Congressional "experts" say the President's civil service reform plan needs major surgery and a bionic arm to make it through the Senate and House this year.
Despite a White House pep talk with House Democrats last week, key members of the Post Office-Civil Service Committee remain lukewarm to the reform package that has outraged veterans groups and drawn fire from most major postal and federal unions. The shakeups the president has proposed, to strengthening managememnt control of the bureaucracy have been described by the President as the "centerpiece" for his reform of the entire federal establishment.
The two big hangups in this election year are the proposal to eliminate lifetime hiring and job retention protection for military veterans, and the lack of labor-management language to woo big labor support.
There is a fight going on within the admisistration as to what kind of labor-managaement language, if any, the President can endorse, and whether it will be a separate package or part of the reform plan.
Unions want the bill to be part of the reform package, or at least given equal treatment so that it can be moved with, or ahead, of the reform plan. White House officials say the president is steadfast, for the moment, against any changes in the proposals to phase out veterans preference.
Post Office-Civil Service Committee chairman Robert N.C. Nix (D-Pa.) is on record as promising final committee action on the bill by the end of May. Nix has his own political problems - facing a very tough challenge in the Philadelphia Democratic primary on May 16.
Committe members at the White House meeting got the impression that the veterans preference changes will stay in the bill. Although many members of COngress think VP has outlived its usefulness, and does discriminate against nonveterans and women, they are not anxious to tackle powerful veterans groups with an election just around the corner.
The only big union supporting the overall "reform" plan is the American Federation of Government Employes. And the 300,000 member AFL-CIO organization has notified the White House that its support, which has caused much dissension within the AFGF, will disappear unless labor-management legislation backed by the White Houses is forthcoming, soon.
The fate of the bill, at least in the House, now rests on the outcome of the Philadelphia Democratic primary; and decisions on labor-management and veterans preference.
Civil servic reform, obviously, isn't much of an issue in Nix's Philadelphia primary fight, but if he loses and becomes a lame duck, he easily could lose interest in pushing the reform plan during the remainder of his term.
At this point it is too early to write an obituary of the reform bill, although many members of Congress wish the White House would hold it over for another year. At the same time, the White House has shown an amazing capacity to sell the reform packate to the media and the public. There are just too many ifs to call the outcome of reform now. It does not havae the momentum that it had a couple of months ago and it will take major White House concessions to again get it rolling.