Thirteen understandably excited bureaucrats - ranging from a real secretary who types, to an assistant secretary who runs a major department-are preparing for a not-so-routine Monday government conference.
The session is with the boss, Jimmy Carter. He will have the carefully selected group over to the White House to talk shop.
The meeting was planned so the president could explain to the civil servants, who have been carefully chosen by job, grade, department, race and sex, that he is not anti-federal worker. He hopes they will get that word back to their 2.6 million colleagues. Just to make sure, the White House will videotape the session.
If you are one of the 350,000 Washingtonians who work for Uncle Sam, there is a chance you might know-or know of-some of the people who will meet the president on your behalf.
They come from diverse backgrounds and jobs: a legal secretary at the State Department; a top taxman at the IRS, a librarian at HEW; a mid-level Navy official; an up-from-the-ranks Hispanic at the International Communications Agency, and others from Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, and the manager of a laundry at a local Army base. All have at least one thing in common: They have won awards and recognition for outstanding federal service and from groups and associations outside of government.
The names of the participants are being kept secret by the White House to protect them from advance publicity or pressure from colleagues who might have suggestions or questions they would like to get to the president.
White House officials say there has been "no attempt to influence or suggest" questions that the bureaucrats may ask Carter. They expect the issue of a scaled-down 5.5 percent October pay raise (which the president has proposed) to come up. Also, what about the possible merger of the federal retirement system with social security? And fears of politicization through civil service reform? And job jitters about reorganization-related downgradings?
Alan K. Campbell, director of the Office of Personnel Management, has talked with the president about concerns of federal workers over pay controls, reorganization and the like. Campbell has met with government workers all over the country, who have voiced many of the same complaints and fears.
Federal unions charge that the president is using the bureaucracy as a political football, holding down bona fide pay raises while letting industry step outside "voluntary" wage and price guidelines. They also believe that the White House is behind congressional moves to merge the generous civil service system with the much-less generous social security system.
Carter and his aides feel the bureaucracy has received a "misguided" view of his attitude, hopes and plans for government workers through the unions and the press. In effect, the administration will go over the heads of the normal dispensers of information to tell a delegation of workers just what's happening, and what is next.
To make sure that other government workers get the word, the White House will videotape the word. Tapes (for a fee) will be made available to government agencies around the world.
Carter doesn't have to do all this. Politically this president, any president, can get more votes beating the bureaucracy than stroking it. Outside of company-town Washington, where the U.S. government is the company, the federal establishment is misunderstood-or all too well understood-but universally unloved!
Carter is taking a calculated risk. He will have to try to please workers of the nation's largest business without bringing down the wrath of its 220 million stockholders.