The federal government this week plans to publish revised layoff procedures that tie job security more closely to performance -- a long-sought goal of the Reagan administration -- but retain elements of the civil service's last-hired, first-fired system of seniority.
The new Office of Personnel Management regulations, a compromise worked out in recent months, are to go into effect Feb. 3 and will cover most of the government's 1.4 million white-collar civilian employes.
Layoff procedures are particularly important now because the new Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced budget law could force agencies to cut employment during the next few years to reduce spending.
Under the new rules, agencies about to make reductions in force will base layoff decisions on a system of points earned by workers on the basis of seniority and annual performance ratings.
One White House official said yesterday that the change "puts more emphasis on merit and performance than the government has in many years." He noted that women and minority-group males, who are often hardest hit by RIFs because they lack seniority, would be special beneficiaries of the new balance between length of service and performance.
During the first 3 1/2 years of the Reagan administration, more than 2,900 of the Washington area's 350,000 federal workers were laid off for economy reasons, and thousands more were downgraded or transferred to other jobs. Most of those laid off or demoted had little seniority.
Nationwide, more than 12,000 federal government workers were laid off for economy reasons during the same period.
Although the number of persons laid off was small by private-industry standards, the dismissals sent shock waves through the Washington area, which had always considered its primary industry immune to layoffs.
Former OPM director Donald J. Devine tried several times to change RIF rules to give more protection for performance and less for seniority. His plan would have made it possible for a five-year employe with the highest job performance rating to bump a 20-year worker with only a satisfactory rating.
Led by legislators who represent districts in this area -- and 14 percent of the federal work force -- Congress blocked all attempts to change layoff rules. A new round of negotiations was initiated during the summer when Constance J. Horner replaced Devine as OPM director and began working closely on the compromise with Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and with Senate civil service expert Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Under the agreement they reached, workers in agencies hit by RIFs will get a point for each year of service. In addition they will get 20 points for each "outstanding" rating, 16 points for a rating of "exceeds fully successful" and 12 points for a "fully successful" rating.
The three most recent performance ratings will be averaged and points added to seniority totals. Those employes with the lowest number of points would be laid off first.
The original layoff rules changes had been fought by federal unions, who said any move from seniority would make it easier for bosses to set up longtime employes -- for political or personal reasons -- by giving them poor ratings and then running a RIF.
The layoff negotiations reached a crisis late in October when Wolf and Hoyer threatened to continue the congressional ban on any RIF rules changes. On Nov. 6 Horner, a former Office of Management and Budget official, wrote White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan asking permission to compromise.
She said that Wolf, Hoyer and Stevens would drop their objections if the point system were enriched to give more protection to longtime workers. Wolf in particular insisted that senior employes with good records be protected from layoffs.
In her letter to Regan, Horner noted that the Wolf-Hoyer-Stevens point system still "doubles the weight given to performance compared to the status quo and is not, I believe, a bad outcome to this long struggle."
The regulations will go into effect within 30 days of being published in the Federal Register unless they are again blocked by Congress.