New, improved methods for firing or demoting "incompetent" civil servants will be spelled out next week in a special, detailed guidance bulletin from the Office of Personnel Management.

Federal officials do not anticipate a wave of firings or downgradings, but they concede that the stream-lined system -- a key provision of President Carter's civil service reforms -- will make it easier for managers to deal with poor performers.

OPM's guidelines -- due out Jan. 24 -- will tell managers, supervisors and agency heads how to use existing or new techniques to get rid of government workers who don't measure up.

Many federal officials, and political appointees coming in with each new administration, complain that federal workers are virtually fireproof. They say the red tape, and burden of proof needed to discharge or demote poor performers is so great that most managers give up, or never try to pry a bona fide drone from his or her job. The system also leads to dismissals for other reasons, for arm-twisting to force resignations or retirements and for sometimes faked mental or medical disability charges to drive people out of government.

Carter aides say the new disciplinary system -- approved by Congress -- should lead to greater efficiency in government, by giving managers to tools to deal with poor performers.

Many government watchers conclude that the only thing worse than "fire proof" civil servants would be a system that would permit capricious and unjust dismissals.

Many civil servants, who are also taxpayers, worry that the new system will be used by politicians to clean the bureaucracy of "incompetents" whose primary crime is refusal to bend the rules. Others predict that mean-minded, managers will have a field day with their newly-acquired power over underlings. Whether the new system will be better, or worse, is debatable. What is fact is that it will get its real test shortly.

Bernard Cushman, a magician at squeezing things out of the postal service, has joined the American Postal Workers Union to "provide assistance" in industrial relations. Tanslation: Cushman will get big bucks for providing major assistance to the giant Union in contract talks with the U.S. Postal Service. The contract expires next year.

Cushman is credited with pulling off some real coups at the bargaining table in past sessions. Then he represented four postal organizations. Meantime, the USPS has become much tougher. The current three-year USPS contract with major postal unions is the trend-setter for the rest of government. That is, other federal unions would like it and federal agency managers would hate it. It addition to a no-layoff clause for senior workers, the agreement provides for annual pay raises PLUS cost-of-living adjustments every six months.