The Reagan administration's proposal to stop paying people who serve on federal advisory committees is running into stiff opposition from agency officials who contend that they will lose valuable, talented members.
Many of the 60 comments the General Services Administration received on its proposed rule supported closer monitoring of the panels, but most opposed the plan to stop paying participants. That prohibition is actually in effect, as an interim rule, while GSA works out the language of its final rule.
Last year, 7,741 of the 19,333 people who served on committees received compensation in addition to their expenses, according to GSA. All committee members who had to travel to Washington could draw a $75 per diem for meals and accommodations, and money to cover their travel costs.
A GSA survey found that all advisory committee members at four agencies--the Health and Human Services Department, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation and the Education Department--were being compensated, regardless of need.
Under the proposed rule, members would continue to get travel expenses and per diems, but would be compensated only "in the exceptional case where an agency head is unable to meet the need for technical expertise or the requirement for balanced membership."
Seymour D. Greenstone, the Environmental Protection Agency's deputy assistant administrator for administration, said in that agency's comments that while some panels should "consist of volunteers, . . . we should not expect individuals who perform scientific and technical studies or reviews requiring many hours of homework in preparation for committee meetings to perform these services free of charge."
Francis X. Lilly, deputy solicitor of Labor, noted, for example, that under the rules, the department would no longer be permitted to pay a $60 stipend to handicapped people who serve on the agency's Advisory Committee on Sheltered Workshops.
Ronald L. Martinson, GSA's committee management director, said that the administration has been able to trim "unnecessary costs" without "sacrificing the mission" of the advisory committees. But Martin H. Katz, general counsel of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the new rules "run the risk of unduly complicating the recruitment, selection and administration of advisory committees."
Katz recommended that the rule be changed "to avoid even the possibility of losing the services of faculty and research personnel and representatives of public interest and consumer groups . . . and of skewing advisory committee membership to favor the views of those who are able to participate at their own expense."
Added Dorothy S. Ridings, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States: "Self-employed committee members who must sacrifice time from work in order to serve would no longer be partially reimbursed for the loss of potential earnings, and as a result, federal advisory committees would tend to be unbalanced in favor of business interests and the wealthy."
But Richard B. Dingman, legislative director of the Moral Majority, took the opposite view.
"I am fully convinced there are many competent and willing experts around the country to fill the various advisory posts on a voluntary basis," he wrote, adding that since the pay is "fairly nominal, I can't imagine the lack of such pay would be a detriment to securing an adequate pool of applicants."
Some of those who commented on the proposed rule change said it would tend to force advisory committees to rely more on private consultants. Approximately $5 million of the $74 million spent in 1982 to support advisory committees went for consultants' services.
Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), a supporter of the administration's position, said he looks at it another way: continuing to pay panel members "has the effect of bringing paid consultants on board rather than concerned citizens seeking to serve."