Watch for a major media blitz next year, zeroing in on the way federal workers are paid on the job and during retirement. It will be sponsored by the Carter administration, and will feature a blend of facts, comedy and horror stories about the government's salary and retirement system.
If the newsprint and electronic air assault is as successful as the 1978 selling of civil service reform, nearly everybody in government will notice big changes in future pay raises and retirement benefits.
Presidential assistants are convinced that the government's complicated and controversial salary system is out of whack. Unlike the Nixon and Ford administrations, which reached the same conclusions, the Carter people think they have the muscle, talent, votes and proper political climate to make the changes.
President Carter has been reported as feeling that federal workers are "overpaid" for what they do, and in comparison with private industry. That is not quite correct. What he feels, aides say, is that "many" federal workers are overpaid and he dislikes the fact that the government's annual pay rise mechanism is a rigid, nationwide system.
The administration plans to dust off recommendations made by former vice president Nelson Rockefeller.It will ask Congress to set up an area wage system for more than a half million clerical, administrative and technical government employes. In simplest terms, they would be taken off the regular annual October catch-up-with-industry pay system. Instead, wages would be adjusted locally according to prevailing practive in private industry.
That kind of area wage system (similar to the method now used to set blue-collar government pay) would mean bigger pay raises for some government workers in big cities and high-cost areas, and smaller boosts for civil servants in smaller towns.
"Everybody who opposes this assumes it will mean smaller pay raises for government workers," an administration official said. "The fact is that we don't know that it would, and neither do they." He said the president does feel that it is unrealistic for the U.S. government of pay a single national rate for jobs, particularly in the clerical field.
The other item the White House will try to sell Congress and the public is a "reform" of the federal pension system.
Administration officials would like to eliminate the twice-yearly cost-of-living raises federal and military retirees get. They would put them on a cycle so they would get only one inflation catch-up every 12 months. Officials are also intrigued with the politically popular idea of putting civil servants under Social Security.
The drive to sell pay and retirement changes will be handled by the Office of Personnel Management, expected to be headed by present Civil Service Commission Chairman Alan K. Campbell. The OPM is one of three new agencies that will take over functions now handled by the CSC.
Campbell was the master salesman of civil service "reform." an unsexy issue that had little political appeal this time last year.Congress and the public bought reform after reading and hearing horror stories about lack of accountability in the bureaucracy, and the difficulty of motivating good workers and firing bad ones.
CSC's popular press chief, Joseph Oglesby, will retire at the end of this month. He had planned to quit a year ago (after 28 year in government) but stayed on to help Campbell and the White House get the reform bill passed.
Campbell is already looking around for a dynamic type-preferably from the news business-to replace Oglesby. The top press job at OPM is expected to be a political Schedule C appointment. Campbell envisions his new top press spokesperson as an aggressive advocate of Carter-type reforms. That will certainly set the tone for other top press jobs in other agencies.