The United Way of America is the trade association for 2,100 United Way charity groups around the country and does not, as was incorrectly reported yesterday, have any role in distributing donations by federal workers to the Combined Federal Campaign.
President Reagan has signed an executive order that is expected to greatly expand the role of the United Way of America in distributing much of the $87 million donated annually by federal workers to the Combined Federal Campaign.
The order, less sweeping than a controversial draft proposed by the Office of Personnel Management, was hailed as "good news and bad news" by other charity groups.
While they are concerned about United Way's growing influence, they had feared the White House was about to announce stiffer eligibility standards aimed at prohibiting contributions to public interest and social action organizations, including abortion service and legal defense agencies.
The order, signed Tuesday and announced yesterday, contains none of the tougher eligibility requirements sought by OPM director Donald J. Devine. Instead, the president has left it to OPM to establish the criteria for determining what organizations may participate in the CFC.
OPM said it expected to issue specific eligibility regulations within a week or 10 days. And an OPM official indicated yesterday that the new regulations may include some restrictions originally sought by Devine.
The agency also was given the authority to name a local CFC organization that would be principally in charge of the charity drives in each of 540 individual CFC operations nationwide. In a previous memorandum, Devine has already indicated that he wants to turn over most of CFC's management to the United Way, which receives the bulk of the charitable contributions made by federal employes.
The campaign collects more than $87 million each year, including more than $12 million in the Washington area for such charities as United Way, CARE, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and hundreds of other national and local social aid groups.
Several charity groups expressed relief yesterday that the president had spurned Devine's initial proposal to curb eligibility.
"It's a far better version than what we've been looking at for the past few months," said Richard Leary, director of the International Service Agencies, a group of 15 overseas health and welfare organizations.
The issue of who becomes eligible to receive donations from the federal campaign and the method by which funds are distributed has provoked some rather uncharitable fighting among groups in recent years. Several have successfully sued in the courts to open up the CFC to wider participation.
The groups also want a greater role in deciding how to divide up money that is given to the CFC but not designated for any particular charity. About 54 percent of the contributions are made in this fashion.
United Way has been criticized for using its CFC clout with OPM to stop other groups from coming into the campaign and to hang onto the lion's share of the undesignated funds, a criticism United Way rejects.
"I hope United Way is given more authority," Oral Suer, executive director of the United Way of the National Capital Area, said yesterday. "There should be more authority -- we're the area's largest charity."
Most of the charity groups surveyed yesterday seemed to grudgingly accept that United Way would be given greater CFC control by OPM. What has most of them worried now are the about-to-be published OPM regulations, which some groups said they feared would resurrect some of Devine's proposed restrictions.
While charity groups took credit for mounting a persuasive lobbying campaign against Devine's initial proposal, some conceded that the issue may have become so controversial that the White House "didn't want to take the heat" and passed the problem on to OPM.
OPM's general counsel, Joseph Morris, said yesterday that Reagan's order actually would give the agency more flexibility to regulate the types of charities allowed to participate in the campaign and the distribution formula. He added it would be fair to say that many of Devine's original proposals could turn up in the new regulations.
An aide to Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who opposed Devine's draft order, warned yesterday that the OPM director probably will try to issue stricter regulations. These, he predicted, would be challenged in court "and OPM won't win."