The battle for the minds, eyeballs and attention spans of morning television viewers took on a new twist here yesterday: a 9:30 A.M. civil service show.
Civil Service Commission Chairman Alan K. Campbell went on against NBC's Mike Douglas, Joseph Califano of HEW had to compete with a "liquid protein" special on WJLA-TV. (The civil servants appeared on Public Broadcasting's televising of hearings until 12:30 p.m.)
The House Post Office-Civil Service Committee allowed the first live TV broadcast of hearings. Meetings of that committee are, except to civil service addicts, normally not, the most interesting or exciting way to spend a morning.
In its zeal to educate and inform the public, Public Broadcasting Corporation brought live hearings on the President Carter's legislative proposals to revamp the way Uncle Sam rewards, punishes and fires government workers. The broadcast was in direct competition with such shows as "Holywood Squares." "Love of Life" and :Phil Donohue talking about faith healers. It was a morning to remember.
Most of the people affected by the hearings and the president's plan to shake up government workers - this town's 375,000 government workers - were at work.
But the show was viewed, or at least available, to housewives, bedridden bureaucrats, preschool children, the unemployed and other stay-at-homes. They got a chance to see how Congress will handle the controversial White House plan to "reform" their government.
Since it involves the careers of the 2.6 million people who operate the government, the televised hearings have all the elements of a made-for-TV courtroom drama. Except there were no commercials, and this is all for real and an example of your tax dollars in action.
Michigan Democrat William Ford puffing his pipe not 10 feet from HEW Secretary Califano. Califano is the nation's best known ex-smoker, and smoking in his presence these days is a rare thing to see. Ford wanted to know why the Carter administration had not addressed labor relations in its reform package. He was told that would come later.
Missouri Democrat William Clay exercised a little legislative muscle and said yes, he did mind if key administration salesmen of reform testified and then left for other important meetings. Clay said if they were too busy, maybe they could come back next year. They stayed.
Conservative California Republican John H. Rousselot, whose constituents elect him to be suspicious about government, indicated he was suspicious about some of the "reform" plans. Rousselot wondered aloud whether the proposals to jack up the top management of government mightn't be used by White HOuse occupants to politicize the top career management of the federal establishment. He was assured it wouldn't, but seemed to be less than 100 per cent reassured.
Defense Secretary Harold Brown told the committee that reform is essential because present civil service rules and regulations sometimes break his heart and make his head ache.
CSC Chairman Campbell, who has preached reform from government show, siad this was the moment he cafeteria meetings to the "Today" and other reformers had been waiting for, a chance to tell Congress the need for new leverage to reward top workers and punish or removelincompetents.
Rep. Benjaminl A. Gilman (R-N.Y.) warned that the plan to phase out job preference for the government's 900,000 veterans won't fly.
Paul Duke of Public Broadcasting did a good job of giving the background of the reform action.
His coanchor and "except," Norman Ornstein, a political scientist from Catholic University, turned out to be a genuine expert on the complicated issues before the committee.
PBS will tape other sessions and show an edited version later this month. The hearings will resume today, but not on Channel 26, which is returning to Sesame Street. People can only take so much reform in one week. Even in Washington.