Top brass in charge of federal training and promotions believe they are in a strong position to push ahead with several controversial programs to give special emphasis to getting women and minorities out of deadend government jobs. Each year Uncle Sam takes about 490,000 "personnel actions" - hiring replacements, promoting or transferring workers in the nation's biggest shifting of jobs.
Office of Personnel Management officials met yesterday to discuss the impact of the Supreme Court ruling in the Weber case. Although it dealt with quota systems in the private sector, federal officials believe it paves the way for much more liberal affirmative action programs in training and promoting minorities in the bureaucracy.
The Weber case involved a law-suit brought by a white Louisiana factory worker. He claimed he had been denied promotion because of "reverse discrimination." The program he challenged was a temporary upgrading agreement for black workers approved by the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp., and the United Steelworkers union.
On Wednesday the court - in a 5-to-2 vote - ruled that racial quotas to overcome imbalances in training and promotion may be used even if the firm does not have a proved history of discrimination.
Office of Personnel Mangement Director Alan K. Campbell said yesterday that his staff is analyzing the Weber decision to see how it may affect government training and promotion programs. Campbell said it means there is "no question we clearly are on the right constitutional and legal track" with plans to give special attention to minorities and women "underrepresented" in some occupations and in middle and upper grade jobs.
OPM is the successor to the old Civil Service Commission. It develops rules agencies must follow in training and promotion plans. In recent months the OPM staff, prodded by deputy director Jule Sugarman, has come up with a variety of special emphasis plans for minorities. They have been praised as "affirmative action" and condemned as "quota systems."
At one point the House forbade OPM to try out a "special emphasis" plan within the Defense Department, which has about half the government's civilian work force. Later, however, many points within the Sugarman plan were incorporated into the Civil Service Reform Act that Congress enacted.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.). It was intended originally to force agencies to give more attention to Hispanic males, but was broadened to include all minorities and women.
The only question at OPM is how to get the most effective mileage out of the Garcia amendment, which is now law. Officials believe the Supreme Court action in Weber will allow them to implement some of the more liberal affirmative-action plans they have been considering.
One of them is to set aside certain percentage goals, by occupation or by geographical area, for minorities if it is determined they are underrepresented in the job population in government or at certain grade levels. Emphasis, however, would be on in-house training and promotion rather than hiring, officials say.
Although much of the push, for special emphasis has come from Sugarman, the number two official at OPM, it will be Campbell who makes the final decision as to what type programs OPM recommends.
Insiders say that Campbell is dedicated to upgrading women and minorities in the federal work force, but that he wants result-producing programs. Campbell himself says he is "dead set" against racial or sex quotas for hiring.
"Scotty [Campbell's nickname] is worried that affirmative action programs not be blown out of proportion, unduly raising the expectations of minorities . . .," an OPM official said.