Jimmy Carter's promise to streamline the sprawling federal bureaucracy got new impetus yesterday when plans were unveiled for a top-to-bottom study of the civil service system.
"The overall goal is very simple," said Alan K. Campbell, Carter's new head of the Civil Service Commission. "It's to improve the responsiveness of the government to the Public."
Campbell, flanked by Budget Director Bert Lance, announced the formation of a special task force to study and make recommendations on the entire personnel policies of the federal government.
While the study itself came couched in bureaucratese, it will be a "decision-forcing, action-oriented process" - the basic aims are simple. And they are bound to send a tremor through the ranks of the 2.8 million federal civil service employees.
What the Carter administration is proposing is a hard-nosed look at the way the government hires - and fires - and also pays its workers. The operative word is "flexibility." That means examining ways which employees can be transfered from agency to agency as well as attempts to cut through the encrusted fashion in which the civil service operates.
When asked if he really thought a fresh approach was warranted, Campbell replied:
"The evidence is more than adequate that changes are badly needed."
Campbell envisions the study and resulting recommendations, as taking at least two years. But some recommendations calling for immediate changes could aome as quickly as two months from now.
He sees the move as eventually requiring some new legislation, including the possibility of a comprehensive civil service reform act. The civil service actions will form a key part of Carter's plan to reorganize the federal government.
Yesterday's announcement caps weeks of deliberations within the Carter administration over how to approach the critical - and much critized - federal bureaucracy.
As Campbell remarked, "career people are getting blamed for a bureaucracy that doesn't respond." He said the Carter approach represents a departure from all previous studies dating from the New Deal days on how to make the government work more efficiently and effectively.
All the others, he pointed out, were conducted by specialists outside the government.
The new created task force comes from people already inside the federal service. It represents, in Campbell's words, "a very direct challenge" to people within the bureaucracy to show they have the will and the desire to change.
Another aim of the study is to recommend ways to cut through, and shorten considerably, the time it takes to adjudicate questions over an employee's performance. It now takes as long as a year to settle some of these cases, Campbell said.
A special target of the study will be the so-called "super-grade" government jobs, that pay the highest and are presently protected by tenure under civil service regulations.
Of the government's civil service force, 85 per cent of the 2.8 million employees work outside the Washington area. But of the some 6,000 supergrade job holders, the vast majority work in Washington. Managers at the upper levels of government should have more freedom in exercising their supervision than it present, Campbell said.
The Civil Service Commission itself, of which Campbell is the new chairman, has been the subject of intense criticism and controversy in recent years. A House Civil Service subcommttee recently documented long abuses of the merit system of hiring during the Nixon Administration. Favored job applicant forms, many of them recommended by politicians or White House officials, were tagged with pink sheets, for example, to indicate special treatment.
Carter became personally involved on how to revamp and revitalize the commission, the hiring agency for the government and the supposed guardian of fairness and impartiality in the federal service. He has appointed all three new commissioners. The others, besides Campbell, are Jule Sugarman and Ersa Poston, both of whom were present yesterday.
Campbell will head the new study, formally called the Federal Personnel Management Project. Working with he will be Wayne G. Granquist and Howard Messner, aides to Lance, and Sugarman. The project staff director will be Dwight Ink, a longtime bureaucrat now teaching at the American University.