Two years after she received a presidential merit award, the government's top expert on energy conservation says she is being forced out of her job as part of the Reagan administration's effort to "do away with all federal conservation programs."
Dr. Maxine Savitz, who has been deputy assistant secretary of energy for conservation since January, 1979, was fired yesterday because she didn't report Monday to a new job in Golden, Colo.
"This was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to force me off the rolls," Savitz said. "I have two children in high school, and my husband, Alan, has just signed a three-year contract to head psychiatry at Greater Southeast Community Hospital. They knew perfectly well I could not accept this transfer."
Savitz, who joined the federal government at the time of the 1973 Arab oil embargo after doing conservation research for the National Science Foundation, said she felt Assistant Energy Secretary Joseph J. Tribble was making her the scapegoat for his failure to "to kill conservation programs.
"I really believe he came here to do away with all the conservation programs except for a small amount of long-term research and development, and he hasn't been successful," Savitz said. "And I think he blames me for that instead of recognizing that many people in the Congress and private sector think there is a proper role for the federal government in conservation."
Tribble, who summoned Savitz to his office at 3 p.m. yesterday and gave her the required 30 days' advance notice of dismissal, did not return a reporter's telephone calls.
Savitz' dismissal is the latest turn in the battle between the administration and Congress over the government's role in promoting energy conservation.
The administration's position, according to the energy secretary's annual report to Congress in August, 1982, is that "the very nature of conservation implies that it be undertaken voluntarily out of the self-interest of individuals and businesses," and that there is "little need for federal participation."
In line with this, the administration cut the amount requested for energy conservation in its fiscal 1983 budget to $326 million -- less than half the $757 million spent under President Carter's fiscal 1981 budget the final full year of his administration -- and indicated it planned to get the conservation request down to only $11 million by fiscal 1985.
"If they had their way, the Reagan administration would cut the budget by 97 percent on the conservation side," said Richard Munson, executive director of the Solar Lobby.
"They would eliminate all conservation information programs. They would eliminate weatherization funding for low-income people. They would eliminate the residential conservation service program, which forces utilities to provide energy audits for consumers," Munson said.
A number of influential members of Congress -- many of them Republicans -- have been highly critical of the effort to dismantle DOE's conservation programs, and have consistently voted greater funding than the White House requested.
Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) and a group of seven House Republicans sent separate letters to Energy Secretary James B. Edwards criticizing his department's treatment of Savitz.
"Dedicated civil servants who have served the public interest so well should not be told to pack their bags and abandon their families on a moment's notice," Percy said.
Conservation experts who have dealt with the department during both the Carter and Reagan administrations said that Savitz, though opposed to the conservation cuts, kept her arguments within the bureaucracy and faithfully implemented her superiors' decisions.
"She is a good, solid civil servant," Munson said yesterday. "The irony is that during the Carter administration there were times when I thought she ought to be more aggressive. But she has stayed on a steady course. Now, she is being accused of sort of undermining the Reagan administration. I have never seen that."
A number of conservation advocates also expressed concern over the number of experts in this field who have been forced out since the start of this administration. Before a reduction in force decreed a year ago, she had 223 persons in her division, Savitz said; today it's 140.
"That's the killer," Munson said. "Because if a new administration comes in and decides that energy conservation is a national priority, there won't be good civil servants there to implement the program."
Savitz, who has received a number of civil service awards in addition to the President's Meritorious Rank Award that was accompanied by a $10,000 bonus two years ago, said her first indication of being forced out came on Sept. 9 when she received a "minimal" rating on her performance evaluation by Tribble.
After Savitz wrote a rebuttal, she was notified on Oct. 5 that her "highly successful" rating of the previous year would be restored, but that she was being transferred to the Western Area Power Administration--a transfer she said only could be viewed as "punitive." The WAPA is responsible for marketing electric power generated at federal facilities in 15 states.
She said that when Tribble notified her of her dismissal yesterday, he said he was "disappointed to have to do this."
As to what comes next, Savitz said she intends to continue working and running the conservation programs for her final 30 days.
"These are important programs," she said. "I intend to continue doing my job."