On the first full day of Ronald Reagan's presidency, the new adminstration found it is far easier to talk about reducing the size of government than to do it.
That lesson, which has yet to reach Reagan's desk, came in the form of an executive order that was never given. It was an order to abolish the Council on Wage and Price Stability, one that Reagan transition officials had confidently predicted that they would issue this week.
But the order now appears to be weeks or months, not days, away. And there is a possibility that it may never come.
When administration officials set out to fulfill their promise, their lawyers found that funding for the council was authrized by Congress through June 5.The only way to cancel this funding is to file a recission with Congress, a complicated process that requires approval of both houses and is likely to be accomplished before the date funding expires.
And there is another potentially more serious problem, which illustrates the maxim that every solution creates a problem of its own.
Along with cutting the cost of government, Reagan has promised to repeal government regulations he says increase the costs of doing business. The council, created under President Ford in 1974, would be the first to agree with this objective, and, in fact, is the executive agency mandated by Congress to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of federal regulations.
It has been doing that so effectively that the Reagan transition team that studied the agency privately recommended that about 40 employes in the council be retained to carry out this function. The other 160 employes, who administer the now-abandoned wage-price guidelines, were scheduled for dismissal.
In all probability they would have been dismissed even under a second Carter administration because they would have had no guidelines to administer.
The Reagan administration wants to get rid of these employes, who are surplus by almost any definition. It also wants to retain and improve regulartory review in the interest of longrange economics.
The symbolic elimination of the council promised in the heady days of the transition conflicts with this goal. Reagan officials are now studying alternate plans, which presumably would transfer the regulatory review function to some other agency, perhaps the Office of Management and Budget.
And the council, where most of the members are looking for work and some high officials have already departed, will continue in business in the immediate future.
Elimination of the council was one of several actions Reagan was scheduled to take his first week in office to demonstrate that he was taking hold of the government and bending it to his will. The first of these, a government hiring freeze, came within hours of his inauguration Tuesday.
The new administration's second action on this front came yesterday, in the form of a memorandum for the heads of departments and agencies. The memo, signed by Reagan, asks all department and agency heads to obtain an offer of resignation from non-career senior executives, and said that most offers of resignation would be accepted.
White House press secretary James S. Brady said that about 200 persons will be affected. Most of these executives presumably will be replaced by Reagan designees.
In asking the non-career executives for their resignations, Reagan said he knew "that they will understand that this step in no wayu reflects upon them personally. The administration wishes them well."
Brady also announced that the administration will replace the 15 inspectors-general in the executive branch but will keep on as consultants any who are involved in ongoing investigations until they are completed.
The inspectors-general will be replaced, Brady said, by Reagan appointees dedicated to administration goals of making government less wasteful.
"We want people that are meaner than a junkyard dog in ferreting out waste, fraud and mismanagement," Brady said.