Donald J. Devine, director of the Office of Personnel Management, in a move designed to improve his agency's "efficiency and operational effectiveness," has named five new political appointees as his "regional representatives" and installed the former editor of Conservative Digest as the agency's chief spokesman.
At the same time, Devine rehired a political appointee who had left to serve as campaign manager for an unsuccessful Republican Senate campaign.
Devine, who announced the appointments along with an agency reorganization earlier this month, said the changes "will enable us to better perform our mission as the government's central personnel agency, and ensure that the policies of the Reagan administration are implemented effectively."
But the appointments, and the sweeping way in which Devine announced them, have alarmed some career civil servants and left a key member of Congress sputtering.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), whose House civil service subcommittee oversees OPM, quizzed Devine in a letter late last month on the pending appointments of the regional representatives and asked him not to fill the jobs until her questions were answered.
Responding to Schroeder on Nov. 3, Devine said he was going ahead with the appointments "immediately after responding to your request," and "I expect they will be on board by the time you receive this letter."
Devine announced the appointments in a news release dated the same day. He also announced that Patrick S. Korten, who had served as OPM spokesman for a year and a half, was being promoted to a new policy job and would be replaced by Mark Tapscott, who was communications director for the Republican National Committee prior to a stint as editor of Conservative Digest.
The magazine, published by conservative fund-raiser Richard A. Viguerie, has repeatedly sniped at the administration for what it views as a failure to appoint enough "true Reaganites" to government jobs.
In a column written for his first issue of Conservative Digest, Tapscott referred to the "federal rathole" chronicled in a feature called "Bureaucratic Blunders" and added: "Frankly, it would be wonderful if the politicians and the bureaucrats would stop providing so much material for this feature."
A fuming Schroeder complained that "no more partisan an individual could be found in all of Washington" than Tapscott. She accused Devine of "utter contempt" for the provisions of the Hatch Act in the rehiring of George Nesterczuk, who was associate director of administration for a year before resigning last summer to run Lawrence J. Hogan's unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Maryland.
Under the Hatch Act, an agency can't agree to hold open a job for an official who leaves to work in a political campaign. Nesterczuk showed up on OPM's payroll in his old job less than a week after Hogan's defeat.
"There is nothing illegal or wrong about that, as long as no agreements are made beforehand," said Devine, a former University of Maryland professor with strong ties to that state's Republican Party.
Of more concern to some federal workers is the addition of the regional representatives, which they see as an attempt by Devine to put political eyes and ears in the field. Most of the new appointees have long histories of Republican political activism.
Devine said the new appointees will help "coordinate" the work of the Federal Executive Boards, which were transferred to OPM from the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year. The boards, made up of the regional administrators of large federal agencies, provide a forum for discussing common problems and streamlining government.
Devine said the regional appointees will also have public-affairs and congressional-relations responsibilities, and will help manage the Combined Federal Campaign.
"The most important thing is that they're not regional directors," Devine said. "I specifically decided not to have the regional directors be political, which I could have done."
Devine, whose strong right-wing beliefs and confrontational style have earned him a reputation as a conservative among conservatives in the Reagan administration, attributes the furor over his latest appointments to a "misunderstanding" by his congressional critics.
"To think that bringing in some political appointments is somehow an abuse of the system is clearly missing the point," he said. "There is no subterfuge." Devine says the new hires were brought in as Schedule C political appointees, and that the merit system is violated only "if you try to bring in political appointees as career people."
Schroeder clearly finds little comfort in that. Devine's tactics, she said, "make the Malek Manual look like something written by the Madonna" -- a reference to an infamous guide to getting rid of bureaucrats written by former Nixon administration official Frederic V. Malek.
Devine, she said, "thumbs his nose at us. I'm not real optimistic you can deal with him as a reasonable man. . . . You tell him, 'You're destroying the federal service' and this wonderful little smile comes over his face and he says, 'Ohhhh, yeah. . . .' "