If one thing can be said with certainty about Donald J. Devine, the former director of the Office of Personnel Management, it's that he's a person who elicits strong emotions.
Federal workers vilify him, while conservative supporters of the Reagan administration idolize him. Both those sentiments rose to the surface yesterday as Devine withdrew his nomination for a second four-year term as the government's chief personnel officer.
Federal workers' unions deemed Devine's departure sweet vindication, the end of an era of low morale and what they saw as official harassment of the civil service.
Conservatives, on the other hand, said Devine was the victim of a "witch hunt," and pointed to what they called a disturbing new pattern of President Reagan's nominees being subjected to ideological litmus tests during their confirmation hearings.
Typical of the opponents' reaction was this from Sandra Arnold, director of public relations for the National Federation of Federal Employes: "When word of Dr. Devine's withdrawal spreads, a sigh of relief will sweep through federal buildings across the country like a summer breeze. A weight will have been lifted off the shoulders of federal workers everywhere."
"For four years, federal workers have been harassed by Devine," said George King, director of public relations for the National Treasury Employes Union. "It was harassment, and a lot of arrogance. It was his style, in addition to substance. He was the antithesis of what we're looking for in this country in terms of modern managerial technique."
"We're all tickled to death," said Kenneth T. Lyons, director of the National Association of Government Employes. "He's made a mess of everything in the Office of Personnel Management. He's made enemies. I don't know of anyone who's said one good thing about him."
John Sturdivant, executive vice president of the American Federation of Government Employes, said Devine "was not suited for the job, and really did not do anything to restore morale . . . . He is not dedicated to a strong, career civil service based on merit and not politics."
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee on civil service, who has been one of Devine's strongest opponents, declined comment.
Rep. Stanford E. Parris (R-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district is home to many federal workers, said, "I have not been one of Don Devine's most staunch supporters. I think he was unnecessarily confrontational and insensitive."
But among Devine's supporters, the sentiments ran just as deep yesterday.
"The president accepts his decision with utmost regret," said White House spokesman Larry Speakes. "He appreciates the service that Don Devine has rendered to the government in one of the most difficult jobs in the government." He added that Reagan "regrets the circumstances which caused him to withdraw."
Devine quit after it was disclosed that, on the last day of his first term as OPM director, he signed an order giving himself full power to run the office as a special assistant to the acting director. The acting director, Loretta Cornelius, told a Senate panel that Devine later asked her to say she knew about the unusual arrangement and that she refused.
Devine's conservative supporters yesterday called that development a liberal subterfuge to shoot down an outspoken and articulate advocate of Reagan's personnel policies.
"It's a tragedy! He was lynched!" said Thomas Winter, editor of Human Events, the conservative weekly newspaper. In its June 1 edition, the publication ran a front-page story entitled, "OPM's Don Devine Deserves a Second Term."
"This frivolous nonsense about his delegation of authority, these lawyers can't see the forest for the trees," Winter said. "It's a tragedy, it really is."
Phillip Truluck, executive vice president of the Heritage Foundation, which hired Devine temporarily when he left OPM, said, "I think it was really an outrageous power play to force out one of the leading conservatives in the Reagan administration."
"It was basically differences in policy that the Senate committee disagreed with him on," Truluck said. "That's not supposed to be what a confirmation hearing is all about. It's supposed to be about whether the nominee is qualified."
Truluck and other conservatives compared Devine's fate to the problems facing other Reagan nominees, including William Bradford Reynolds, whom Reagan wants to promote to associate attorney general, and Edward Curran, who has been nominated to head the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"The president has to be able to have a Cabinet that reflects his own views," said Robert Heckman of the Fund for a Conservative Majority. "There's a pattern now of attacking nominees for ideological reasons."