ORDP, a creature sired by the Reagan administration and then banished to an unhappy home at the Agriculture Department, died quietly last month after a long illness apparently related to neglect. It was 4.
ORDP, which spoke haltingly and never learned to walk under its own power, was pronounced dead at its Independence Avenue home after congressional budget writers took pity and ordered its life-support systems removed.
Through a brief and uneventful life, the Office of Rural Development Policy cost more than $8 million and came to be regarded on Capitol Hill as an incorrigible that wasn't worth saving.
Although the administration asked for $2 million to feed and nurture ORDP this year, the Republican-controlled Senate decided that was $2 million too much. The House agreed and ORDP was zeroed-out of the fiscal 1986 USDA appropriation.
As a result, 21 employes of ORDP have received their marching orders and Willard (Bill) Phillips Jr., who had been ORDP's foster father, is in the process of closing the operation. He said he and his secretary, Jill Bockorny, will continue to work with USDA on rural-development matters.
Phillips offered a short benediction. "A policy office has no constituency, it has no friends," he said. "You don't develop friends in a job like this . . . . People don't see the value of what you're doing."
At least part of Phillips' assessment was on the mark. Few rural-advocacy groups or farm state legislators on Capitol Hill had much good to say about ORDP; few found any value in what it was doing. Most considered it a sop at a time when the administration was sharply cutting such programs as rural housing, water and sewer development, community facilities and technical assistance.
But Phillips, who believed in the child, said the cuts made ORDP all the more important, "because we are moving from institutional help to self-help . . . . we're transitioning to more self-help at the state and local levels."
That meant rural America would have to learn to live with less financial help from Washington. And that, of course, was the root of ORDP's problem with Congress.
ORDP's biggest splash came in 1983 when Phillips sent Congress an action plan required by the 1980 Rural Development Policy Act. The message of the report, called "Better Country," was that rural America could get along with less.
That it took the department more than two years and several million dollars to put the report together frustrated many members of Congress. Others who wanted ORDP to be a success were furious when the little agency's plan showed up.
Sen. Mark Andrews (R-N.D.) called it "a travesty" and "fluffery." Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), another friend, was equally incensed about ORDP's prepubescent ennui. Playing off of President Reagan's New Federalism motto, Leahy called the report an example of "the new separatism."
Robert A. Rapoza, Washington director for the National Rural Housing Coalition, said there would be no mourning, no wake for ORDP.
He said he and others in the rural-advocacy business had tried with little success to get the attention of ORDP's caretakers at the department.
"They ran it in such a way that no one cared when ORDP died," Rapoza said. "The hopes were dashed quickly with Reagan's budget cuts in 1981. As far we could tell, no real benefit came out of it.
"They kept writing these reports on the value of rural life, but they never addressed ways to protect it."