WASHINGTON — In an embarrassing episode for the Reagan Administration, Donald J. Devine, former director of the Office of Personnel Management, abruptly withdrew his name from renomination Thursday amid charges that he improperly had tried to maintain control of the office.
Devine made his surprise announcement during a Senate hearing after insisting that he had done nothing wrong in trying to run the agency while the Senate was considering whether to approve him for a second four-year term as director.
But then he said: "I can count the votes, and I don't believe I can be confirmed by this committee. Therefore, I withdraw my . . . request for reconfirmation."
In his controversial tenure during President Reagan's first term, Devine had frequently antagonized many of the federal government's 2.1 million nonpostal civilian workers as he militantly carried out Reagan's campaign against the federal bureaucracy. His campaign ranged from efforts to cut federal pay and health benefits to refusal to give workers time off during snowstorms.
The 48-year-old former college professor recently urged federal agencies to hire more temporary employees, drawing a protest from career employees who said that Devine sought to staff the government with temporaries who would get fewer benefits and could be easily fired.
What's more, Devine's Republican campaign activities--he campaigned for Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and assisted Republican congressional candidates in 1982--aroused Democrats' ire in Congress.
So his renomination to a second term faced considerable opposition even before Loretta Cornelius, acting Office of Personnel Management director, testified Wednesday that, shortly before Devine's first term as director expired in March, he signed an order maintaining his control of the agency until he could be confirmed for a second term.
Was Special Assistant
The OPM director, unlike other federal agency heads, serves only a four-year term and then must be reappointed by the President and reconfirmed by the Senate. When Devine's term expired, he became a special assistant to Cornelius, formerly the agency's deputy director, who became the acting director.
After Cornelius testified that Devine had not only tried to maintain his control but that he had asked her to say falsely that she knew about his effort from the beginning, it became clear that several committee Republicans would join the Democrats to vote against his renomination.
But Reagan did not withdraw Devine's name, and, after Devine pulled out, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that Reagan had not asked him to leave.
Before he withdrew, Devine made a 30-minute statement defending his actions. "I have done the best I could, and there were notable accomplishments," he said. "All the actions taken were legal and proper and with the best interests of the agency at heart."
Plans Are Uncertain
Devine said that his plans are uncertain and added it is "nice to be back in the real world again." Len Killkelley, a spokesman at the personnel office, said that Cornelius, whose tenure as acting director is open-ended, "wants to get back to business as usual."
Loretta Ucelli, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees, said: "The events of the last two days have to be an embarrassment to the White House. Something's not right. Something as simple as honesty in government."
Noting Devine's stated intention to help Reagan cut costs in government, Ucelli said that "all he really cut was morale" of employees.
Kenneth T. Blaylock, president of the union, which represents 750,000 government employees, said: "We look forward to the appointment of an OPM director who has a clear vision of the role federal workers play in providing services to the American people."