If Amtrak doesn't clean up its act in running the $1.75 billion rail revitalization program called the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project, the railroad should be replaced as the prime construction manager because of "serious and continuing problems," says a House committee report.

The House Government Operations Committee, in an 80-page report, said that "project delays and construction slippages have escalated costs and severly reduced the original scope," of the Washington-to-Boston repair project.

The report cites the fact that many key elements of the revitalization project - including bridgework, curve realignment, security fencing - "either have been scrapped or considerably reduced."

"As currently planned," the report points out, "a finished project will involve little more than a highly improve track structure from Washington to Boston," but pointed out that it is likely the railroad will not meet the original goal of reducing triptimes of two hours and 40 minutes between New York and Washington and three hours and 40 minutes between New York and Boston.

After holding hearings in June, chaired by Rep. John L. Burton (D-Calif.), and conducting an investigation, the committee found "shortages of trained personnel and failures in accounting, procurement, property control, leased equipment, spare-parts inventory, contrace awarding and equipment repair."

The report notes that Amtrak actually completed only 63 percent of the track work it had scheduled to be completed last year - but at 104 percent of the budgeted cost - and that this year the project is likely to complete only 65 percent of this goal.

The committee said it also found that of the 40 persons at the Federal Railroad Administration working on the Northeast Corridor Project Team, only four have rail backgrounds.

The committee called upon the General Accounting Office to "look into project production and cost problems."

The GAO was also asked to investigate the role of San Francisco based Bechtel, Inc., which has been supplying consultants to the FRA, "to determine the extent to which Bechtel serves as a crutch for FRA's lack of personnel with railroand experience and the extent to which Bechtel's fee might have been used to other aspects of the projects."

Bechtel has cost the FRA more than $10 million since it was hired in 1977. "Before being hired," the announcement with the report said, "Bechtel competed for selection as the design consultant, but lost to DeLeuw, Cather/Parsons, whose work it now monitors for the FRA, a situation the Committee found puzzling."

"Productive farmland is disappearing at a disturbing rate," says the Environmental Protection Agency, which has ordered its staffers to make sure the EPA isn't contributing to that trend with its programs and rules.

"Roughly 31 million acres of farmland have been lost to development or other uses during the past decade," said EPA Administrator Douglas Costle, who adds, "Some of the responsibility lies with the federal government."

He said the EPA even influences the future of farmland in its decisions on where to locate sewage treatment plants and interceptor sewers, where new sources of pollution, like power plants, can be built, and where to place solid-waste landfills.

Costle said he has ordered his regional officials and program chiefs "to consider during their rulings and decisions whether they are having a good or bad effect on farmland loss. Where the effects are negative - where we are aggravating rather than alleviating the problem - we will consider other courses of action if possible."

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday passed new rules regarding the discovery process in matters before FTC administrative proceedings.

That may not sound like much, but when you consider the problems the FTC has with discovery, it is a major step for the agency. One new rule requires the agency to hold pre-hearing conferences in every case to narrow the issues and schedule a plan of discovery that would prevent discovery actions from taking too long.