Heavy pressure from the House has sidetracked, and maybe even killed, a controversial plan that would have given preferential hiring treatment; and civil service tenure to women and minorities in government.
Carter administration officials had hoped by this time to have the so-called special emphasis program in effect. The plan, devised by Civil Service Commission Vice Chairman Jule Sugarman, would have earmarked a number of government jobs for "underrepresented" minorities. Under the plan, up to 20 percent of the vacancies in various occupations could have been filled by outsiders without the requirement that they compete through regular merit system channels.
Workers brought into government under the special emphasis program could, after serving a probation period, be converted to permanent civil service job status.
Initial opposition to the Sugarman plan centered around charges that it represented reverse discrimination. But in recent months new fears have surfaced in and out of government, that the special emphasis hiring could become a tool to bring more political appointees into government at all levels.
House opposition to the Sugarman plan - fed by fearful or disgruntled bureaucrats - has resulted in language in a Defense money bill specifically barring Army, Navy or Air Force from even trying the special emphasis hiring system on an experimental basis. Congressional insiders expect the Senate will go along with the ban, which opponents say could have resulted in upwards of 200,000 Defense jobs being temporarily removed from the merit system hiring track.
Sugarman, a long-time Carter aide and adviser on civil service matters, has insisted that his plan is aimed at correcting imbalance in federal employment resulting from decades of discrimination against women and minorities. He is also the architect of the Head Start program for por pre-school-age children.
His plan would require agencies to make headcounts in various job categories to see if women, blacks. Hispanics or American Indians are "underrepresented" in employment. If such a finding was made, agencies would have authority to earmark up to 20 percent of their job vacancies over a 5-year period for entry outside regular merit system channels. It has been arugedthat the surveys might show - in jobs like social work, library sciences and teaching - that white males are "underrepresented" and therefore also eligible for special emphasis hiring.
The House, however, vetoed the idea of any kind of preferential hiring with any of the 990,000 civilian jobs in the Defense Department.
The language of the conference report on the defense appropriations bill, says:
"It is recognized that competitive procedures need to be reviewed on a continuous basis to insure freedom from bias and applicatibility to the employment requirements" of the government. However, it said "certain aspects of the proposed special emphasis program . . . appear to violate not only long standing traditions of selection based soley upon merit, but would open the federal employment process to the very types of discriminatiory abuses that the special emphasis program purports to eliminate."
In debate on the civil service reform bill, which passed the House easily last week, floor managers for the president agreed not to implement the special emphasis program in government unless major changes are made in the plan as originally worked up by the Civil Service Commission.
Political appointees and career employes who favor a new approach to open up federal jobs to minorities argue that the Sugarman plan isn't dead. But all agree it must be taken back to the drawing board for major changes before the administration dares put it into effect, anywhere, even on a test basis.