Major overhaul of government spending proposed



WASHINGTON (AP)—President Clinton proposed a major overhaul of government buying Tuesday, requiring that the Pentagon and other agencies order items off the shelf when possible rather than custom-made, super-expensive versions.

As part of a government-streamlining program, Clinton also proposed a $10 billion package of new spending cuts and other cost-saving moves, ranging from offering federal workers bonuses for retiring early to letting the Internal Revenue Service hire private bill collectors.

‘‘We can and will run a government that works better and costs less,’‘ Clinton said at the White House.

As for making the government buy commercially available products, Clinton said: ‘‘Procurement waste is costing the taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and it has to stop.’‘ He said he hoped some of the savings could be channeled into anti-crime programs.

‘‘No more specially constructed cigarette ash trays,’‘ said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who is sponsoring the administration’s procurement-overhaul legislation in the House.

He was referring to the nine pages of specifications issued by the General Services Administration earlier this year for glass ashtrays to be used in government buildings—an example frequently cited by Vice President Al Gore in his campaign to streamline government.

The government buys $200 billion in goods and services each year, 75 percent by the Pentagon.

Clinton said his package fulfills the promise for more spending cuts he made last August to congressional conservatives to win their support for his deficit-reduction plan. It also aims to carry out a host of recommendations made by Gore’s National Performance Review last month.

The package ranges from ending federal subsidies for wool, mohair and honey to providing less money for certain small airports.

And it would authorize the government for the first time to follow the example of private industry and offer ‘‘buy out’‘ bonuses to federal employees as an incentive to early retirement.

The goal is to bring about a reduction of about 252,000 federal employees.

But some conservative Democrats have suggested they might press for even deeper cuts, perhaps including a freeze on congressional salaries.

And the acquisition-reform effort could prove contentious once it actually begins to move through Congress. The process could result in giving work now performed by defense contractors to smaller companies.

That is raising concerns of some labor interests. Also, some lawmakers may oppose the program if it threatens to take business away from companies in their districts.

Still, the administration and its congressional allies were predicting wide bipartisan support.

‘‘Although we may quibble about specific cuts in this package, there should be no question that this spending cuts package will let taxpayers keep more money in their pockets,’‘ said John Glenn, D-Ohio, a Senate sponsor.

The administration contended the proposed changes in procurement policies could save $22 billion over the next five years—on top of the $10 billion in new spending cuts Clinton proposed.

But congressional budget officials put the potential savings from procurement reform at far less, around $3 billion over five years.

Administration budget officials said that the package included $9.1 billion in cuts for the current fiscal year, to be followed by another set of about $1 billion in cuts later this week.

Separately, the president also signed an executive order under which the government will begin soliciting and accepting bids for government contracts by computer.

‘‘It will make our antiquated, paper-based procurement system accessible to anybody with a personal computer,’‘ Clinton said. ‘‘It will open up a world of possibilities to small businesses in America and drive down costs to taxpayers.’‘

The new computerized system ultimately will apply to all the roughly 20 million contracts the government awards each year.

But the centerpiece of Clinton’s program was the procurement overhaul.

‘‘Procurement reform shares a common border with many of our most important goals: saving taxpayer money, reinventing government, strengthening our military, improving our economy,’‘ Clinton said.

The package would also boost to $100,000 from $25,000 the size of contracts the government may award without complicated paperwork and auditing procedures. Supporters said that would open up more contracts to smaller businesses.

Today’s package of spending cuts included legislation to:

_Give the departments of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Corps of Engineers authority to eliminate local offices.

_Eliminate a honey subsidy that dates back to World War II—and which Clinton used in his campaign as a sign of government waste—worth an estimated $15 million over six years.

_Wipe out similar federal subsidies for wool and mohair producers.

_Allow the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies to hire private collection agencies to help collect debt.

_Eliminate federal subsidies to small airports that are within 70 miles of major airports, worth about $38.6 million a year.

In addition to the computerized billing, the measure also encourages the government to engage in computerized banking where feasible—including depositing employees’ paychecks directly and paying contractors.

‘‘We not only want to eliminate paperwork. We want to eliminate paper,’‘ Gore told Tuesday’s ceremony. ‘‘It makes good environmental sense but it also makes good business sense.’‘