Anthony Louis Mondello, who as General Counsel of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, recast federal regulations in ways that affected millions of government employees in the 1970s -- eliminating loyalty oaths, discouraging discrimination based on sexual orientation, and even permitting Postal Service employees to wear short pants in hot weather -- died this morning in Bethesda of complications from Parkinson’s Disease. He was 87.
Mondello came to the Civil Service Commission from the Justice Department, where he had been a trial attorney, Chief of the Foreign Litigation Unit, and Deputy Director, Office of Alien Property, responsible for disposing of some $900 million in assets that had been seized by the U.S. during WWII. He was also loaned to the Australian government to write that country’s Freedom of Information Act. After retiring from public service in 1975, he joined Amtrak as General Counsel, and served there until 1984.
But it was at the Civil Service Commission that Mondello’s influence was most keenly felt. His tenure, from 1968 to 1975, coincided with a period of social change that created various conflicts in the federal workplace. Court decisions expanding the free speech, privacy, and redress rights of federal workers needed to be reconciled with post-war and McCarthy-era government regulations, as well as with provisions of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. And newly permissive social attitudes required adjustments in what had previously been a buttoned-down federal bureaucracy.
Mondello, as the chief legal authority on issues affecting government employees, urged managerial flexibility and a tolerance for difference in the workplace, be it social, political, or merely sartorial. Managers must recognize, he wrote in the Civil Service Journal in 1970, “that a person does not lose his constitutional rights by becoming a government employee.”
In addition to Merit System, discrimination, and mundane employee issues, his office found itself tackling high-profile questions of workplace coercion. In 1971, when the Justice Department initially declined to investigate how career employees of the Federal Supply Service had collectively bought 14 tickets to a $500-a-plate Salute to President Nixon, Mondello launched a Civil Service Commission inquiry. And in 1973, he brought charges against the appointed American governor of American Samoa for using government radio and television to campaign against a ballot proposition that the Samoans elect their own governor. Both situations, he established, were violations of the Hatch Act.
Born on September 5, 1919, Anthony Louis Mondello grew up in a large Italian family in the Bronx, son to Filadelfo and Mary Mondello. He received his BSS at College of the City of New York in 1940, before being called for service in WWII, where he served with the Army Corps of Engineers in Europe, supervising construction of roads, barracks and bridges, establishing and running factories for camouflage materials, and becoming in his off-hours, a table-tennis fanatic.
Returning to New York after the war, he earned a law degree at Columbia University (1948), and was introduced to a Barnard undergrad whom a friend thought “just might be able beat you at ping-pong.” Omah Perino won the match; Mondello won her heart. They were wed in 1947, and moved to Washington DC, where he joined Kenwood Country Club so he could play real tennis rather than the table-top variety. He also signed on as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice.
Within a few years he was a senior attorney in the department’s Appellate section, successfully arguing cases before the US Supreme Court on such issues as the Federal Employees Compensation Act, and the constitutionality of the Hatch Act. And in 1962 he headed the department’s Foreign Litigation Unit, supervising all litigation overseas in which the United States was a party.
That same year he took over the Office of Alien Property, where his task was the selling, returning, or otherwise disposing of such seized wartime assets as a Rembrandt painting, a stack of Persian rugs, the rights to the song “Lili Marlene,” and a 95% ownership in the giant chemical company, GAF (General Aniline & Film Corp.). This last asset fetched a surprising $329 million when auctioned off, nearly double what had been expected.
Mondello’s seven-year tenure at the CSC followed, ending in 1975 when he left public service to become General Counsel at Amtrak, where he shepherded the company through a thicket of legal issues related to railroad consolidation.
Shortly after his wife Omah died in 1984, Mondello retired from Amtrak. Two years later, he married Ann Willett, a longtime friend with whom he’d worked at the Justice Department some 30 years earlier. In retirement, he remained active, taking Italian lessons, travelling, and applying his still considerable energies to improving his tennis game, which in his view involved improving his tennis racquets. He bought only big-headed Prince models, shortening and rewrapping their handles, a tactic that resulted in stubby racquets that looked remarkably like the ping-pong paddles he’d wielded in his youth. He claimed the shortened handle greatly improved his control of the ball.
That strategy served him well when Parkinson’s Disease began to slow him in his later years. Long after the disease had made difficult such once simple activities as walking, or climbing into a car, he could still summon considerable grace on the tennis court. He continued playing in Seniors Tournaments into his eighties.
In addition to his wife Ann, brother Frank, and sister Vivian, Anthony Mondello is survived by sons Robert and Stephen Mondello, daughter Juanita Rilling, grandsons Forrest and Aaron Rilling, step-children Russell Willett and Julie Baker, and step-grandchildren Richard and Jennifer Baker.