Clinton proposes big reduction in bureaucracy



WASHINGTON (AP)—Seizing on public dissatisfaction with government, President Clinton put forward an ambitious plan Tuesday to make the bureaucracy work better and cost less, aiming to save $108 billion and shrink the federal work force by 252,000 people.

‘‘The government is broken and we intend to fix it,’‘ Clinton pledged.

Launching his campaign to ‘‘reinvent government’‘ in a ceremony on the South Lawn, Clinton endorsed a book of more than 800 recommendations to cut waste, reduce red tape, streamline the bureaucracy and simplify personnel and purchasing rules.

The backdrop behind Clinton dramatized the idea of a bloated government: Two forklifts held aloft tons of budget rules, purchasing regulations and the 10,000-page federal personnel code.

The administration proposes closing hundreds of government offices outside Washington, giving managers more control over personnel decisions, making it easier to fire incompetent employees and requiring government agencies that provide services to compete with private business.

Some proposals would have a direct impact on consumers.

One calls on the Internal Revenue Service to let people pay taxes by credit cards. Another would eliminate restrictions that keep the IRS and other agencies from using private companies to collect debts.

The plan would turn over all food safety regulations and inspections to the Food and Drug Administration, consolidating the efforts of 21 agencies. The Agriculture Department would be required to close or consolidate 1,200 field offices.

Some of the proposals have been offered by Clinton before and rejected, such as eliminating federal support payments or price supports for honey, wool and mayhair.

Vice President Al Gore, who oversaw a six-month study that produced the proposals for Clinton, said more than half of the plan would require congressional approval. Administration officials said they did not know how or when Clinton’s plan would be presented to Congress.

Many presidents have pledged to make government leaner and better, but they have achieved few conspicuous results.

Clinton’s campaign, however, has the advantage that most Americans are unhappy with the huge budget deficit and don’t trust the government to spend taxpayers’ dollars wisely. The public’s dissatisfaction has been fanned by Texas tycoon Ross Perot.

‘‘I think there is more public support for this than there has been in the past that runs across all partisan lines, Republicans, Democrats, independents,’‘ Clinton said.

‘‘Make no mistake about this: This is one report that will not gather dust in a warehouse,’‘ he promised.

He plans to begin selling the program with appearances this week in Virginia, Ohio, California and Texas.

Republicans were quick to endorse Clinton’s aims but were skeptical that Democrats would actually cut government.

‘‘These make for a good start but unless Congress can act to implement these federal spending cuts and government reform proposals, we really haven’t made any progress,’‘ said House Republican Leader Bob Michel.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole said, ‘‘I don’t know of any Republican not willing to vote to reduce the cost of government.’‘

Organized labor was hesitant to attack the plan even though it calls for slashing the 2.1 million federal work force by 252,000 within five years.

Three labor unions representing the bulk of federal workers offered qualified support, as long as the proposed job reductions are achieved through ways other than layoffs.

Clinton’s program envisions achieving the reductions through early retirements, attrition and job buyouts but administration officials say layoffs are possible.

John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the proposals were ‘‘positive steps to move the government into the 21st Century.’‘

For Clinton, the proposals offer a fresh start for his administration and a foundation to counter GOP criticism that he’s an old-fashioned tax-and-spend Democrat.

Overhauling government also will test Clinton’s political spine. Many special interests and members of Congress are sure to rise up on specific issues.

For example, Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary civil rights subcommittee, said, ‘‘I have problems with the idea’‘ of merging the Drug Enforcement Agency with the FBI. Clinton’s own attorney general, Janet Reno, has been cool to the idea.

All of the regional offices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be closed; five of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 11 field offices would be shut.

Outside Washington, there were doubts that Clinton would succeed.

‘‘This bureaucracy didn’t come about haphazardly; it came about because there was a need,’‘ said Eugene Carter, South Carolina state director for the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.

‘‘It’s going to be a hard nut to crack,’‘ said Alvin J. Sander, director of the National Cemetery in Little Rock, Ark.

The government overhaul plan was developed by Gore and a team of specialists who made an agency-by-agency review and held hearings with government employees around the country.

‘‘We couldn’t change what needs to be changed without running into opposition,’‘ he said. ‘‘But the ground has shifted. The world has changed. The American people are demanding that we change.’‘

Clinton plans to sign two executive orders this week. One would order agencies to devise ‘‘customer service plans’‘ to treat citizens like customers.

The second would form the National Partnership Council that is supposed to help labor-management relations.