Washington, D.C., is the only place on earth where bright, extremely well-paid men and women regularly get together to rediscover the wheel. At least it seems that way sometime.
Item: About 6 years ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shipped hundreds of its workers from Washington to the field. Decentralization was the thing. Idea was to get people and programs closer to the communities affected by them.
Items: About 5 years ago the Agency for International Development brought hundreds of workers in from the field and put them to work managing new kinds of foreign programs from Washington.
Item: Within the next few months HUD will probably begin moving hundreds of its employees from the field to Washington. Idea is to get them closer to their projects.
Item: Within the next few months AID may begin moving hundred of its employees from Washington to the field. Idea is to get them closed to their projects.
The name of the game - being played out in greater and smaller degree all over town - is reorganization.
Congressional critics say this next reorganization will be the 20th for HUD since 1971. HUD officials say if you are talking about "minor" reorganizations it might be the 200th. AID employees say it would be easier to count the number of times they were NOT in a period of reorganization.
It seems to be a rule of politics that the first order of business of a new White House team is to undo whatever the old White House team did, Nixon reorganized what Johnson did, Johnson changed many Kennedy Eisen hower liked; Ike cut back Truman programs, etc. If Ford had been elected to succeed himself, he might have reorganized too.
AID Administrator John Gilligan believes that the current ratio of almost two Washington employees for every one field workers is wrong. That happened because AID's once-huge Vietnam mission had to return to Washington.
AID workers believe Gilligan intends to reduce employment here between 450 and 550 jobs (by his own, off-the-cut estimates). AID brass say layoffs are most unlikely and look to the "field," overseas, where there are currently fewer than 100 vacancies. Hiring has been frozen for months.
(Top Gilligan aides, still call him "Governor." Some employees, critical of his rough-and-tumble management style think he is using AID as a political Tinker Toy prior to pluging back into Ohio politics.)
HUD is doing just the reverse of AID. And the reverse of what HUD itself did in the early 1970s. "We were hot for regionalization then," an old-timer recalls. "We did a massive PR (public relations) job on Washington employees, Congress and the press. We sold 'regionalization' like it was a new detergent. "Go West" is what we told them. Get out in the field where the action is."
Now, of course, HUD is planning to consolidate many of its smaller offices that were originally created to counter consolidation. Employees who aren't shifted to the bigger cities - as many as 1,000 may be affected by the shakeups - or fired, will be transferred back to Washington.
Taking their cue from President Carter, other agencies are reorganizing. Some are in their second reorganizations - good or bad, necessary to just for the sake of changing things - tend to frighten those about to be reorganized. The master planners rarely notice this since the master play always insure them a job - usually at a better title and salary - after the shakeup.
The current round of reorganizations have already taken their toll. Morale is bad in many sections of the CIA because of reorganization; grumbling is high in the Office of the Secretary of Defense because of layoffs and downgradings; some commerce employees claim a recent suicide there was related to a reorganization related - demotion; Agriculture and Transportations are spending more time defending their jobs than doing their jobs. And so it goes.
President Carter has repeatedly promised that nobody in government would be fired or lose pay because of reorganization. He hasn't even come and Administration officials say the real reorganizations haven't even started yet.