Government VIPs who like to be driven, around Washington, and whisked to and from work in sleek blacks cars with reading lights and telephones haven't suffered a great deal at the hands of President Carter's ban-the-limousine edict.
Reason: federal agencies have taken the anti-limousine directive literally, and according to the government, there is only one car made in America that technically qualifies as limousine.
If you are in the Cadillac sales division these days a slippage of leases or sales to Uncle Sam shows up. But the folks who make Lincolns, Buicks, Fords, and Mercurys - many of which are very big cars - continue to enjoy favor with government officials.
It could be said that Cadillac's misfortune has been good for business, especially for the Mercury people.
The government's car catalogue lists 73 made-in-U.S.A. vehicles or models. They range from the tiny Chevrolet Chevette which weighs just over 2,000 pounds and gets 29 miles a gallon to several big models from Dodge, Lincoln, Mercury and Plymouth, which the government rates at delivering between 14 and 15 miles a gallon.
Only one car in the group, the Cadillac Limousine (14 m.p.g.) with a durb weight of 4,870 pounds falls into the category of limousine. There is the Lincoln Continental, which many drivers consider as snazzy as a Cadillac, which weighs more (5,052 pounds) but it gets 15 miles a gallon, according to the government, and is available to VIPs who rate what is known as Class Four transportation.
Federal car watchers say there weren't all that many Cadillac limos around before the Carter directive. Now there are even fewer; but that hasn't stopped some officials from getting the biggest car they can. A favorite these days is the Mercury Monarch. A government car expert says the car (which weighs 1,500 pounds less than the Cadillac limo) and gets 6 miles a gallon more, has become a favorite of agency heads.
The Mercury looks impressive in black, carries almost the clout of a Cadillac and doesn't fall into the limousine category.
Officials say that President Carter didn't have gas mileage economy in mind when he said he wanted the limo service cutback. What he meant, they have decided, is that he wanted fewer real and would-be VIPs riding around in public-financed autos. That, they say, has happened to some extent.
What the President really meant, officials believe, is that public servants - no matter what their rank - ought to take chances like the citizens they serve, getting cabs on rainy days, maybe even riding Metro sometimes.
Federal officials who like the Chauffeur-drivers life, counter with the point that they work long hours for their country. Despite the President's directive that people should spend more time with their families, the residents of "carpetland" (which is what upper-echelon government offices are called by the lesser ranks) often do put in 12 or 15-hour day.
Public transporation for them would be difficult, and the officials say "wasteful" since they get lots of reading and telephoning done while the rest of us are packed into D-2 buses of fighting traffic jams on Shirley Highway or New York Avenue.
There is another argument, however, that all men should be treated equally when it comes to getting to and from work. Isn't it possible, some readers ask, that many of our federal officials are building themselves ivory towers by isolating themselves traffic and commuting problems that the rest of the work-a-day world faces?
What would happen, for example, if the Secretary of Transporation had to steer a wheezing subcompact of his own through traffic rather than leaving the driving to a chauffeur? Would things improve if VIPs couldn't summon helicopters to take them to waiting planes at National Airport, but had to drive the nightmarish trip, find a parking spot and carry luggage like the rest of us?
Meanwhile, shed a tear if you like for the VIP who lost his Cadillac for a Mercury Monarch. But don't look for the imperial government to end until we all face the same parking and commuting problems, and have to pay the same parking-lot fees.