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Gore's Reinvented Government Aims to Slash Red Tape : Bureaucracy: Vice president's proposal to slim the federal behemoth would eliminate 252,000 jobs. The plan to save $108 billion draws wide support.

September 08, 1993|DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Saying that the government is choking on its own red tape, Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday delivered his report on "reinventing government," calling for elimination of 252,000 government jobs and thousands of pages of personnel and procurement regulations and the merger of dozens of duplicative federal agencies.

Under Gore's plan, the government would offer buyouts and early retirement to an undetermined number of workers, but Administration officials acknowledge that layoffs could be needed to achieve the 252,000-person reduction. Taken together with military reductions already under way because of the end of the Cold War, the new plan would mean that the federal payroll--roughly 3.9 million people when Bill Clinton took office in January--would be cut by approximately 650,000 civilian and military personnel, or about 17%, over the next five years.

Clinton and Gore estimated that the proposed cutbacks and consolidations would save $108 billion over the next five years, although officials conceded that many of the cost savings are speculative--based on legislative proposals the Administration has not yet completed.

The three largest components of that savings would be personnel cutbacks, $40 billion; agency consolidations, $36 billion; and reforming the rules under which the government now buys $200 billion in goods and services each year, $22 billion.

Clinton's political advisers said they see the government reform project as key to their hopes of convincing voters of two things: that government can work effectively to carry out the ambitious Clinton agenda and that the President is the sort of "new Democrat" he portrayed in his campaign. To that end, they did their best to lend drama to the otherwise arcane subjects of government personnel, procurement and budgeting.

Clinton plans to issue a series of executive orders over the next several weeks to implement parts of the plan. But aides acknowledged that even the provisions that could be enacted by the President alone are subject to congressional review. They conceded that in the end, Congress will have to act on virtually all of Clinton's proposals before they can be fully effective. No action is likely until early next year.

Standing with Clinton on the White House South Lawn, backed by forklifts piled high with bound volumes of government regulations, Gore said that the main finding of his six-month National Performance Review is that Washington is in the grip of an "old-fashioned, outdated government. It's government using a quill pen in the age of Word Perfect."

Gore aides conceded that many of his proposals to change that situation have been put forward before, only to be rejected by Congress. But "there are some moments in history when it is possible to do this," said David Osborne, the report's principle author. "This is going to be a long, tough slog," but popular anger at government waste, the political force represented by Ross Perot and the pressure to reduce spending have combined to change the political dynamics that blocked earlier reform efforts, he said.

Osborne may be right. At least initially, Gore's proposals drew support from a wide range of Washington interests that usually are at each other's throat--from government workers' unions to Republican members of Congress.

Written in unusually blunt prose for a government document, Gore's report painted a picture of a federal Establishment so terrified of the possibility of scandal that every conceivable activity has been surrounded by a web of inflexible rules.

Federal workers, the report said, "do everything by the book--whether it makes sense or not. They fill out forms that should never have been created, follow rules that should never have been imposed and prepare reports that serve no purpose."

"In the name of controlling waste, we have created paralyzing inefficiency."

The goal for reform, Gore and his aides argued, must be to eliminate much of that red tape and give federal workers the independent authority and accountability to do their jobs.

Under Gore's proposal, the current 10,000-page personnel code, with its elaborate 18-level pay structure, would be scrapped and replaced by a system that would give government managers broad authority to hire, fire and promote workers within a simplified set of rules designed to keep political influence out of the civil service.

The equally complex federal procurement code would be eliminated, giving agencies power to buy what they need without going through cumbersome central purchasing agencies. For example, the report noted, the government now has nine pages of specifications devoted to "the precise dimensions, color, polish and markings required for simple glass ashtrays."

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