Remember those sprightly green-and-white campaign brochures that kept claiming Jimmy Carter had "eliminated" 278 of the 300 agencies in Georgia's "overgrown bureaucracy"?
Or the promise he made again and again during last year's presidential campaigning to reduce what he said were some 1,900 federal "agencies" to 200?
Well, now that he's President Carter, the White House, it seems, would appreciate it very much if we would stop counting.
"I don't think we should play the numbers game," Bert Lance, director of the Office of Management and Budget, intoned last week at a briefing signaling the start of the Carter administration's reorganization of the federal government. "I don't think we should say we will cut the number to 200," Lance told a reporter who asked about the suddenly discomfiting arithmetic.
A proper appreciation of government reorganization, Carter-style, also requires an understanding of how elastic a federal "agency" can be. It can be the presidency, the State Department, the Marine Mammal Commission or even the Interagency Committee on Antartica.
All are counted individually as "executive branch agencies" in a fact book released by the Carter White House on the President's signing of the reorganization bill. Described by Carter aides as "the most comprehensive" accounting of government agencies ever made, the master chart shows a total of 2,103.
The chart, however, also shows that 1,185 are simply advisory committees and 129 are "interagency and interdepartmental committees." In addition, 332 "sub-agencies" of Cabinet-level departments are counted separately, after the 11 Cabinet-level departments within which the agencies can be found have themselves been totted up.
Carter did the same sort of thing in Georgia. "We included every tiny little thing," a former Carter aide says. Then, presto, reorganization transformed Georgia's 300 agencies into "22 major operating agencies," as Carter's final report on his governorship stated it.
But Carter, as governor, did not "eliminate" 278 agencies or anything near that. Critics such as now-retired state auditor Ernest Davis used to scoff that "all he did was change the [tables of] organization and the furniture," Supporters says Carter did much more than that when governor, but allow that he "consolidated" far more offices than he "eliminated."
Some boards and agencies were abolished. The Ty Cobb Baseball Commission was one. It hadn't functioned for five years anyway, recalls M.W.H. (Bill) Collins, former director of the University of Georgia's Institute of Government who worked on state reorganization under Carter and other Georgia governors.
"They [the commissioners] were supposed to come up with a memorial for 'the world's greatest baseball player,' some sort of museum or something, but hell, there weren't enough people interested," Collins said.
Another Georgia staple that got the ax was the Superintendency of Naval Stores, an already moribund agency that still required "three man-weeks of work" and consultations with the Turpentine Growers of America to eliminate. "They were headquartered in Georgia and one of the superintendent's jobs had been to check the quality of turpentine," Collins explained.
Now dean of The American University's College of Public Affairs, Collins emphasizes that he is quite enthusiastic about the increased efficiency and responsiveness that can come from Carter's long-distance reorganization strategy. But the President needs to tread carefully to be successul, he says.
"Sure, there are a lot of deadhead agencies and inactive committees and commissions that need abolishing," Collins says, "but there are probably an equal number that are working like the devil . . . Eliminating citizens' commissions and advisory committees isn't necessarily good. They may be cheap for the price."
Once reorganization is well on its way, though, the numbers game is likely to be back in vogue at the white House.
"You know how they operate," said Collins, who first met Carter 15 years ago. "They're smart not to do it now, but in a couple of years they'll certainly play the numbers game. You don't think they'd miss a chance to dramatize it, do you?"