Ceola Naylor, a 30-year-old GS-9 government secretary, says she is "not the type who would try to put the president of the United States on the spot" with a tough question.
Nevertheless, at 8 tonight, in the cafeteria of Fairfax High School, the Falls Church woman "terrified," she say - will have a chance to quiz Jimmy Carter on a topic that has riled a good many civil servants in the suburbs around Washington.
Naylor is one of eight "ordinary citizens," of Northern Virginia who have been invited to ask President Carter questions about one of his most complicated pieces of legislation, his plan to overhaul the civil service system.
The event, to be carried live on local television, is part of the Carter administration's accelerating effort to educate the public on an unglamorous issue and drum up great support for the bill as it nears floor action in the House and Senate.
Carter has called the revision plan the "single most important step that we can take to ensure that the government does what it is supposed to do." However, some federal workers, their unions and congressional supporters have opposed it bitterly on the grounds that it will "politicize" the civil service by giving managers too much power.
The one-hour "roundtable discussion" a format Carter has used several times elsewhere around the country, will begin with a brief statement by the president, followed by an "exchange of views" between the president and the panel Finally. Carter will field a few questions from the audience of 400 Northern Virginians, officials said.
Civil Service Commission Chairman Alan K. Campbell, the president's chief salesman of the civil service revisions, and Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.), also will be on the panel. The high school is in Fisher's district.
While other area representatives, notably Herbert Harris (D-Va.) and Gladys Spellman (D-Md.), have opposed the president's plan Fisher has supported its general thrust, with a few "reservations."
The announcement of the rare presidential visit to the district sparked a fight overtickets, which were parceled out to the 400 Virginians through various civic organizations.
Campbell said his office and the White House supervise the selection of the panelists, all residents of Fisher's district. Four reportedly came from a list submitted by Fisher's office of constituents who had earlier expressed some concern about the civil service revisions; others were assembled informally to "ensure a good mix" racially, politically, by sex, and from varying levels of the government.
Campbell or his staff people they knew at government agencies to help them find, for example, "an articulate woman administrator," or some other particular type of employe from Fisher's district.
The prospective panelists were not asked where they stood in civil service reform Campbell said.
At least one man on the panel reportedly cleared his appearance with his government boss so that "he would feel free to raise the questions he wanted" with the president, and made it clear he would not be representing his agency.
Naylor, the GS 8, said she had not taken an "active interest" in the civil service revision bill, although she said she is "very interested in how it will affect people like me." She planned to spend last night studying briefing materials supplied by the Civil Service Commission, and thinking of questions, she said. She also had asked for suggestions from people in her office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development
She said she "couldn't believe it" when, on Monday, she was called away from her typing and dictation by a deputy undersecretary and offered a public appearance with the president. "Finally I said, 'Why not?'"
The citizen panel also includes:
Wayne Buckle, a chief accountant for the American Federation of Government Employees; Ruth Van Cleve, an Interior Department employe; Mary Ann Lecos, former chairman of the Fairfax County School Board and a Fisher constituent; James Chlicht, a young administrator at the Office of Management and Budget; Larry Suiters, a Republican lawyer and public figure from Fisher's district: Dwight F. Rettie, a National Park Service employe who has been critical of civil service revisions: and Paul Gilbert, a civilian employe of the Navy, a manpower specialist.
As the issue of revising the civil service system moved to the front burner last week, top presidential aide Hamilton Jordan began hosting twice-weekly strategy sessions in the bill, in the Roosevelt Room near the Oval Office, which "they use when they want to gear peoples' spirits up," according to Chris Matthews, a White House aide who attends the meetings.