The administration will "very likely oppose" a proposed revision of the Hatch Act that would allow federal workers to participate in partisan politics, Joseph R. Wright Jr., deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said yesterday.
Despite assurances to congressional Republicans that an open-minded review of a bill is under way, key Reagan administration officials have made up their minds to fight the measure.
"We think it is a terrible idea, and it is my belief that this is well nigh the universal view within the administration," said Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten.
At a White House meeting yesterday, representatives of the Justice Department, the Office of Personnel Management, OMB and at least one member of the White House staff argued over whether to announce immediate opposition to the proposal or to place the measure on the agenda of the Domestic Policy Council, sources said.
The group broke up into camps. One, led by the Justice Department representative, Joseph A. Morris, argued for an immediate announcement of opposition, and the other, led by Wright, argued for a Cabinet-level discussion of the bill. The two sides were later characterized as those who wanted to "plan strategy to kill this sucker," and those who wanted to leave House Republicans "some room to save face."
The option of a Cabinet-level discussion prevailed, and the Hatch Act bill has been placed on the agenda of next Thursday's Domestic Policy Council meeting, according to all accounts. The Domestic Policy Council is made up of the Cabinet secretaries of the domestic departments, with OPM and OMB invited.
Wright said that at yesterday's meeting "every agency present recommended opposition" to the proposal, although he said he "couldn't say exactly what the president will do."
Every Republican on the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee supported the measure when it passed the committee Tuesday. Rep. Frank Horton (R-N.Y.) spoke optimistically after the vote about chances for compromise that would put the administration behind the measure.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) has come out publicly in favor of revisions in the act. He was one of a group of Republicans who presented the bill to OPM Director Constance J. Horner last Thursday. "She was hit cold with the bill," Horton said yesterday, "and she said she would be as responsive as she could."
Yesterday, however, sources said she was strongly opposed to loosening restrictions on federal employe politicking as was Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who is the chairman of the Domestic Policy Council. White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. was also said to be opposed, according to one source, but this could not be confirmed last night. As a senator, Baker voted against a Hatch Act revision bill in 1976.
A White House official said "it's fair to say we have some reservations about it." He went on to say that no one among the top officials in the White House had taken a real look at the bill.
However, an analysis of the measure written by administration lawyers is circulating widely in the executive branch.
Entitled "Analysis of the Hatch Act Reform Bill," the five-page document cites a fearsome list of "potential adverse effects" on its last page. They include that "employes could believe that the advancement of their careers depended on adherence to their superiors' political views.
"Presidential appointees might believe that they could not fully trust some employe, known to have worked or run as a candidate for the opposition party, to carry out the administration's goals and policies. Increased political participation could lead to an increase in employe allegations that personnel actions are taken for prohibited political reasons."
The analysis concludes, "Federal employe participation in partisan politics could lead to an erosion of the public's belief in the objectivity of the federal civil service."