WASHINGTON -- Despite its proposal to eliminate 252,000 government jobs, the Clinton administration's plan to "reinvent government" was warmly embraced yesterday by unions representing federal workers.
Pleased that they had been included in drafting the proposal, leaders of the three biggest federal workers' unions welcomed the plan's promise to reduce the number of government management positions by 50 percent over the next five years, to include employees "in a true partnership" with management and to bring more flexibility and fewer regulations to the operation of government.
The report drew a cautious response from Capitol Hill as members of Congress complained that they had seen only the "broad brush" and worried about the impact on worker morale and productivity that the proposal, the latest in a series of efforts to reform government, would have.
With nearly 300,000 federal employees living in Maryland, and pledges to close some federal offices and consolidate others, there was bound to be some effect on state residents. But the report that Vice President Al Gore presented to President Clinton had few specifics.
Union officials said they had no indication where the 252,000 jobs would be found. Asked about the impact on the Social Security Administration, headquartered in Woodlawn, John Sturdivant, president of the AFL-CIO American Federation of Government Employees, said he thought the agency would actually add employees.
Social Security, according to yesterday's report, will pledge publicly that anyone who calls its national toll-free number will get an answer on the first effort to call; union officials voiced skepticism.
An administration official briefing reporters said that enough management officials would be eliminated by the restructuring so that workers could be added to the phone banks to fulfill the pledge.
The plan does propose closing a little-known government medical school in Bethesda, the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, established shortly after the Vietnam War to train military physicians and health professionals. In recent years, the school has been the target of budget-cutters on Capitol Hill. Yesterday's report said that $300 million could be saved over five years if the military relied on scholarship programs and volunteers to supply the personnel now trained at the school.
The report drew skepticism from conservative quarters and a cautious approach from Capitol Hill, particularly among Marylanders who represent thousands of federal workers.
Donald Devine, who directed the Office of Personnel Management during the Reagan administration, was wary of union acceptance of the plan. "Where is the dog that didn't bark?" he asked.
"I said I would cut 100,000, and they almost cut my head off," he said of his early days in office.
Describing what he said are two government personnel systems, the civil service system and the union-management system, Mr. Devine pointed out that the plan calls for scrapping the federal personnel manual, the bible of the civil service system, while at the same time creating National Partnership Councils in which unions would have a say in the operation of government.
"This could be a revolutionary change," said Mr. Devine.
"Are we reinventing government, but handing it over to the unions?" he asked.
While union officials were optimistic that the cut of 252,000 jobs could be accomplished through attrition, early retirements and buyouts, as the report said, others weren't so sure. Mr. Devine predicted: "You would have to have a freeze or some other drastic action."
And Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican whose district includes 51,000 federal workers, said: you can find out where the 252,000 federal employees are coming from, you have the ability of a magician or a seer."
OC Questioning the way the figure was developed, Mrs. Morella said
that its inclusion in the report "could be devastating to productivity and morale."
And Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Baltimore County Republican, said: "I hope the most able people don't leave government as a result of this."
Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was equally cautious, saying that the efficiency and effectiveness of agencies had to ,, be monitored. Some agencies were "gouged" to the point of ineffectiveness during the Reagan-Bush years, she said.