Four years ago, Congress created the Merit Systems Protection Board and gave it a special counsel who was supposed to protect federal workers from personnel abuses.
But today, some of the people who worked to create the Office of Special Counsel--Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), the American Federation of Government Employes and the Government Accountability Project--want it abolished.
Instead, they want employe complaints to go straight to the merit board or federal courts.
"Now more than ever there is a need for strong whistleblower protection for federal employes," Schroeder said, "but the Office of Special Counsel has not done the job. It is a fraud on the American taxpayer to spend $4 million a year to fund an office which is not doing the job that Congress gave it, to fight waste, fraud and abuse."
When the office was created, it was supposed to provide an extra measure of protection for federal workers, particularly those who faced retribution after disclosing mismanagement, waste and fraud.
But since the start, it has been criticized by Congress, federal employe unions and even its agency.
It has been called a "paper tiger" and described as unprofessional. Staffing always has been a problem. The office's first director, who was never confirmed by the Senate, quit after a bitter dispute with the merit board and his successor also left on unfriendly terms.
In June, the Senate confirmed President Reagan's choice for the office, Alex Kozinski, a young former White House attorney who had a long list of impressive credentials.
But rather than reduce criticism, Kozinski's performance has increased it. His harshest critics, former agency employes who are scheduled to appear at a press conference Schroeder is holding today, say the self-described "loyal Reaganite" is the main reason they want the office abolished.
Since Kozinski took control, the office has not initiated any disciplinary actions against managers for merit system abuses. It has not filed any new requests for "corrective actions," such as rehiring an employe who was fired or transferred illegally.
And it has filed fewer than five new requests to block employe firings, compared with 20 in 1980.
Several veteran employes also have resigned or been fired. Overall, 40 percent of the central office staff has left, though Kozinski says only a handful left angry.
Kozinski was accused of demoralizing employes by forcing them to rewrite routine memos a half dozen times. In September, he held a contest which, he said, was inspired by a number of poorly written letters he had received from members of Congress.
Kozinski offered a "jar chock-full of Teennee Beanee Jelly Beanees, the first choice of discriminating jelly bean eaters" to the employe who did the best job of rewriting a letter from a fictitious congressman, based, he said, on real letters.
Recently, Kozinski infuriated federal employe unions by conducting a seminar program for federal managers called "How to Avoid Committing Prohibited Personnel Practices in the Reagan Era," which pointed out the right and wrong ways to fire employes.
Kozinski sees all this as the price he has to pay for shifting the emphasis of the office and trying to make it more professional.
In the past, he said, the office was seen as an advocate for federal employes, prosecuting cases that staff attorneys knew "were garbage."
He said the number of cases has dropped because his office will no longer file "unsubstantiated cases." Another reason is budget cuts. The office received $4.3 million in fiscal 1981, but that has been trimmed to $3.6 million this year, forcing an end to all travel.
Kozinski also believes he has been more conciliatory toward agency managers than his predecessors. The office is required to discuss a possible violation with top agency officials before filing a formal complaint.
His predecessors used a "sledgehammer" approach, he said, while he has been able to settle 60 cases through conciliation.
"I believe we are not here just to correct, we also are here to avoid personnel problems and try to make sure that they don't happen at all," Kozinski said. CAPTION: Picture, Kozinski: "I believe we are not here just to correct [but also] to avoid problems." By Vanessa Barnes Hillian -- The Washington Post