Donald J. Devine, then-director of the Office of Personnel Management, acted improperly last September when he told three Democratic governors that their states could face the loss of federal funds after nonpartisan voter registration drives were conducted in state buildings, a House committee concluded yesterday.
A report adopted by the House Government Operations Committee, with Republican support, said that Devine's letter to Govs. Mario M. Cuomo of New York, Richard F. Celeste of Ohio and Mark White of Texas constituted a "selective application and misuse" of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act.
The law requires OPM to ensure that state governments have merit systems that protect state employes from political coercion. It prohibits state workers from "using their official authority for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election . . . . "
"The record is clear," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the employment and housing subcommittee, which investigated Devine's actions last year. "OPM Director Donald Devine attempted to intimidate three Democratic governors of large states from continuing to encourage voter registration in the critical two-week period before the books closed for the presidential election."
Frank noted that Republican members of the subcommittee had concurred in the report. "They differed with our personal references to Mr. Devine, but they agreed with the basic conclusion that the Intergovernmental Personnel Act was being unfairly manipulated in this instance," Frank said.
The committee's report comes at a time when Devine's renomination as head of the civil service system is stalled in the Senate, awaiting a vote by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Frank was among those testifying against Devine, who must be reconfirmed because the OPM director, under law, serves a four-year term.
Devine said yesterday that he had not seen the report, but that he was only following the letter of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act when he wrote governors about possible violations.
"I wish they would take my advice and end that stupid law," Devine said. "I don't like intruding myself in state government activities, but the law says I have to."
Devine said he wrote to the three governors after seeing a Wall Street Journal editorial about voter registration drives in the three states. He told them that voter registration drives in state facilities, including welfare and unemployment offices, might violate the law.
Devine's letters were the first warnings ever sent out under the act. He gave the governors less than a week to certify they were in compliance with the law, the committee said. Two weeks after the letters were sent, the Senate passed a resolution encouraging "government entities at all levels" to conduct nonpartisan voter drives, saying they do not violate the law.