Key Reagan administration officials believe that the "silent majority" in the civil service supports many of their proposals to modify layoff and pay procedures to deemphasize seniority and give greater rewards for performance.
They feel that much of the opposition to pending changes in RIF rules and seniority pay is being generated by union leaders looking for a cause and does not reflect the feelings of rank-and-file feds.
The administration wants to change the system that gives 99 percent of all workers automatic 3 percent longevity pay raises based on time in grade. It proposes new rules that would tie the raises to performance.
It also wants to change the government's RIF policy (last hired, first fired) to devalue seniority and base protection on performance.
Since President Reagan took office nearly 3,000 workers here have been fired for economy reasons. Thousands more employes were affected--being demoted or transferred--as more senior workers bumped them out of jobs.
Under the administration plan the first people RIFfed would be those with the lowest performance ratings, regardless of their seniority. The rule changes also would limit the number of times an employe could "bump" during a RIF.
Federal worker unions have protested the changes. They say the new emphasis on performance--which sounds good--will give political managers new tools with which to punish (by withholding in-grade increases) or get rid of noncooperative longtime employes by rating them badly and then running a RIF.
But top aides to Donald Devine, who heads the Office of Personnel Management, say their "reforms" are an extension of changes begun by President Carter. They feel the changes have the backing of most Americans, and of many federal employes.
"We really don't get as much flak on this as you guys in the press make it appear," an aide to Devine said. "I know that employes come up to Dr. Devine after meetings and speeches and tell him they favor the changes.
They tell him they resent getting the same pay raises as people who sit on their duffs and get them automatically . . . We have said all . . . along that there is nothing wrong with the vast majority of civil servants, but the problem is the system they work under."
Here is the problem: Unions say that Devine and company are living in an ivory tower if they think government workers support their reforms. Devine and top aides feel the unions are out of touch with their members.
So let's find out: Sunday in this space, we will ask you to vote on how you feel about the reforms. We will try not to ask loaded questions. The idea is to give you--if you work for the government, are retired or are in private industry--a vote. We will pass the results along to Devine and the unions--and to you. Get your ballot here Sunday.