The man in charge of selling bureaucratic reorganization believes an important chunk of the news media is doing a rotten job interpreting President Carter's plans and motives for wanting to improve the nation's civil service.
CSC Chairman Alan K. Campbell has been pushing for a major overhaul of the federal bureaucracy since he took the top merit system job. But some magazines, television networks and newspapers, he believes, are giving the public the wrong view of government workers and of reorganization. Their pitch, he told a group of federal labor officials yesterday, comes off either in the form of blood-thirsty horror stories of bureaucratic incompetence, or is so anemic that it defends the current bad system against any improvements.
Next week the White House will send Congress a comprehensive, and controversial, package on government "reform." It will propose such things as splitting the CSC; streamlining the system used to hire, punish and fire 2.6 million federal workers' and removal of much of the job security top government executives now enjoy.
Since congressional approval is necessary for most of the changes President Carter wants, administration officials are concerned about what the American people see, hear or read about government and about reorganization. Campbell believes that the machinery of government is antiquated and inefficient, but that its employes should not be blamed for that.
At a convention of the Society Society of Federal Labor Relations Professionals, Campbell told hundreds of union and government labor aides that the job of dedicated bureaucrats, and of dedicated reformers, is being made tougher by parts of the news media.
In general, Campbell believes that the national media too often tends to view government workers as drones who cannot be fired, while the Washington press is overly suspicious that "reforms" are a cover-up for plans to politicize the career civil service.
When he came to Washington, Campbell said many people including journalists, "sought me out" telling him that the government had to be shaken up and straightened out.
"Now," he said, "some of the critics have become at least partial defenders of the system."
Campbell referred to "the federal columns of The Star. The Post and that other little weekly that comes out . . . " Reporters covering government for the two dailies and the Federal Times (circulation 60,000) have been critical of some parts of the reorganization package, often comparing them to plans the Nixon administration had for making the government "more responsive."
Carter aides insist his plans to make it easier and faster to discipline federal workers and to bring women and minorities into government are neither political nor opposed to the merit system. And Campbell flatly denies that the White House has directed any campaign to "use" the media to make the government look so bad that reorganization, on the president's terms, is the only hope.
Campbell said it was absurd to suggest that the Reader's Digest, New Republic and other journals that have written stories critical of the bureaucracy have been "manipulated" by the Carter administration to do so.
Campbell said that often reporters ignore or confuse the good things he says about civil servants with the shortcomings he points out about the system they work under. Later, in a telephone interview, he said that "too many people live by cocktail cliches" they pick up about alleged government inefficiency.
One of the conference delegates asked Campbell whether CSC was going to "answer" what he called a "vicious attack on federal workers" in a series Channel 7 (WJLA-TV) is running on the bureaucracy. Campbell said he had been interviewed at length for the series, and had many good things to say about government workers. "Let's see if they use those quotes or not."
The CSC chief said President Carter considers reorganization of the civil service system "vital" to his overhaul of government. Overall, he believes the news media have been helpful and understanding in the reorganization process.
But he, and the White House, are concerned about the sensational antibureaucrat line some of the national press and television have taken, and the "suspicious" attitude of the Washington media which are read and heard by both rank-and-file bureaucrats and politicians.