Washington area feds, who are often portrayed as an overpaid, spoiled bunch, must have gotten a kick out of yesterday's Style section story in this newspaper about the private sector's reaction to proposed expense account cutbacks.
To write "The $25 Lunch? Baloney!", a Washington Post reporter went to some of our town's posh eateries. A number of private-sector diners, pausing to put tongue in cheek, commented on the Reagan plan to put a lid on tax-deductible business meals.
The luncheon crowd of lobbyists and lawyers said the proposed cutbacks would, in effect, be the end of civilization as they know it!
Rank-and-file civil servants view all this with wonder. That's because they don't get expense accounts to take clients -- or themselves -- to lunch. Rules bar some feds from accepting as much as a BLT from people they do business with. As a result, expense accounts are something the typical fed reads about while squeezed in a booth at McDonald's or standing in line at an agency cafeteria.
An attorney interviewed for The Post story said he didn't know any place where one could purchase a caviar sandwich for less than $25. He said he rarely had a lunch that cost less than the proposed limit -- $25 a person plus half of the amount over that.
Several lobbyists said they would have to either pick clients who were on diets or limit everyone to lettuce and water lunches.
Federal workers can be excused if they seem unsympathetic.
For example, a former Foreign Service officer recalls being in a Central American post in the 1960s when a hurricane wiped out the town where he lived. No supplies or mail could get in.
"It took us days to reestablish contact with Washington," he said. "When we did, the first message we got from the State Department didn't inquire about our health or safety.
"What it said was something like 'We presume, in view of current conditions, that there will be no entertaining for some time, so we are withdrawing your representation [entertainment] allowance,' which was about $600 a year."
When supplies ran out shortly after that, he said, the American consulate staff lived on British Army rations for weeks until food, and money to buy it, arrived.
Another caller yesterday said: "I know the people being interviewed [by The Post] were giving it the light-hearted treatment. But many people in the expense-account . . .set are very free with their criticism of 'the bloated bureaucracy' and of bureaucrats. They never stop to think that some of the perks industry takes for granted don't exist in the government."