Faced with White House opposition fueled by two Northern Virginia Republican congressmen, the Office of Personnel Management has put its plans for revamping reductions-in-force guidelines "on hold" until after the congressional elections this fall.
Donald J. Devine, the Reagan administration's top personnel official, had been all set to issue the new RIF guidelines last month and had even prepared a press release outlining his plan to rate job performance over seniority in deciding RIFs and curb the ability of RIFfed workers to take the lower-grade jobs of others.
But the OPM director, according to knowledgeable sources, had to postpone issuing the new rules after Reps. Frank Wolf and Stan Parris complained to budget director David Stockman that Devine's revisions would be viewed as another attack on civil servants.
Wolf and Parris represent thousands of federal workers who have already felt the brunt of the administration's budget cuts and RIF actions.
Both face tough reelection fights against Democratic challengers who are expected to make Reagan's treatment of federal workers a campaign issue here. Reagan, in turn, has encountered mounting opposition to his programs on Capitol Hill and is increasingly dependent on GOP votes.
"I didn't convey to them Stockman and the White House that this would be a political problem, but they are very astute down there and could come up with their own conclusions," Wolf said yesterday. Wolf emphasized, however, that he opposes the proposed Civil Service regulations "on the merits" and thinks hearings should be held around the country to allow federal workers the chance to comment on any RIF changes.
"I made it clear I was opposed to RIFs in general, and I felt these particular guidelines were kind of sloppy," Wolf said.
OPM had initially sought Wolf's and Parris' support for the proposed new RIF procedures.
Devine, in a June 15 press release that was never issued, hailed the proposed RIF guidelines as reforms that would limit the disruption caused by current RIF procedures, change retention practices that hurt women and minorities and make job performance a key element in deciding which civil servants would keep their jobs in future RIFs.
"If the American people are going to renew their confidence in the federal work force, they've got to know that their government places the highest value on the most hard-working, successful, outstanding employes," Devine said in the release.
Federal employe unions, which have repeatedly clashed with Devine over these and other recent OPM practices, have dubbed the proposed new RIF guidelines "a return to the spoils system." They argue that the changes Devine wants to make would hurt employe security and put federal workers at the mercy of subjective performance appraisals and judgments by their superiors.
They contend that current RIF procedures have caused government disruptions because they were never intended to be used on such a wide scale as that employed by the Reagan administration.
Devine said through a spokesman yesterday that the proposed new RIF guidelines are still "under study." Those familiar with the controversy were predicting yesterday that the OPM setback is only a temporary one.
Devine "was very gung ho, and I don't think he'll forget about it," said a staff aide to the Federal Government Service Task Force, which helped prepare recently introduced legislation to curb future RIFs. "After the election, he'll go ahead with his proposals."