Loretta Cornelius, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, no doubt hoping to ease tensions between her agency and Congress before her designated successor takes over, was considering delaying new rules for promoting and firing federal workers until disagreements with Congress were worked out. But the White House may have decided that it is more important to please hard-line supporters of former OPM director Donald Devine, who started this unnecessary fight.

It's easy to agree in principle that good performance ought to play a stronger role in decisions to promote and retain federal workers. But it's not so easy to figure out ways to do that without making the civil service too vulnerable to the tastes of its ever-changing political bosses. When OPM published an initial draft of regulations in March of 1983, members of both parties in Congress expressed concern.

Over the next few months OPM made good progress in working out differences with Congress. But when the time came for issuing final regulations, substantial disagreements remained. In particular, senior members of the relevant committees were concerned that the final rules still gave political appointees too much opportunity to fire senior civil servants with solid performance records while retaining short-term workers whom they preferred. Mr. Devine, however, went ahead with the rules anyway.

To add insult to injury, when Congress added language to an appropriations measure to delay the rules, Mr. Devine seized upon a minor defect in the drafting to claim that Congress' effort to block the rules was ineffective -- a claim that a federal court subsequently dismissed. Congress subsequently extended its ban until the end of this month, but OPM has not attempted to impove the rules by further negotiations.

If the administration is truly interested in reforming civil service rules, then it makes sense to put the regulations on hold while trying to address Congress' legitimate concerns. It would be fair and sensible to seek a good faith commitment from both Democrats and Republicans involved in the issue that they will work hard to resolve their differences. More bluster by OPM is likely to produce only more blockage by Congress. The -- Ouch! -- First Cattle Show

Has the 1988 presiden