The General Accounting Office estimates that as many as 135,000 federal jobs could be contracted out over the next three years if other government agencies follow the lead of the Defense Department, which has been steadily farming out chores to the private sector.

That GAO estimate could turn out to be low, if the White House buys new guidelines being prepared by the Office of Management and Budget (first outlined here April 16). They would push government agencies to contract out many of the "commercial type" activities now performed in-house. Two House committees--Armed Services and Veterans Affairs--have advised the government to make sure that contractors can do the jobs better, and cheaper, before contracting out.

Estimates of the number of federal workers in "commercial type" activities (that is, services similar to those offered by private firms and therefore prime candidates for contracting out) range from 225,000 to 400,000.

GAO studied contracting-out patterns in Army, Navy and Air Force over the last few years. Based on its study, it concluded that if other federal agencies contracted out the same percentage of their jobs as the Defense Department, 135,000 jobs now being performed by civil servants would be turned over to contractors by the end of 1985.