He was definitely one of the stars of the school. He was more visible at times than the president," said reporter Dick Case of the Syracuse Herald American, who covered education in those days.

The late 1960s and early '70s were not easy times for private universities. Students were restless; funds were drying up. Syracuse University itself was changing. Dr. Melvin Eggers, who became president in those years, said, "I think there may have been some feeling that the Maxwell School was not receiving from the university the same sort of special concern that it had in the past. There was a kind of feeling that the Maxwell School had a very special place in the University structure. I think [Campbell] had the feeling that it was not given the same respect as the leadership of the university changed." Some faculty members blamed Campbell.

Campbell was caught in the middle. There were nights when he came home and told Jane, "I can't take it any more."

Campbell took a leave of absence. When he came back, he accepted a position as dean of the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin.

Eggers said, "I was disappointed that he left to take another deanship. It seemed a sideways move at best."

Campbell said, "I had been there a long time. I felt a need for a change.LBJ was a new school that was well financed and it was a chance to mold the place. I guess I was a little disturbed at myself. When students and faculty came to me with suggestions, I was beginning to be like the bureaucrats around town. I'd say, 'We did that 10 years ago.' I figured when that started happening, I should get out." Eggers said, "His power needs were not being adequately rewarded."

The same contacts that eventually led to his leaving Austin were the reason he was hired at LBJ. Allan Shivers, former governer and chairman of the Texas board of regents, said, "He had an understanding of politics and he knew the people who make the merry-go-round."

The LBJ school is a troubled place. The Texas legislature has cut funds drastically. Three deans ran through the school in four years. The faculty boasts few prominent scholars. The search committee thought Campbell could change all that. He promised to stay three years. He stayed three months.

Although the majority of students and faculty urged Campbell to accept the federal appointment, not everyone at the university was pleased, Shivers said, "I think that he felt that a request from the president is a command peformance. I don't happen to feel that way."

The Daily Texan, the student newspaper, accused Campbell of bad faith. He decided to call a new conference to deny the accusations. To demonstrate his good intentions, he told reporters he had recently purchased $700 worth of patio furniture for his new home.

It's frustrating to work for a guy like Campbell. He's almost too good to be true. After a while you get the impulse to stick your foot out in the aisle just to watch him trip for a change.

Civil Service Commission employe

The standard black government sedan with the regulation reading light in the back window speeds up Constitution Avenue in the tranquil blue twilight. The civil service conferees are still meeting, but the conference is going well. Congress will pass the bill before it adjourns.

A few more calls on congressmen and Campbell can relax until 6 a.m. the next morning.

By the middle of next month Campbell will no longer be chairman of the Civil Service Commission. As a result of his work for civil service reform and previous executive reorganization orders, there will no longer be a Civil Service Commission.

The bulk of the present employes will be transferred to the Office of Personnel Management, which will take over recruiting, examining and training functions. Some 266 employes will be assigned to the Merit System Protection Board and lesser numbers will go to the special counsel's office, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The closest counterpart to Campbell's current position will be the director of the Office of Personnel Management, and it is generally assumed that Campbell will get that job if he wants it. Implementing civil service reform will be a mammoth undertaking and the kind of challenge that Campbell relishes. If the Carter administration decides to tackle a revision of the federal pay scale, another tough fight will loom.

The position of director is also one executive level higher and will be of equivalent rank with the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Campbell would like to move up and up. He has made a lot of friends who would like to see him do so. People who meet him like him enormously. He has an ability to poke fun at himself that is rare among politicians and bureaucrats. He soothes the chafed egos on the Hill. A congressional aide said, "He's not abrasive like all those other White House guys. He doesn't fly off the handle if he doesn't get what he wants right away."

How high might Campbell's ambitions lead him? If he could pick any job in the federal government, what would it be?

Flecks of coal dance in the pale blue eyes. The wrinkles in the corners gather themselves into a smile.

"President," he laughs, and climbs the steps into the Longworth Building.