Federal workers--especially those outside Washington--are reading more and enjoying it less these days. No wonder!
Thanks to a concerted media blitz by the Office of Personnel Management, Director Donald J. Devine is being interviewed so often that Elizabeth Taylor's press agent must be green with envy.
When he isn't being interviewed, Devine gets behind the typewriter. He (or a ghost) is cranking out pieces right and left (mostly right), all with the theme that Washington is a very kooky place indeed. As if people didn't know!
The OPM, once the most passive and unknown of federal outfits, is busy firing facts, figures and ideas to newspaper editorial offices around the nation. After digesting the same, many of the editorial writers expose the horrors of the federal pay and pension system in such a way that it is a wonder their readers haven't marched on Disneyland East (us) to clean house.
In recent months, Devine has been on TV on the West Coast and in the South. The message is that civil service pay, pension, punishment and reward systems are straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Newspaper readers in Georgia got a hair-raising explanation of the generous federal pay system (details courtesy of OPM). Subscribers to the Cheyenne (Wyo.) State Tribune learned from an editorial that an overly generous U.S. pension program is leading the nation to bankruptcy.
U.S. News and World Report (Aug. 29) noted that "Reagan appointees are trying to tame the bureaucracy, but federal workers are fighting back." The story was a well-balanced piece on the problems of running, and working for, the government, and next to it was a question-and-answer interview with, you guessed it, Devine.
Devine comes off very well in interviews for two reasons: One, critics notwithstanding, he is smart and he has done his homework.
Two, he has done scores of these interviews where people keep asking the same questions.
Practice makes darn near perfect!
In the magazine interview, as in others, Devine responds that the government pays better than industry for most jobs, and that its retirement system is so generous that it encourages people to leave just when they are getting good at their work.
On Sept. 7, Devine wrote a bylined article, "Green Skies--Need Incentives Added in Wacky D.C. System," for the Dayton Daily News. The article, about federal pay raises, was tailored for the Ohio audience with references to the solid folks and practices of Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, cities so, well, unlike Washington. Buckeyes reading it could hardly miss the message that Washington lacks the horse sense of Sandusky.
He wrote: "There is a lot more separating Dayton and Washington than distance. In fact there's a lot more than distance separating Washington from almost everywhere." One of the big differences between Washington and Everytown, Devine wrote, is the "fact that in Washington simple, straightforward ideas get set on their heads. Up becomes down, water runs uphill, skies are green and the grass is blue.
"For example, say I told you that a requirement of your job was to work hard. To get a raise you had to perform well and that the level of your job performance would be a factor, if, or when, there were layoffs?" That, Devine wrote, wouldn't surprise folks in Dayton, but it shocks folks here.
In Washington federal circles, Devine said, everybody gets the same raise even if they sleep on the job, and seniority protects even nonperformers from layoffs:
"That's just the way the federal government works. There's no reward for performance and no particular punishment for nonperformance. Be it pay raises or layoffs, the simple straightforward idea of rewarding a job well done goes out the window--green skies and blue grass."
Devine said that only in Washington would such a system be considered normal and desirable, "and there's a fervent effort by federal unions and some members of Congress to keep it that way. They view any change in this strange system as bad, or dangerous or worse."
Maybe that is why traveling government workers, when asked what they do in Washington, take the easy way out and say they play piano in a bordello.