Civilian employes of the federal government responded with anger and dismay yesterday to President Reagan's proposal to freeze their pay for one year. But many members of the armed forces viewed the suggested cap on military pay as a legitimate request for sacrifice from their commander-in-chief.
Reactions to the freeze, which could affect 345,000 civilians and 60,000 military personnel in the Washington area, emerged in conversations at several federal agencies and the Pentagon.
The impact of the White House proposal on the military was softened by major pay increases for the armed services in recent years, intended in large part to bring military incomes closer to those in the civilian world.
Military pay rose 11.7 percent in 1980, 14.3 percent in 1981 and 4 percent last year, compared with civilian federal employes' increases of 9.1 percent in 1980, 4.8 percent in 1981 and 4 percent last year.
Civilians, two dozen of whom were interviewed in agency cafeterias yesterday, were universally hostile to Reagan's proposal. They said they were especially unwilling to sacrifice raises now that their retirement system may be merged with the Social Security system.
(Reagan's proposed budget calls for no cost-of-living increases for federal and military retirees in 1984. Story, page B-2.)
"I'm telling the government they don't want me, and they're going to miss me," said Jeanne Scott, an attorney for the Department of Health and Human Services. "I'm just fed up with the whole system."
Fourteen years out of law school, Scott said her $44,000-a-year salary is not much more than recent law school graduates make in the private sector, even though she said she works 50-to-60 hours a week, with no overtime.
At the Commerce Department, Norman Morton, a mathematician with the beleaguered Economic Development Administration (EDA), said the pay freeze was especially upsetting given his 17 years of government service.
"Congress voted itself a raise . . . something is wrong here, something is two-faced," he complained.
Ray Gaines, a senior systems analyst with EDA, agreed, saying the pay freeze would only cause federal workers to fall farther behind private sector salaries.
"I could pick up between $5,000 to $7,000 more in private industry," said Gaines, a government worker for seven years. While he has remained, he said he has had trouble keeping a qualified staff because the best young people leave for private sector jobs.
He also expressed concern about the military pay freeze, asking who would run the Pentagon's sophisticated combat equipment if the brightest armed service members fled government service.
Another government employe blasted the president's spending priorities, arguing that "all he has to do is get rid of a couple of tanks and we'd have enough for raises."
The fury expressed by federal workers yesterday was matched only by their fear. Many refused to be quoted by name about their dissatisfaction with the pay freeze, citing concerns about reprisals.
"You never know who's looking at the comments or whether there will be some repercussions--I do need this job," said a woman who has been a federal worker for 27 years. She said Reagan's apology to the military for freezing its pay and his failure to acknowledge the hardship on civilians was a heated topic in her car pool.
"It's like we're second-class citizens," she said angrily.
Philip Kellet, a paralegal at the Federal Election Commission, said: "A lot of federal workers see the Hatch Act as a prohibition against having opinions, and this is part of the reason it's so easy to go after us." He argued that government employes should organize and petition Congress against the freeze.
At the Pentagon, however, many members of the military expressed support for Reagan, saying that a stand must be made against deficits and inflation.
"I naturally would like to have a pay raise," said U.S. Navy Commander Wayne Kelly, but "I fully support the president's position."
Air Force Lt. Col. Pat Lerro said people were unhappy about the freeze but understood the need for it. "Nobody perceives that the president is abandoning us or the military is being treated as second-class citizens," he said.
One Air Force technical sergeant who declined to give his name said that Pentagon functionaries had begun joking they should stop working so hard. But military personnel should not complain, he said: "We all ought to be happy because we're working," he said.
Other servicemen, enlisted men in particular, criticized the freeze idea strongly. Servicemen objected to being "guinea pigs" in an economic experiment, one said.
Navy Yeoman 2nd Class James Clark said he had already planned to spend the money on a new Toyota. "With the pay I have now, I have to do a part-time job to have enough to pay my bills and buy the things I want," he said.