Under the special imperatives of a "new day" that afficaldom has scheduled for Jan 11, Wilma Lehman is in an unusual category of federal civil servants who are being urged to produce less.
Her product emerges with fearsome authority from errant stacks of documents and records that clutter the chair, floor and desk of her Civil Service Commission cubicle. She is a writer of regulations.
In implementing President Carter's Civil Service Reform Act, the administration's personnel officials are trying to do for the management of their own vast force what they have undertaken in other realms such as air travel-brake the once-popular bureaucratic penchant for regulation.
The paternal instinct dies hard, officials conceded, but they are convinced the time is ripe and the effort essential to improving service and efficiency to improving service and efficiency in theysystem. As much as a year may be required now to fill a senior-level job and two to three years to resolve some employe disputes, officials said.
The thrust of the reform act is to give agencies more freedom to do what they choose and make them more accountable for those actions, officials said.
"The question is, can I (as a regulator) bite may tongue and shut my mouth and let them (federal agencies) go ahead and do whatever it is? I expect there will be a bunch of serious gaffes out there that will force us to swallow hard, but that' the price of freedom," said Reginald M. Jones, an official of the commission's Bureau of Policies and Standards who directs the regulations operation.
Officials also have asked the regulation writers to reestablish the trampled boundaries between the law as pased by Congress and what Jones called the well intended embelishments and afterthoughts of civil servants.
The regulations and the 5-foot thick multivolume Federal Personnel Manual that further elaborates on the law have grown full of ambiguities. These have snarled court litigation. labor-management relations and an array of other procedures relatig to federal workers, Jones said.
"Over time, the purpose, of these writing began to get obscure and we began to have three categories: The law says, the regulation say and finally, WE say.
"Then some poor devil in the personnel office would have to figure out if something was mandatory. Does 'shall' or 'should' mean 'must'? Jones said. "People are litigating like crazy over some manual writer's gratuitous parenthetical advice."
"A lot of people think the regulations are the law," he added.
Some civil servants are resisting the new approach, officials noted, but Civil Service Commission Chairman Alan K. Campbell has warned that those who are able to make the adjustment "will prevail."
To emphasize the new permissive bent of the commission's regulators and the determination to effect change, commission Vice Chairman Jule Sugarman recently donned a custom T-shirt in anticipation of negative reactions from agency managers. The T-shirt is emblazoned with the words, "Yes You Can."
A new "Yes You Can" service will set up shop in the commission's successor agency to respond to agencies' questions about the new system, Sugarman announced.
"We have met the enemy, and they is us," he added, quoting the famous line from the comic strip character, Pogo.
On Jan. 1, the nearly century-old Civil Service Commission is to be divided into "two new major agencies and some smaller entities. Outwardly, the transition will entail little more than new letterheads and door plates, officials said.
The new Office of Personnel Management will replace the commission as the president's arm for managing his work force. Some civil servants have called it "OPM for the masses."
A Merit System Protection Board will assume the commission's other major rule, as protector of employes' rights and adjudicator in their disputes with managers, with extra protection for so-called whistle-blowers.
Ten days later, complex laws designed to motivated the new apparatus click into effect. They are to tie the pay of about 72,500 midlevel executives to performance instead of longevity, prescribe new ays of evaluating performance, set up a new basis for labor-management relations and simplify hiring and firing procedures.
The most dramatic new provision, offcials said, creates a Senior Executive Service, which will allow about 9,000 federal mangers to trade some of their present job security for a crack at higher pay and other rewards for superior performance. They will risk firing or demotion for poor work.
The SES is voluntary for present executives. On March 15, they will be notified as to how their positions have been classified in the SES scheme and will then have until June 11 to decide whether or not to join, officials said.
Cadres of regulation writers such as Lehman must spell out what specific actions the law requires people to take. The writers have been "rusing like mad", as one put it, to meet the Jan, 11 deadline.
Lehman, who has been turning out regulations for the commission since 1970, recently completed the first model "de-regulated" for publication in the Federal Register.
Changing her old habits is not easy, "but I think we've making an honest effort here," she said.
Under the former system, for instance a statute dealing wth employe misconduct cases includes five pages of regulation and 77 pages of personnel manual "preaching information," as Lehman put it, plus an appendix.
She estimated that the new method will cut that to about four pages of regulations and only 10 pages of supplementary guidlines.
In addition to shortening the language, Lehman now must separate clearly the "shalls and musts" (requirements) from the preaching language such as "it's always wise. . . " and "You should be aware. . . she said.
The writing is "dull and precise" but the work is "intellectually interesting," Lehman said. She and her coworkers converse in a type of shortland, calling regulations by their numbers, as if they were old friends. "I guess it does get a disconcerting for our families and friends when we do it at cocktail parties," she said.
Her recently completed model regulation describes new procedures for firing or disciplining employes who do not perform acceptably.
"I write from the law," she said, brandishing a portion of the U.S. Code. "And I decide what has to be added in order to make the law work."
Lehman made one interpretation that favours the employe by requiring that in cases where grounds for dismissal include misconduct and poor performance, the employer must follow the tougher of two available procedures.
"This involves some personal judgment on my part," she said, adding that she does not make those judgements in a vacuum. There is a process of consultation with agencies, she said.
"In this case, the agencies bought it. In another case, they didn't. I tried to say the agency must give an employe a chance to improve (his work) after a dismissal notice has been sent to him.But the agencies had a kitten, so I took that out. Now they must give the employe that chance sometimes, but it's up to them when."
She said agency reaction so far indictates that the largest ones, with sizable personnel staffs favour the least amount of commission regulation while some of the smaller ones still want things made explicit for them.
For decades, civil service regulations have been part of a paternalistic operation designed to"make everything as uniform as possible, to make sure, as we gazed across 2 million employes, that all were treated exactly the same," said Jones, the regulations operations director.
"The idea was to limit people's choices," he said.
In Jones' view, the new approach is not a switch form wrong to right but a swing of the pendulum from one era's legitimate goals" to another. "I don't think there are any villains in this piece," he said.
As soon as the reform act was passed last October, the administration launched a program to educate agencies in the new thinking. This began with a three-day conference at Ocean City, Md., involving about 400 federal managers and personnel specialists from throughout the country.
In workshops, the agency representatives took on administration experts in free-wheeling, sometimes heated discussions of such subjects as supergrade allocations and performance standards for handling out merit pay rises.
A recurring theme in all the discussions was the new emphasis on management prerogatives and accountability.
Expert watchers of the bureaucracy had predicted that the fate of the new law depended on how it was received by federal managers and supervisors.
A congressional aide, one of the several who monitored the conference, said: "Most of them seem suprisingly open to the changes, so far."