WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration's plan to reinvent government would force agencies to compete with private companies for much of their work, increase the independence of agency heads and eliminate the jobs of thousands of federal managers.
A confidential 109-page draft of the plan obtained by Knight-Ridder News Service offers dozens of proposals, including promises that the U.S. Postal Service will deliver overnight local first-class mail, that the IRS will pay tax refunds within 21 days and that the Social Security Administration will answer its phones.
The so-called National Performance Review, being prepared under the direction of Vice President Al Gore, is expected to be unveiled Sept. 7, with detailed reports on individual agencies to follow daily.
Marla Romash, Mr. Gore's communications director, warned last night that the version of the plan obtained by Knight-Ridder was an "early draft."
She said that a number of reform proposals had since been eliminated or modified and that many had been added.
Ms. Romash would not explain in detail how the draft plan differs from more recent versions. She described the government-reform plan as "very much a work in progress."
"Decisions are being made day by day," she added, noting that recent drafts of the plan were more than 150 pages long.
In addition to a previously leaked proposal to merge the Drug Enforcement Administration into the FBI, the draft obtained by Knight-Ridder includes proposals to:
* Hire private collection agencies to recover $241 billion in back -- taxes and other debts owed to the federal government.
* Lift limits on user fees in national parks and raise the prices for government-provided food inspection, pollution measurement and waste-dumping permits.
* Put the Labor Department in charge of 150 job-training programs now handled by 14 departments and agencies.
* Let airlines build and operate a new private air-traffic control system. Carriers claim that the Federal Aviation Administration's outmoded system costs them $2 billion yearly.
* Replace federal disaster aid to states with a disaster loan and insurance program paid for by states.
* Encourage private-sector competition against federal monopolies in fields such as government printing, real estate management, travel services, weather forecasting and secretarial support.
* End immediate unemployment payments to soldiers who quit the military. (Civilians who quit get no benefits while seeking work.)
Many of the proposals in the plan have been offered before, sometimes repeatedly, only to be defeated by political opponents.
To reduce political sniping, the Clinton administration plans to propose a bipartisan commission to review the reform proposals. The commission would then offer them to Congress in a single package.
Most of the Gore panel's proposals are intended simply to make the federal government work better for less.
Recent Republican presidents have also sought to reduce the size of the bureaucracy.
To many bureaucrats, the simplest suggestion in the draft plan will seem the most daring: Stop promoting those who "follow the rules, pass the buck, and keep their heads down." Start promoting innovative risk-takers "obsessed with their customers."
To help federal bureaucrats be more innovative, the Gore panel would jettison thousands of pages of personnel and procurement rules and cut back an army of auditors, budget examiners and inspectors that now costs $35 billion a year, according to the report.
Too much oversight
Too much oversight has made most bureaucrats "afraid to deviate even slightly from standard operating procedure," the draft reasons. Instead, the administration wants civil servants to set clear performance goals and use ingenuity to attain them.
Just how much the federal government might save from the proposed reforms has not been determined. Mr. Gore and President Clinton have yet to pass on the final package.
The draft criticizes across-the-board personnel cuts, such as the 7 percent reduction in the federal bureaucracy that Mr. Clinton ordered upon taking office. The report says that individual managers should decide the size of their staffs.
The draft report also opposes micro-management of the bureaucracy by budget examiners at the White House Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Clinton and other presidents have used OMB to manage the bureaucracy by its purse strings.
Manager authority increased
The reform proposal argues that managers of agencies should control their own spending within overall budgets set by the administration.
Capitol Hill's reaction to Mr. Gore's proposals will be crucial because new laws or amendments will be required to make real changes in procurement, personnel and financial management rules.
"Reinventing government," as the initiative is called, has strong bipartisan support in the Senate.
Less certain is support in the House, particularly from Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., the chairman of the Government Operations Committee, who is cool to the idea.
PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
A look at how the Clinton reform team hopes to solve some serious government management problems:
PROBLEM: The nation's air-traffic control system is so outmoded that it is costing the airline industry $2 billion a year in unnecessary flight delays.
ANSWER: Let the airline industry build and run a private air-traffic control system to replace the Federal Aviation Administration's system.
PROBLEM: Deadbeats owe $241 billion to federal agencies, such as the IRS and the Health Care Financing Administration.
ANSWER: Hire private collection agencies to recover the billions in back taxes and other debts owed to the government.
PROBLEM: User fees that businesses and consumers pay for government services are so low that $5 out of every $6 taken in goes to pay the salaries of fee collectors.
ANSWER: Lift caps on user fees for national parks, food inspection and services to industry, such as pollution measurement and waste-dumping permits.
PROBLEM: Federal agencies write hundreds of millions of checks every year at an average cost of 36 cents apiece.
ANSWER: Encourage the IRS, the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Affairs Department to pay with electronic fund transfers at an average cost of 6 cents.
PROBLEM: Government monopolies do a poor job delivering services to other agencies and ordinary citizens.
ANSWER: Encourage private companies to compete to provide government services such as weather forecasting, printing and real estate management.
PROBLEM: The government has as many as 285,000 unnecessary supervisors and 585,000 unneeded "systems control" staff employees, such as budget examiners and personnel officers.
ANSWER: Cut the federal manager-to-worker ratio from 1-to-7 to 1-to-15 within five years through attrition, early retirements and buyouts.