Because "management" is its middle name, you would think the elite Office of Management and Budget would be crawling with managers. Right?

Wrong!

Fact is, the small (about 600 people) but powerful agency, described as the right hand, and sometimes the brains, of the White House, has no managers to speak of.

OMB is one of the few federal agencies that does not participate in the government's merit pay program for Grade 13, 14 and 15 supervisors and managers. Reason: OMB says it has nobody in the manager or supervisor category. It has plenty of employes in those grades--whose pay ranges from $34,000 to $62,000--but none who supervise or manage.

By certifying that it has no managers or supervisors in those grade levels, OBM has the right to sit it out when other agencies are going through their annual hassle of determining who gets a merit raise and who doesn't.

Merit pay is one of those programs described as controversial, innovative or goofy, depending on who is doing the describing.

The merit pay concept was created by President Carter's civil service reform act. Idea was that mid-level U.S. managers/supervisors should be taken off the regular, automatic pay raise system covering other feds and be put on a fast-track, carrot-and-stick pay system that rewarded the best and punished the not-so-hot.

Merit pay covers about 150,000 federal people (including about 60,000 here) in the $34,930 to $63,000 pay range. People under merit pay do not qualify for longevity (in-grade) raises (worth about 3 percent) that go virtually automatically to other white collar feds. And when the annual October white collar pay raise goes into effect, merit pay people are guaranteed only half of the percentage increase. To get more they must get top marks from their bosses. Many merit pay participants argue that they get smaller percentage increases each year than their subordinates or GS 13, 14 and 15 colleagues who are outside merit pay.

When merit pay got started, most agencies dutifully shoved some or most of the supervisors and managers under it. Navy, the second-largest employer in metro Washington, put 86 percent of its GS 13-15 workforce under merit pay. A few small agencies put everybody under it.

But the OMB excluded its workforce from merit pay on the ground that none of its GS 13, 14 or 15 people qualify as managers or supervisors.

That revelation may cause some other agencies to rethink participation in the program, which, while it sounds good on paper, has created a serious morale problem among mid-management workers in agencies that have tried it.