THOUGH THERE'S MORE than a year to go before the mayoral and city council elections, the political scramble is on at city hall. Officeholders are busily darting from power base to power base for support and encouragement while seeking ways to attract fresh public attention. One of the old standby attention-getting devices, of course, is budget-cutting: Trim the fat and all that. Given today's tax burdens, this accent on economy has legitimate appeal; Heaven knows, there's never been any particular reason to accept the annual claims by Mayor Washington that his budget requests are all "bare bones."
Certainly nobody on the city council believes this, and the members are right in working to trim the mayor's proposals for the fiscal year that starts 12 months from now. Many a citizen can point to a particular office or project that seems excessive or inefficient. But on council committee has succeeded in cutting precisely the wrong items from the mayor's list. Acting on an unfortunate set of proposals by Chairman Arrington Dixon, the committee on government operations has zeroed in on the very offices that are responsible for overseeing and/or improving the general efficiency, productivity and fiscal management of the entire local government.
For example, the committee voted to eliminate the executive management services office in the executive branch - the staff reponsible for reorganizations and general management. The committee also decided to cripple the mayor's resource management improvement staff, which is the office charged with monitoring productivity and coming up with ways to make city services more efficient. One way, obviously, is to have people working on the problem, which is what this staff has been doing with some success. These cuts, coupled with a vote to knock a third off the city's office of municipal audit and inspection - the office that every outside-expert critic from the Nelsen Commission to Arthur Andersen & Co. has said needs strengthening - strike us as self-defeating.
In addition, the committee has moved to abolish the eight-member public information office, which not only provides services for the meida, but also handles public inquiries. Only a few years ago, the city finally succeeded in consolidating nearly all information services in this office. The committee's action would undo one of the more notable improvements in the otherwise secretive top echelons of city hall.
In another retrogression, the committee took a cue from unthinking budget overseers in Congress and rejected a request from the board of elections and ethics for money to begin providing voting machines for all precincts. The committee rationale, apparently, is that the board should ask for all the money it needs or none at all; the board had sought incremental appropriations to have machines ready for the 1980 elections, which seemed a reasonable way to go about it.
When these wrongheaded actions come before the full city council, we urge members to be thrifty in the right places - which means reconsidering those "economies" that merely make it harder to operate economically.