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Administration Hits Crunch Time to Reinvent Government

By Ann Devroy and Stephen Barr
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

The Clinton administration has hit crunch time on its massive proposal to ``reinvent government," with chapters of a 159-page report being vetted this week by congressional leaders and interest groups, then frantically being rewritten to reflect new decisions.

The proposal designed to make the federal government work cheaper and better has been put together by 200 staff workers under the direction of Vice President Al Gore for a Sept. 7 White House debut that will open the fall legislative season.

The initiative, called the National Performance Review, has a double agenda. It must offer serious, attainable recommendations that actually save money while making government more efficient. But it also is intended to put President Clinton back into more hospitable political waters as the ``new Democrat" he said he would be before last spring's budget battles.

White House officials said at least three or four drafts of the proposal are circulating and being rewritten by a team of writers under chief author David Osborne. ``It really still is a work in progress," Marla Romash, Gore's press secretary, said Friday.

Even so, Democratic congressional leaders such as Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Mo., and Sen. George J. Mitchell, Maine, were briefed on the report this week and drafts were distributed to interest groups and at the White House. Extensive congressional consultations are planned for next week.

The package is expected to save several billion dollars by cutting back on programs such as agricultural subsidies and regional field offices; shrinking the government payroll by more than the 143,000 sought through attrition in Clinton's budget plan; and simplifying rules for how and why the government buys things.

Gore aides have talked with the Office of Management and Budget about offering ``buyouts" of up to $25,000 to federal managers and other selected workers as a way of cutting long-term costs, with an eye toward shedding an additional 100,000 jobs.

Procurement and contracting rules also are expected to change, especially at the General Services Administration and Government Printing Office, so that agency managers have more purchasing flexibility.

More functions now done by government may be handled by the private sector. One proposal under debate would replace the Federal Aviation Administration with a new, quasi-governmental entity to manage and finance air-traffic control, while keeping safety oversight within the Transportation Department, sources said.

While early estimates of the package projected savings of up to $10 billion, the final estimate will not be known until Clinton and Gore approve the package, which they plan to do next week.

The unveiling of the program will be the first of three major initiatives Clinton plans to roll out, one after the other after Labor Day.

Following the release of the report on Sept. 7, Clinton is likely to travel to various part of the country promoting it. The administration's effort to seek congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement will begin the following week, with the unveiling of Clinton's health-care-reform proposal the week after that.

Administration officials insisted the reinventing government effort will not be pushed aside by the other initiatives, but instead be ``returned to periodically, regularly" in the fall. Gephardt, in an interview Friday, said the House is considering setting aside a week in October to consider ``reinventing government" initiatives together with additional deficit-reducing spending cuts.