At least since the end of World War II, presidents have been struggling to get a handle on the federal government.

From 1947-49, the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch, known as the Hoover Commission after former president Herbert Hoover, studied that branch of government to recommend changes to promote "economy, efficiency and improved service." Its suggestions led to the creation of the Health, Education and Welfare Department.

A second commission with the same name was in business from 1953-55. Among other things, it recommended cutting federal red tape and paper work, getting private business to take over some government services, and making civil service more prestigious.

The commissions were followed in 1969-71 by the President's Advisory Council on Executive Organization, which was headed by Roy L. Ash, then president of Litton Industries. (That's not to be confused with something called the President's Advisory Council on Management Improvement, created in 1970.)

Among other things, the Ash council recommended creating the Office of Management and Budget out of the old Bureau of the Budget. Three years later, in 1973, Ash became director of the agency.

While there he instituted "management by objective," or MBO, under which departments and major agencies had to set out their goals and then report back to OMB on how they were meeting them.

The Carter administration focused its management efforts on reorganization, giving birth to two new departments--Energy and Education--that President Reagan campaigned to abolish.

Up to now, the management side of Reagan's OMB has concentrated its efforts on monitoring regulations and paper work and coordinating efforts to curb waste and fraud.