The letter came June 30, notifying Benjamin Johnson III, 43, of a proposal to dismiss him from his GS-9 job as a social service representative in the D. C. Department of Human Resources.
Johnson had been anticipating the action for four years, since he began his one-man war of correspondence against what he considers "waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and illegality" in DHR.
Since May, 1973, Johnson - a lanky, bearded exmarine - has blanketed city and federal city and federal officials with letters and haunted government offices, trying "to get someone in authority to address themselves" to DHR's management problems, he said.
His most recent protest - refusing to do tasks not included in his job description - was an attempt to draw attention to what he perceives as poor personnel management in DHR, and prompted the termination letter, Johnson said.
Johnson's letters, duplicated in such amounts that his copying machine privileges were restricted, pleaded for a "change in our work environment from a party, fun, two-hours-for-eight-hours (pay) atmosphere to one of service, hard work and efficiency."
Johnson works in the office that determines whether people are eligible for Medicaid, welfare, food stamps and other programs. He says workers there and elsewhere in DHR are ill-trained, poorly supervised, undisciplined and inept, and he has written this repeatedly to senators, congressmen, City Council members and the mayor.
The letters - complaining of people bringing radios to work, taking long lunches, dressing too casually - have made him well known in many Capitol Hill and District Building offices, where some saffers say he is not one of the usual "crank" government employees who gripe about insignificant and usually personal grievances.
"The problem is that there's nothing easy to do. It's the whole system and a whole attitude about work," one congressional committee staff member said. We're all frustrated, wondering what to do about Ben. Perhaps give him a medal and let him go to work where they appreciate a good day's work."
Johnson and his defenders say he is one of many frustrated and concerned workers in DHR, which has some 10,000 employees. Johnson claims there are some 400 other people who are doing work not in their job descriptions and that many unhappy about it.
"He is not a neurotic and he's not a troublemaker, although they (DHR officials) try to make him appear that way," said Wade Jefferson, a DHR social worker and City Councilcandidates.
Jefferson said he beleives "an organized person can get mentally ill because of the disarray within this office." Jefferson also works with Medicaid, food stamp, welfare and other federally supported programs at DHR's payment headquarters at 500 1st St. NW.
For his efforts, Johnson claims he has been harassed and baited by his superiors, suspended without pay for five weeks ("endured with a wife and six dependent children"), later placed on AWOL while he in fact was at his desk, and now threatened with termination.
DHR DIRECTOR Albert P. Russo said he considers it "most unfortunate that it had to come to this pass because Mr. Johnson has many strengths." Russo said he has received copies of the "many, many letters that Mr. Johnson has written to the highest levels" and has taken seriously all of the allegations Johnson made.
Russo said Johnson is a "very sincere and conscientious person." He said Bertrell Hallum, the payments assistant administrator, who oversees the part of DHR where Johnson works, made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to resolve the issue raised by Johnson and "had little choice" in the decision to fire him.
Johnson said the dismissal is effective in 30 days if Russo approves the action by Hallum's office. Johnson said he has hired a lawyer and intends to appeal the action but cannot do so legally until he is actually terminated. Russo said he expects Johnson to apotal.
"I had no problem pursuing this, knowing there was the possibility I would lose my job." Johnson said yesterday.
When the letter came, it cited Johnson for "neglect of duty, insubordination and impeding government efficiency." DHR officials denied that his frequent complaints were related to the action.
According to Johnson, one of his chief complaints has been the assignment of duties without regard to employees' training, experience and abilities. For that reason, he has refused to do any work except on Medicaid applications, which his job description states is his assignment. He had been ordered to examine applicants' eligibility for other programs, which he claims is illegal.
"His assignment was just changed, and he stated that he was not going to do it (other work)." Wade Moore, chief of Johnson's section contended. "I don't see any connection between this act of insubordination and his rights of free speech," Moore said.
Now that Johnson's job is at stake, other DHR employees have come to his defense, supporting some of the protests that he previously made alone.
"He is right in the positions he has taken." DHR worker Juanita Washington said in a letter to DHR Director Albert P. Russo yesterday. "Instead of listening to him and doing something about it, the agency chose to silence him by harassment," she wrote.