Behind closed doors, in a room on Capitol Hill, 17 members of Congress are to get this morning what they wanted: a chance to pore over a 150-page document that by all accounts is tedious reading and based primarily on previously published material - but that has become what is known in Washington as "hot."
The document, called the Lyle report, has prompted a classic tug-of-war between key members of Congress and the White House over access to its contents. Today, score one for the Hill.
White House aides are scheduled to carry a couple of copies of the report to the Cannon Building at 10 a.m., for "perhaps two hours" of study by members of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, sources said, and Civil Service Commission Chairman Alan K. Campbell and an aide will be on hand to answer their questions. Then, the aides and the copies of the report will head back to the White House.
The dispute has threatened to sidetrack President Carter's civil service revision bill, which he has termed the "centerpiece" of his government reorganization program. Officials said they hope today's viewing will put it to rest.
The report, 36 pages of which have been supplied to The Washington Post by a federal employes union, outlines alleged subversion of the civil service system for political purpose during the Nixon years. Prepared by a volunteer on the Carter transition staff, according to administration spokesmen familiar wiht it, the document alson contains "damning" but unsubstantiated charges against eight career Civil Service Commission officials and recommends further investigation.
Led by Rep. John Moss (D-Calif.), several are maintaining that they need this information to evaluate the proposed legislation. The White House position - that to make public such a document would violate the civil rights of the people it named and jeopardize an investigation currently under way into these and other charges.
Rumbling beneath the public rhetoric have been traditional political pressures on all sides.
A number of sources on the House civil service committee have indicated they would rather keep the Lyle report separate from the issue of civil service revisions, but that opponents of the president's bill are trying to use the report to hold up the legislation. "Trouble is," as one source put it, "the White House keeps playing into their hands by the sorry way they've handled this."
Civil Service Commission Chairman Campbell, the president's chief salesman of the civil service revision effort, said yesterday that if that is true, then he deserves the blame. He had recommended against releasing the report, he said, "because I feel strongly that it would be irresponsible to release such unsubstantiated conclusions when these peoples' professional lives are at stake."
The commission has hired a private attorney to conduct an investigation of these and other charges of patronage hiring, failure to enforce personnel laws and the like, Campbell noted. A report on that is due the end of June.
"We probably should have just released that damn report," he said. "It would have been a 'one-day wonder.'"
The administration last week had agreed to allow interested members to see the report at the White House, with an understanding they would not meke its contents public. Several members indicated they found this arrangement unsatisfactory.
Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-Md.) said of that offer, "I suspect members of Congress will resent the implication that their judgment is less than trustworthy."
She observed that the Carter administration had put itself in the "unbelievable position of defending the people Nixon hired for the purpose of circumventing the civil service system."
Spellman, chairman of a civil service subcommittee, had been trying to get a copy of the report for weeks, she said. She announced at a recent hearing that she had a bootleg copy but added later that "it makes pretty dry reading, and I want to make sure it's authentic" before spending any additional time on it.
Rep. Newton Steers Jr. (R-Md.) announced in a "News from Newt" press release Monday that he had taken the White House up on its invitation to view the report and concluded that "the Carter Civil Service Reorganization plan would make legal the kinds of abuses documented in that report."
Campbell responded that it would be "just the opposite." The president's revisions would set up an independent body "ready to take action" when the question of such abuses arises, he said.
Spellman and others have expressed concern over reports or rumors - denied by the administration that some of those accused of wrongdoing in the Lyle report may have helped write the Carter civil service revision bill, " making legal their own past illegal acts."
Campbell says that the names mentioned in the report include "white hats as well as black hats," but that none of the eight civil servants whose alleged misdeeds are at issue were involved in preparing the legislation.
The document is based primarily on previous investigation by Congress and by the Civil Service Commission as well as some personal interviews, according to Campbell and others.
Edward Lyle, the Washington lawyer who prepared the report for the transition team, yesterday declined to comment yesterday.
Some of the civil servants mentioned in the report already have been cleared of wrongdoing by a federal grand jury following a Justice Department had access to the Lyle report in that instance.
In any case, spokesmen for the civil service committee have indicated an intention to procede to work out a compromise on the civil service revision bill independent of the Lyle report issue.
Committee vice chairman Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), who is serving as a mediator and navigator for the bill, said in a hearing Monday that, "even if the bill were written by the Mafia in collaboration with Fidel Castro and Leonid Brezhnev . . . I would still hope we would consider it on its own merits."