Three hours before the Merit System Protection Board's special counsel came to the rescue last week, the Energy Department made a last-minute attempt to rid itself of one of its pricklier bureaucrats, Tina C. Hobson.
Instead, it succeeded in getting her off the payroll for all of one day. "I feel like a yo-yo," she said yesterday.
Hobson, who directs the department's renewable energy office, had been found "surplus" by Energy officials, and was scheduled to be dismissed Wednesday.
But at 3 p.m., two hours shy of the unemployment line, a telephone call from the Office of Personnel Management brought her a job offer -- a 60-day tour of duty as deputy regional director in Atlanta.
Energy officials extended her separation date for two days, giving her until close of business Friday to respond.
Meanwhile, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, special counsel K. William O'Connor asked the Merit Systems Board to halt all personnel actions involving SES employes at Energy, saying he had found evidence of a "pattern of prohibited personnel practices" at the department.
O'Connor based his request on an investigation of the complaints of 19 fired or soon-to-be-fired Energy employes, including Hobson.
Hobson, citing the special counsel's action, asked for an extension on the OPM offer.
Alas, her lawyer's letter reached the personnel director's office at 5:02 p.m. Friday. By then, Hobson had officially been out of a job for two minutes.
The Merit Systems Board approved O'Connor's request Monday, and Hobson was back on the payroll yesterday -- at least until Jan. 4, when the stay runs out.
Thus ends another mini-chapter in what even Hobson admits is a "long history" of disagreement with her political bosses.
Hobson, who also was outspoken in the Carter administration, was transferred last year out of her job as head of DOE's office of consumer affairs after she protested what she said was a Reagan administration order to send an undercover "operative" to a meeting of community activists.
Former energy secretary James B. Edwards developed a "visceral response" to her stemming from that incident, she says. "I don't blame him. It was mutual disrespect."