The government's 9,000 top-paid managers might decide to adopt the suitcase as their ensignia if the Carter administration pushes ahead with plans for a faster-paced, more mobile executive team to run the bureaucracy.
Administration officials say that the Senior Executive Service, composed of career and political appointees, specialists, generalists and trouble-shooters, is high on the President's must list of items to reform the government.
If all goes as planned, aides expect he will ask Congress to OK the SES soon as the basis for his top-to-bottom reorganization of the federal establishment.
The SES - formerly designated the EMS (for Executive Management Service) - concept has been endorsed and recommended by a top task force that has just completed a 6-month study of the management side of government.
Its proposal, now before the Civil Service Commission and Office of Management and Budget, follows the broad outlines of the plan Carter laid down months ago in describing the kinds of people he wants running the government. The SES plan would be limited to workers in in Grades 16 through 18, and their salary equivalents in the $42,000 to $47,500 range, plus two layers of political appointees.
Grades would be abolished for SES members. Salaries would be set when they sign on into a system resembling the military's. Frequent changes of assignment would be encouraged under the SES, with officials switching jobs within agencies, and also going to new assignments in other departmenrs.
In briefing top career employees about the SES, administration officials have hammered at the fact, they say, that 95 of every 100 "supergraders" entered his or her grade and rank in the agency in which they are now serving. They think this tends to make some executives stagnate, or become "program fixated," as one official put it, denying them the opportunity to see the big picture.
The SES proposal is expected to go to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Post Office-Civil Service Committee sometime in February or March.
Many Republicans are skeptical of the proposal (because congressional Democrats shot down a similar plan proposed by Nixon). Some key Democrats also have misgivings about the fact that "mobility" could be used to drive career people out of government.
The Carter administration is marshaling its troops - to be led by CSC Chairman Alan K. Campbell - to sell potential SES members and the Congress on the plan as quickly as possible.