Vietnam veteran David A. Christian of Levittown, Pa., may not be the martyr he has portrayed himself to be -- a former serviceman dumped from his Department of Labor job by an insensitive administration.
Christian, 30, a much-decorated Army captain in Vietnam, burst on the national scene last week with an appearance on the NBC "Today" show, a front-page story in The New York Times and extensive wire service coverage. The media reported what Christian claimed -- that he had been abruptly fired from his Labor Department consulting job for being "too visible."
But interviews with more than a dozen government officials show that in the past several weeks, Christian:
Failed to complete civil service forms necessary to begin work at the department's Philadelphia regional office, where he had requested placement.
Apparently has not followed up on three job interviews in Pennsylvania arranged by the department.
Missed a status review session with superiors Jan. 25 because he "was too tired from press interviews."
Denied knowing that contracts such as his run a maximum of one year.
A labor Department official summed up the agency's view:
"We're just not going to treat one of the most decorated Vietnam war veterans shabbily. The key issue is that the consultant's contract doesn't entitle one to a permanent job. Nobody wanted to do him dirt. But now he's generating a whole publicity campaign around himself."
J. Terrell Whitsitt, the Philadelphia regional administrator for the Labor Department, said he interviewed Christian for a job Jan. 17 -- a week before the impending "dismissal" -- at the request of Lawrence Weatherford, deputy assistant secretary for employment and training in Washington.
"I told Mr. Christian as soon as I got his civil service clearance we would be willing to bring him on as a temporary manpower development specialist," Whitsitt said.
"That job should last four months, at the end of which time he should have been able to complete the procedure which would likely lead to permanent employment," he added.
Because an immediate permanent job could not be offered Christian, three interviews were set up with government offices, Whitsitt said.
Hugh Ferguson, executive director of the Philadelphia Comprehensive Employment and Training Act office, Said he told Whitsitt last month that he would talk to Christian, but that Christian indicated he didn't want to lieve in that city, a requirement of the job.
"The other officials told me they still want to discuss employment with him, but they haven't heard from him," Whitsitt said.
Christian dismissed the Labor Department's efforts to place him as "frivolous camouflage... I said to Whitsitt are these hobs of hob prospects? What's the salary, what's the job description?"
In regard to the manpower job Whitsitt offered, Christian said, "I told him I didn't want a temporary job, I wanted a meaningful job."
On Jan. 25, the day the "firing" stories broke, department officials had scheduled a meeting with Christian to discuss the situation. Joseph Hickey, a Division of Employment and Training staff member, recalled that Christian begged off.
"He told me he was too tired from all his press interviews," Hickey said.
Christian said he first learned that his position was not permanent when he came back from a mid-January trip.
Weatherford said Christian had been told in August that he needed to complete civil service forms in order to obtain permanent employment. He said he spoke to Christian at the beginning of January to remind him that his appointment was running out.
Dave Mischel, a spokesman for the Civil Service Commission, said agencies are supposed to hire consultants only "for a short period." He added, "Being a consultant does not confer any status. If someone wants a permanent government job, he or she has go to through the normal civil service process."