Man bites bureaucracy: It’s a never-ending story, and sometimes man wins. Here are two cases when he didn’t.
Just because you’re paranoid,” warns a poster in Andy Bavas’ office, “doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” It is a lesson the 49-year-old bachelor learned the hard way. Six months ago, as a $43,000-a-year, HEW-paid consultant at Northwestern University’s Center for Urban Affairs in Chicago, Bavas decided he didn’t need an upcoming $1,272 raise. “It is most gratifying to be appreciated,” he wrote his regional director, “but it may well be that the money can be used more beneficially in some other way or simply not spent.”
The reaction was swift. His incredulous boss wrote back saying that it was illegal to turn down a raise and that doing so would subject the supervisor to prosecution. He suggested instead a contribution to the government. “Can you believe it?” shrugs Bavas. “Waste is so institutionalized, it’s against the law to save the government money!”
That, alas, was not the end of it. Three months later Bavas was notified that he was being transferred to Philadelphia—and to a job paying nearly $10,000 less. Under HEW’s reorganization guidelines, a salary reduction was justifiable. “But I regard the attempt to move me as punitive,” says Bavas, who considers Chicago his home (and has gone for 16 years with Joyce Wiegand, administrative assistant to the managing editor of Playboy).
Bavas remembers a comparable instance in 1963, when he was fired from a janitor’s job at a Sun Valley ski lodge after suggesting some time-saving efficiencies. But he insists he’s neither a crusader nor an obnoxious do-gooder. “I’m as greedy and venal as the next guy,” he says. “I just didn’t need the raise.”
Still smarting over the relocation order, Bavas has asked his lawyer to determine if any jobs for which he’s qualified were filled by HEW in Chicago recently. However that battle comes out, the war, it appears, is already lost. Echoing W. C. Fields’ famed epitaph, Bavas vowed from the start, “I’d rather resign than move to Philadelphia”—and effective this month, he did.
After attacking Air Force emergency care, Dr. Ronald Gertsch was drummed out of the service
In a more tragic Catch-22 situation, Major Ronald Gertsch, 35, an Air Force surgeon with a wife and six children, forfeited $3,000 in pay and was dismissed from the service.
His case began on the afternoon of January 29 when Donald McGray, 53, a civilian contractor, suffered a heart attack, was rushed to the emergency room at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and half an hour later was pronounced dead. Gertsch, who had just finished attending another cardiac patient, claims he arrived in the emergency room about 10 minutes after McGray to find the patient blue and unconscious—and the attending physicians failing to administer proper life-saving procedures. Gertsch ended up signing the death certificate, but two days later told McGray’s widow that he thought her husband had not received correct treatment. He then shot off a three-page letter to his base commander charging grossly inadequate medical care in the Vandenberg ER. He was particularly critical of the Air Force policy of assigning doctors to emergency room duty regardless of whether or not they had ER training. On hand that day were an internist, a radiologist and two pediatricians—and “to my knowledge,” says Gertsch, “none of the four had specific emergency room training. Their performance was inept.”
Shortly afterward Gertsch’s operating room privileges were suspended by his commanding officer, Col. William Lawson, who cited a psychiatrist’s report labeling Gertsch a “paranoid schizophrenic.” (According to Gertsch, however, the staff psychiatrist at another base determined there was “no mental disorder.”) On February 21 Gertsch refused to examine any more patients if he could not follow the cases into surgery. Lawson ordered him court-martialed for willfully disobeying an order. “Colonel Lawson wanted to get his pound of flesh,” Gertsch charges, “because I blew the whistle on him.” The major’s trial—by a jury of one colonel and eight lieutenant colonels—lasted one day.
As a result, after 11 years in the service, the Indiana University-trained M.D. suddenly found himself without a job or his $31,000 salary, and since his chances of finding another job in the area were limited, to say the least, Gertsch has put his five-bedroom house up for sale. It could have been worse: The maximum sentence was 10 years at hard labor. “I’m happy to be out of the service,” says Gertsch, who had decided to resign anyway, “but this is unjust. It is a cover-up to save face for the Air Force.” The service has refused comment on the case.