Murray Comarow's article "The War on Civil Servants" (op-ed, Aug. 25) contained a bitter attack on the Reagan administration for its alleged view that "government--and the men and women within it--is the root cause of social and economic problems." A bizarre interpretation of a speech I delivered is included as supporting evidence of an administration waging war on civil servants.
Comarow is wrong on all counts.
He argues that senior government workers are leaving in droves because they are fed up with scorn from politicians and the public and a lack of policy input. The Office of Personnel Management has just published a preliminary report on a survey conducted among senior level employees last October. When asked whether, in general, they like their work, 86 percent said yes. Seventy-nine percent agreed with the statement, "in general, I am satisfied with my job." These percentages were almost identical to those in a similar study conducted last year. Not exactly the view of a bitter, alienated group of people looking for the nearest exit.
I am concerned about current retirement rates, but Comarow misinterprets OPM figures in this area. There was an increase in retirements among those at the pay cap between 1977 and 1980, but it was not as large as he claims and, more important, it was the result of policies of the past administration, which encouraged early retirement as a means of holding down federal employment levels. Our most recent analysis shows a substantial decline in the rate since last year, and a rate among senior executives that is half the rate for civil servants as a whole in the same age group.
Comarow attacks me for a speech in which I supposedly said that Senior Executive Service members "should not be involved in formulating policy." In fact, my view, as expressed in that speech and on many other occasions, is quite the reverse, as this quotation from the text will illustrate: "To the civil servants in the audience, and those interested in these matters, I say we very much need your views on how we can do these things. We need your participation because we know only you have these skills and, therefore, that only you can make us successful." I rely on advice provided to me by the professionals in OPM each and every day, when I set policy.
I believe that final policy decisions should be made by those appointed by and responsible to a president elected by the people, and that input from senior career executives during the policy- making process is completely appropriate. There was one point in the speech that I did wish to make with regard to policy-making on the part of careerists: I disagree sharply with the growing school of thought among some professionals, generally known as "The New Public Administration." They hold that civil servants should create policy through their own notions of "social equity," instead of administering according to the views expressed by the people at the ballot box. I believe this attitude --which calls for the creation and implementation of policy by careerists, even in the face of a stated preference to the contrary by political leadership, as opposed to providing input--is destructive of a democratic and professional civil service. Apparently so does Comarow; so what is the point?
On one of Comarow's points, there is no doubt: the "pay cap," that has held executive pay at a single level since 1977, is having a negative effect on senior government executives. The survey referred to earlier found that more than two-thirds of senior level executives were dissatisfied with their pay. This is the basic source of the morale problem among senior executives.
I believe this is a problem that can be dealt with once the positive effects of the president's economic program become apparent. Once the economy pulls out of the doldrums, we will see a public more willing to accept the adjustment of senior federal pay scales. In the meantime, with severe budget constraints, few members of Congress will stick their necks out in favor of raising the pay of people earning $50,000 a year. This is unfortunate, but it is a fact of life.
There was an implication in Comarow's article that somehow the Reagan administration is opposed to bonuses for members of the SES. On the contrary, we proposed, and the Cabinet endorsed, a plan to support the bonus system, in the face of hostile congressional criticism.
Finally, I want to correct the impression given by the unfortunate headline on the Comarow article. There is no "War on Civil Servants" in this administration.
The attitude of this administration to ward government and government workers is seriously misunderstood by Comarow. There is a difference between the two. Government is indeed the source of many of our nation's ills. It is too big, too expensive, too deeply involved in every citizen's personal and professional life. This is the fault of the politicians who have dominated the course government has taken over the past half century. The ill will that Americans feel toward their government is grounded in a resentment over what politicians have done with their government.
Government employees, the overwhelming majority of them, are hard working, dedicated and as appalled by waste and inefficiency as any other taxpayer. They did not pass the laws that have put us in our present straits (this is why it is important to distinguish between political policy makers and careerists), and they should not be blamed for them. The president respects this distinction and appreciates the work of government employees; and so do I.