Federal workers, long the backbone of the U.S. Savings Bond program, are buying fewer bonds these days through the payroll savings plan, which "loans" $8 billion a year to Uncle Sam.
About $1 of every $8 spent each year for savings bonds comes from the "federal sector." That is the government's civilian workforce and the military establishment.
Last year, eight major federal departments reported that 75 percent or more of their employes were buying bonds through payroll savings. This year only two - Treasury and the Tennesse Valley Authority - have participation that high. Bond sales have slumped in Agriculture, General Services Administration, the Space Agency (NASA), Transportation, the U.S. Postal Services. Even the supersecret National Security Agency, which had 82 percent participation last year, got only 69 percent this year.
Nobody knows whether the drop in federal in-house bond sales is due to an anti-Carter bond boycott within the bureaucracy or reflects individual worries about inflation and tight money, causing people to stop payroll deductions.
Since April the American Federation of Government Employes, largest government union, has urged its 300,000 AFL-CIO members to boycott bonds. The idea is to protest the president's decision to "cap" federal pay raises for the second year in a row at 5.5 percent, despite double-digit inflation and higher salary boosts in the private sector.
Treasury officials say overall payroll bond sales are up 2 percent this year, but they had anticipated an 8 percent increase. They are reluctant to credit AFGE with having anything to do with the lowered sales.
And there has been resistance within the AFGE ITSELF FROM MEMBERS who think the bond boycott is stupid, ineffective or unpatriotic.
Despite member criticism and some threats to quit the union, an AFGE official said the "vast majority" of members heard from support the boycott. It is a first step, he said, to possible "job actions" later on, such as slowdowns and informational picketing.
Strikes against the government are illegal, with violators risking dismissal, a $1,000 fine and/or a year and a day in jail. Except for walkout in the Postal Service and by some air traffic controllers, the government has never had a major strike.
Treasury officials cite economic reasons, the introduction of a new bond later on and general unrest about pay raises for the sales slump in bonds. Union brass, on the other hand, do not have solid figures to show whether the boycott is growing. At the same time, the national AFL-CIO so far has refused to endorse a nationwide boycott by its membership. Whatever the reasons, sales are down and feelings are running high.
In May, the AFGE office reported that a small unit of Veterans Administration workers in Knox, Iowa, had dropped - through payroll saving s cancellation - the purchase of $5,018 bonds per pay period.
Another small office of Social Security workers in Creston, Iowa, reported withdrawal of about $500 in regular deduction, representing about one-third of all payroll savings, from that office.
At a naval installation in suburban Maryland to angry secretary got the key to the union bulletin board and removed a poster advocating the bond boycott. She said it was "unpatriotic." A union lawyer was dispatched to the office, and the sign went back under glass on the bulletin board reserved for union announcements.
Union officials at the Census Bureau and Office of Education said there had been a "good response" from employes asked to participate in the bond boycott. But none had actual figures.
A Social Security office in New York with hundreds of workers extimated - from union sources - that half the employes who were buying bonds through payroll savings had canceled them.
Don McIntyre, president of the AFGE District representing 23,000 dues-paying members in Washington, said feedback from locals was spotty. But he said one member who was not identifed had cashed in $15,000 worth of bonds he had bought over a long period of years in government.
Treasury officials have warned union leaders and savings bond sales personnel to advise employes of tax disadvantages if they cash in bonds before maturity or retirement.