NEW YORK, JAN. 7 -- Federal agencies, particularly NASA, are having trouble recruiting and retaining good employees because of flaws in the civil service system, according to former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker.
The government needs to consider raising salaries for high-ranking civil servants and limiting the number of political appointees to federal agencies, Volcker said in an interview Wednesday.
Volcker, who stepped down from the Fed chairmanship last year, is investigating civil service issues as chairman of the blue-ribbon National Commission on the Public Service.
"NASA used to be a great place to work if you were a young physicist," Volcker said. But the first generation is leaving, and "there's no second generation of the same competence coming along."
"I think they have a real problem of turnover and morale" at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Volcker said.
Volcker said his views were personal impressions that did not necessarily reflect the views of the commission or any investigation of NASA.
NASA spokesman David Garrett said, "I assume like everybody else we have had problems keeping better qualified people."
Garrett said NASA is interested in obtaining a special exemption from civil service pay rules to pay extra to certain scientists and engineers, as the Navy is doing in a pilot program.
"I certainly don't think you could say our morale is that low. Certainly everybody would like to be flying, that's for sure," Garrett said.
The National Commission on the Public Service is scheduled to have its proposals ready to present to the Congress and presidential administration that take office in early 1989, Volcker said.
The commission's members include former president Gerald R. Ford, former vice president Walter F. Mondale, former Cabinet member Elliot Richardson and top corporate and academic authorities.
Among the ideas being discussed are raising the ceiling on civil service salaries, possibly to the range of $125,000 a year from $85,000 a year; adjusting salaries on the basis of the local cost of living; and uncoupling maximum civil service salaries from the pay of congressmen, Volcker said.
"If you're a civil servant who's made it to the top of that profession, you ought to be able to send a kid to college without going into debt," Volcker said.
Other ideas, he said, include cutting red tape that discourages good people from applying for civil service jobs and limiting political appointees. Volcker said the Environmental Protection Agency in the early years of the Reagan administration was a "classic case" of outsiders coming into an agency with a political agenda and "ending up in a real mess."
The federal government has more than 3,000 political appointees, according to statistics Volcker supplied.