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Clinton Orders Up 'Reinvention' in Texas : Reform: On Houston stop, President cites 'huge trust deficit' in federal government and issues directives to trim red tape, cut staffs, improve services.


HOUSTON — President Clinton signed orders Saturday designed to reduce federal red tape, cut payrolls and improve government services to taxpayers--and, hopefully, to boost his popularity among Texas voters.

In a dusty, overheated warehouse in southeast Houston, where he was wrapping up a five-day road trip to promote government reform, Clinton said the poor performance of the federal government had created a "huge trust deficit" that had hampered efforts to improve the nation's economy and health care system.

Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, both in shirt-sleeves, chatted with local officials about their efforts to increase government's efficiency.

The presidential orders call for federal agencies to cut internal regulations by 50%, create "customer service" standards to improve performance and devise plans to carry out an intended 12% reduction in the federal work force.

The Clinton Administration's "reinventing government" initiative, unveiled by Gore on Tuesday, was inspired in part by the Texas Performance Review undertaken by Comptroller John Sharp to pare unnecessary costs from government. Sharp, who played a key role in the Administration's six-month reform effort, was present Saturday, as were Texas Gov. Ann Richards and Houston Mayor Bob Lanier.

One of the orders signed by Clinton will direct government agencies to cut their internal regulations, including personnel rules, by 50% within three years. Targeted are regulations that serve housekeeping purposes--"lunchroom rules and stupid stuff," according to Elaine Kamarck, a Clinton adviser.

Asked if ordering a cut of 50% did not risk shaving some necessary rules, aides insisted that a specific goal was needed and that an overwhelming share of the rules were useless. "Unless you set a specific number, it doesn't happen," one aide said.

The second directive, calling for agency heads to write plans to reduce their staffs, is the first step toward the Administration's goal of cutting its work force by 252,000 workers. The directive does not have the force of law.

The order to set "customer service standards" requires agencies to identify who their "customers" are and survey them to determine what they want.

Texas has remained an area of political weakness for Clinton. In the latest statewide poll, taken by Harte-Hanks Communications in July, Clinton received an approval rating of 33%. In the 1992 election, he received 37% of the vote, compared with former President George Bush's 40% and Ross Perot's 22%.

President Clinton's visit came the day after Richards, a Democrat, kicked off her reelection campaign with a gala fund-raiser. Her approval rating stands at 58%, much higher than Clinton's, according to one poll.

Some Texas Democrats believe that if Clinton has any chance of helping himself here, it will be through issues such as government reform, which appeal to conservatives as well as liberals.

"This is an issue that appeals to the (Ross) Perot voters, and it can help the President here," said Bill Cryer, Richard's press secretary.

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