The education of Rep. Frank Wolf began shortly after President Reagan's inauguration. Republican Wolf, a former baby-food lobbyist who had campaigned tirelessly for nearly six years to win Northern Virginia's 10th Congressional District seat, met with National Treasury Employees Union officials and berated them for not supporting Reagan.
After all, Wolf told them, it was Reagan who had pledged to keep twice-a-year cost-of-living adjustments for retired federal workers on pensions -- a major concern of the union and Wolf's constituents, 30 percent of whom work for Uncle Sam.
Union officials say they never heard from Wolf after that dressing down.
Soon after, Reagan abruptly changed his view and supported a once-a-year pension adjustment. The loyal Frank Wolf eventually followed, doing an about-face on one of his own campaign promises when he voted for the Reagan budget package that eliminated the semiannual adjustment.
The issue, which directly affects more than 23,000 federal and military retirees who live in the 10th District, is certain to provide campaign ammunition for opponents of Wolf, one of a number of conservative Republicans swept into office on Reagan's coattails and the promise of a brighter economic future.
"Frank Wolf is trying to walk a very fine line," said Jerry Klepner, legislative director of the Treasury employes' union. "Being a Republican, he's in a bind. He has acted as if he must put the best face on the actions of the president as they relate to federal workers. But in most cases, they have not related well."
"I think I've kept my promise on really everything," said Wolf. "If you look at my record, I would expect to have the overwhelming support of government employes."
Yet, midway through his first term, Wolf still is learning the difficulties of balancing his own devotion to Reagan with constituent fears that Reagan budget cuts are taking their toll even in Wolf's affluent district, which includes the counties of Arlington, Loudoun and half of Fairfax.
Besides the controversy caused by the pension adjustment, thousands in his district have been put on notice that the federal government is eliminating jobs, generating fears that they could be next.
Former Democratic representative Joseph L. Fisher, whom Wolf beat by only 7,000 votes, has been so encouraged by a recent Democratic sweep of Virginia state offices that he has all but formally announced his intention to get his old job back. The promises of Reaganomics -- lower interest rates, lower inflation, more jobs -- on which both Wolf and Reagan won, have yet to come true.
Wolf, whose campaign centered on accusations that Harvard-educated economist Fisher was a puppet of the Carter administration, is himself "a loyal soldier in the Reagan army," as one of his detractors describes him. A year ago during the campaign, Wolf hammered at Fisher's reluctance to vote against a Democratic president and pledged to be an independent member of Congress.
Jimmy Carter -- and therefore Fisher -- were responsible for high unemployment, rampant inflation and soaring interest rates, Wolf said. In contrast, he quoted George Bernard Shaw in describing the kind of congressman he would be: "Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?"
"I realize that everybody's got to play the game and support the president," said John Sturdivant, acting director of organization for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union in the Washington area. "But I'd say that Mr. Wolf's record shows that he's been hostile and unresponsive to federal employes. He's been good for traditional Republican special interests, but he's been bad for us." Wolf minimizes the effects of his vote to reduce cost-of-living adjustments to once a year. He says he was powerless before the wishes of party leaders.
"I was disappointed and conveyed my feelings" to the White House, said Wolf. He voted for the bill, because "I think it was an important budget bill."
In a symbolic move to go on the record supporting the twice-a-year adjustment, Wolf and more than 30 GOP legislators brought the issue to a vote on the floor, although it had little chance of winning. They were shouted down in a voice vote on the House floor.
Wolf said he will maintain his independence from the administration when the occasion arises. "When I'm with 'em I'll vote with 'em. When I'm against 'em, I'll vote against 'em," he said, offering as evidence his vote against the sale of AWACS airplanes to Saudi Arabia despite intense lobbying by the administration. Other Republicans also abandoned Reagan on the AWACS vote.
"The party regulars have been very, very pleased with Frank's performance," said Jade West, chairman of the Arlington Republican Party.
Wolf counts among his major accomplishments a new airport policy that, although promising only a slight reduction in air traffic at National Airport, ends more than a decade of wrangling over whether to limit growth there.
"With persistence it's amazing what you can do," said Wolf.
"I carried a list around of all the members in the House and at every opportunity would stop and talk to them" about the airport policy, scheduled to take effect at the end of November, Wolf said. "We put on a very effective lobbying campaign."
"Frank Wolf did more to get that policy through Congress than anyone other than Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis," said Eric Bernthal, president of the Coalition on Airport Policy, a civic organization that lobbied for flight cutbacks. "The proof is in the results."
Wolf, who his supporters acknowledge lacks the polished style of more experienced and prominent House members, has proven himself a different kind of congressman from the more erudite Fisher. Fisher's economic expertise won him a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and propelled him into the national debate on tax policies. Wolf has been given the less visible tasks accorded most junior members. He requested and won seats on the Transportation and Public Works and Post Office and Civil Service committees.
"He's methodical and hardworking and generally that's what people want from their congressman," said Bill Kling, a Wolf supporter and administrative assistant to Tidewater's Republican Rep. Paul Trible. "They don't want showboats. They want substance, not style, and that's what Frank's giving them."
Democratic staff aides on the Hill, however, say that while Wolf has kept a low profile on some issues affecting the federal employe rank and file, he has tried to make the lifting of the $50,000-a-year pay ceiling for government executives -- an already high visibility issue -- his own.
In June, Wolf sent letters to the homes of 800 federal executives, many of whom live outside his district, describing his support for lifting the pay ceiling. That move did not endear Wolf to some of his colleagues. Aides to Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) were furious when some of their constituents targeted by Wolf called, inquiring what Barnes was doing to help them.
"Mike Barnes started this two years ago," complains one aide, noting that Barnes chairs a bipartisan group that is spearheading the fight for executive pay raises. "We have worked on it forever, hour after hour, day after day."
Wolf said he was unaware that his letter had ruffled feathers and that he was merely trying to "seize the initiative."
Party leaders say that the condition of the economy, on which Wolf campaigned and won a year ago, remains the single biggest threat to Wolf's political survival. So far, only two letters to Wolf's office have come from federal workers laid off and seeking help. On the other hand, Wolf aides say, the threat of cuts in federal agencies has caused widespread fear through the work force.
Bernard Carlton, GOP chairman in Loudoun County, where Reagan and Wolf won by a 2-to-1 margin, said: "There are definitely a lot of federal employes who would welcome a Democratic administration. Greed motivates a lot of people . . . . When push comes to shove, people usually vote their pocketbooks."