Many federal workers-right or wrong-think their boss, Jimmy Carter, detests them. Or worse, that he is using them as a political football in a hypocritical game of kick-the-bureaucrat. Object: Divert the public attention from unsolved, and growing, inflation and energy problems by "Band-Aid style "economizing" in government.
Government officials who are paid to defend the president and push his policies insist that Carter has nothing but love and admiration for the typical hard-working federal clerk, scientist or letter carrier. His "attacks" on bureaucracy, they say, have been against a system which stifles creativity and initiative, not blasts at flesh-and-blood taxpayers who happen to be civil servants too.
But it is sometimes difficult for a president to attack a system without tarring, perhaps inadvertently, the people within that system. It reminds some of the Vietnam war commander who was quoted as saying he had to destroy the village to save it. One's perspective, in such cases, can depend on whose hut, or career, is being burned for purposes of general salvation.
A lot of feds feel presidential and congressional assaults on civil service benefits, from cheapie parking to pensions, are to cover up failures in solving the nation's economic problems.
The president's plan to eliminate subsidized federal employe parking is politically popular. And perhaps justified. But what about the thousands of free parking spaces for Capitol Hill VIP's? Or White House aides? Or those reserved congressional slots at National and Dulles airports that ordinary citizens cannot use?
The president's plan to "cap" federal-military pay raises sounds great. It plays in Peoria. But what about the last round of $12,900 raises for members of Congress? Or the $20,000 increases some White House aides have enjoyed since the Georgians marched into town? How about additional tax breaks Congress is planning for itself? Or the quickie Senate action allowing members to keep earning pots of money making speeches to special interest groups?
So far, the only draftees in the all-volunteer war against excessive price and wage increases have been federal white collar and blue collar workers.
Both labor and management in the private sector have repeatedly told White House economists to butt out of their negotiations. Recent contracts that shatter the "voluntary" wage guidelines are reassessed by administration aides who, using some really new math, decide that double-digit percentage raises somehow fall within the guidelines after all.
The only administration wage "victories" to date have been made with federal workers who, by law, cannot strike. Next October's planned 5.5 percent raise is a necessary "sacrifice" the president said, even though he admits that a raise of twice that amount is due government workers to keep them even with inflation.
Congress, with quiet White House blessings, is now talking about eliminating one of the two annual cost-of-living raises federal and military retirees get. They say it costs too much, and is more than retirees get in industry or under social security. Maybe. But the retirees get raises tied to inflation. It is inflation that causes the increases, not the increases themselves that cause inflation.
There is talk of forcing federal workers to go under social security, like most of the rest of us. That may be a good idea for future federal workers. But is it fair, long-service bureaucrats ask, to change the system they have paid for, and expected, now?
Even the most antibureaucrat politicians agree that inflation is the real villain. The question is whether whacking back bureaucrats' pay and fringe benefits is the way to lick inflation.
Federal pay has been "capped" and will be again. Has it made the Teamsters less effective in getting what they want? Will the United Auto Workers go along with a 5.5 percent raise because HEW or Commerce is doing it? Are manufacturers-or the oil companies-cutting or holding prices under the voluntary guidelines?
Government workers are probably as patriotic, and as smart, as any other group of wage-earners in the country. Most of them don't mind being first out of the trenches, but they would at least like to know that somebody else will follow shortly.
Finally, the big losers in all this may be the public itself. If it can be conned into believing that largely cosmetic economy cuts in government will help their standard of living then inflation will not go away, and gasoline isn't going to get .In fact, it could get worse while all of us are cheering some public relations political ploys that kick the feds to little or no real purpose.