The Carter and Reagan people handling the transition of the bureaucracy are a real class act, according to most insiders viewing this first-of-kind transfer of the government's merit system machinery. That is good news whether you wield power or a broom for Uncle Sam.
Of course there may be political shenanigans. Democratic appointees may try to shed their cloaks and "burrow" into civil service-safe jobs. Or some incoming Republican zealot, who thinks he sees Democrat saboteurs behind every file cabinet, may try to clean house with a flamethrower, but for the moment there is little indication of that.
The people at the top seem genuinely anxious to make this transition as clean and smooth as possible. For this, high marks have to go to Jack Watson at the White House, Alan K. Campbell of the Office of Personnel Management, and, of course, outgoing boss Jimmy Carter, who is being gracious in defeat.
For their part the Reagan team assigned to get hold of the vast bureaucracy has not sprouted horns. They seem to be going out of their way to reassure civil servants that they are understood, appreciated and safe. Last Friday most of the government's personnel chiefs met with Donald J. Devine and R. T. McNamar. They are the "links" between the Reagan transition team and the OPM and the career side of government.
Most of the career types who attended that meeting -- only one I talked with refused any comment -- said they were pleased with the meeting, and especially happy that it had even taken place. Devine is a political science professor at the University of Maryland. McNamar is a Los Angeles financial consultant. Reporters covering the federal beat have been advised to learn how to spell their names, as both are expected to figure high in the personnel management side of the Reagan administration. At Friday's session both men, who already know a lot about how government ticks, stressed that Reagan and his advisers have a high regard for career U.S. workers, the merit system and the "reforms" made in it by the Carter administration. Both said they are anxious to preserve and protect the merit system and the people in it. Both also said that if personnel directors get any political heat or questionable orders during the transition, they should blow the whistle directly to them. Office of Personnel Managment has investigators ready to check out those complaints. Or call the newspapers!
On the Carter side, Jack Watson has frozen political hiring (as reported here last week) and told departments and agencies not to convert political people into career jobs. Defense Secretary Harold Brown -- who heads the biggest federal operation -- has told his people not to fill any senior level jobs or conversions without his personal approval. "The Reagan people said all the right things" at the meeting according to a top personnel man, "and Carter appears anxious to go out with style and class." That sort of good will is vital at this time. There never has been a transition when so many jobs can be filled by the incoming president (nearly 6,000 top political and career slots), or so much pressure from lame-ducks for protection. At the same time the Senior Executive Service never has gone through a change of administration. It would seem that both the outgoing Democrats and incoming Republicans -- at the top -- are trying very hard to make sure the revised merit system is not damaged and that bad precedents are not set for the next change of power.
Both sides are aware that the nation has not had a president who completed two full terms since Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961. It seems that both sides are being especially careful this time not to make any mistakes that could come back to haunt them in this part of the transition.