"Some high-level people will be found out -- that they don't belong," predicted a low-level supporter of President Carter's civil service reform package.
"In other words," said her companion, "their capabilities will be fully realized."
Few of the civil servants gathered for lunch in the Department of Agriculture cafeteria -- where yesterday's specials were beef stroganoff, veal parmigiana and scallops, tuna and noodles -- were aware that even as they ate, the president was delivering a major speech about them.
But most of the Agriculture employes consulted by a Washington Post reporter were at least vaguely familiar with the administration's proposals, and they offered reactions that ranged from enthusiasm to indifference to scorn.
The Carter plan "should speed things up and make it easier to manage people," said a managerial type with the forest service, who preferred, like most of his colleagues, not to give his name.
Other employes questioned the wisdom of the president's program or the chances of actually enacting it, or both.
"We're not very interested," said Richard Ford, president of OPEDA, the Organization of Professional Employees of the Department of Agriculture. Under Carter's proposals, said Ford, "your boss can just fire you like that if he doesn't feel good . . . The president is so concerned about human rights but that's not showing up much in his reorganization efforts."
"Nixon talked the same thing," said a Treasury employee. "The unions for the government employes are too strong. . . The same incompetents will be in the same places."
'Once you get behind that desk, you have got your hermitage for life," his companion agreed. "They can't blow you out of there with a howitzer."
The same employe added that he was in favor of greater flexibility in granting promotions and pay increases even though "my promotion was held up for two years."
"One lady told another lady I was a troublemaker and she believed it," he said. "It took two years to get a lousy nine (GS-9 rating).
"We're all like headless nails down here -- once you get us in, you can't get us out," said a man who identified himself only as a "nameless, faceless bureaucrat."
"But the cure may be worse than the disease," he added, refusing to commit himself one way or the other on the Carter plan."Every dose of salts looks better at the front end than at the back. . . We just hope he doesn't destroy the goose that laid the golden egg. Does that strike a responsive chord?
"It all depends on how it affects certain key people -- like me."