Not everyone, of course, is enthralled with Devine's master plan for the civil service. Federal employe unions are hostile to anything that would threaten jobs or job rankings. And the voucher proposal comes at a time when government workers feel particularly threatened by the OPM director's determination to cut health benefits and force employes to pay a greater share of their medical insurance costs.

The agency is being criticized roundly for not anticipating the "run" on health plans during the recently concluded open season. Because of increased premium costs, more federal workers and retirees than ever were interested in shopping around. So there was a near panic among some government workers when OPM was slow to get out informational brochures and the forms needed to switch plans.

Federal workers and retirees on fixed incomes needed a place to turn for information, and OPM just wasn't up to the task, according to members of Congress who were flooded with calls from federal worker constituents.

"If OPM was doing its job, we wouldn't have to do this," said one harried Hill staffer as he scrambled to help set up local symposiums to explain the various plans. The symposiums were so popular they had to be scheduled again and again--and even filmed for cable TV screening--to accommodate the thousands who needed the information.

Asked why the agency hadn't offered its own pick-a-plan programs, an OPM official explained that budget constraints made it impossible. Not so, huffed a member of the Federal Government Service Task force, which organized the symposiums. It seems the task force, chaired by Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), made good use of experts who volunteered their time, and it didn't spend a penny to put the programs together.