President Reagan plans to announce this week the formation of six groups within the Cabinet to take over much of the debate on administration policies.
The plan, which is being coordinated by counselor to the president Edwin Meese III, has been under discussion for months and is an alternative to an earlier proposal that Reagan form a "supercabinet" of key Cabinet members to play the major policy development role.
Meese has circulated a draft of the council plan to all Cabinet members and solicited their comment, White House deputy press secretary Karna Small said yesterday. She quoted Meese as having said that nothing is final pending the receipt of all Cabinet members' opinions. Although it is likely there will be six councils, even the number could change as a result of recommendations from the Cabinet members.
The draft plan calls for six councils, with the following membership:
Economic affairs, to be chaired by the treasury secretary and include the secretaries of commerce and state, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Commerce and trade, to be chaired by the commerce secretary and include the secretaries of treasury, state, agriculture and transportation, as well as the president's special trade representative.
Human resources, to be chaired by the health and human services secretary and include the secretaries of labor, agriculture, education and housing and urban development, as well as the attorney general.
Natural resources and the environment, to be chaired by the interior secretary and include the secretaries of agriculture, transportation, energy and housing and urban development.
Food and agriculture, to be chaired by the agriculture secretary and include the secretaries of interior, commerce and transportation, plus the special trade representative.
The National Security Council, already established by law, which would be chaired by the secretary of state and include the secretary of defense, the Central Intelligence Agency director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Meese, White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III and Vice President Bush would be members of all the councils. Meese said the agendas for the Cabinet council meetings will be built around "clusters of issues."
Reagan already has anticipated the Cabinet council formula by breaking the Cabinet into smaller budget-working groups during the intensive planning for the economic package that the president will present in a televised address to the nation Wednesday evening.
In the first three weeks of his administration, the president has held eight Cabinet meetings -- four of them the first week, including a Saturday meeting in which Reagan said he wouldn't, as a rule, be holding any more Saturday Cabinet meetings.
Full Cabinet meetings, which include the 15 Cabinet members plus Reagan, Bush and Baker can be cumbersome, but even more of a problem is that they take up large amounts of time.
Reagan intends to continue to hold full Cabinet meetings, but less frequently than he has in the early days of his administration, Small said.
The Cabinet councils will conduct most of the policy discussions, while the full Cabinet will meet about once a week for a more general consideration of major issues.
Reagan is committed to using his Cabinet as the principal instrument of government rather than subordinating the Cabinet to the White House staff, as most recent presidents have done. One prominent example of the change has been the reduction in prominence of the White House national security affairs adviser.
Whereas Henry A. Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski played large policy-making roles in the Nixon and Carter administration, Reagan's adviser, Richard V. Allen, will play the role of coordinator, not a policy-maker. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig will be the undisputed major formulator of foreign policy under Reagan according to the president's plan.