The Reagan administration yesterday unveiled a "major management reform" package that it said will eventually allow the president to run the government as efficiently as a private corporation.
Called "Reform '88," because it will take six years to implement, the initiative will concentrate on developing a standard accounting and reporting system for federal agencies, integrating government computer systems so they can exchange data and cutting federal paper work and internal agency regulations even more.
A new Cabinet Council on Management and Administration, chaired by White House counselor Edwin Meese III, will oversee the project. Day-to-day operations will be carried out by a new Presidential Task Force on Management Reform, composed of 33 senior managers from 13 agencies, who will be assigned to the Office of Management and Budget solely to work on the project.
At a morning press briefing, Joseph R. Wright, deputy director of OMB, said his goal is to make the government operate as "efficiently . . . as an Exxon." Later, at the White House, Meese said the reform package is a top priority for President Reagan, who, he said, wants to leave "the American people . . . as part of his legacy . . . a government that acts in a businesslike manner."
Meese said a number of what he called "historical accidents," where federal agencies grew and grew until they were divided into separate "kingdoms," have contributed to a patchwork and inefficient government.
For example, OMB said, the government currently has 16,000 computer systems and 325 agency accounting systems, all of which are basically incompatible. As a result, payroll and personnel information "run about 120 days behind the event," Wright said. The government has so many internal rules, he added, that it can take 18 months simply to fire a low-level clerk.
The federal budget has doubled since 1976 and grown nearly 700 percent during the past 20 years, Wright said. That rapid growth rate and "poor planning and antiquated systems" have made the government fall as much as 10 years behind the private sector when it comes to management techniques, he said.
"We've reached the stage right now where management within the government is becoming extremely difficult, simply because of the fact the administrative systems haven't kept pace with just those that are available in the private sector." The government, he said, is weighed down by "a morass of systems that are frequently incompatible, redundant or obsolete."
The situation is so bad that OMB cannot collect basic financial data it needs for decision-making, Wright said. For instance, he said, it can't determine the nation's cash balances, how many consultants the government employs, the market value of federal real estate or how many federal dollars have been committed to states and cities.
One of the first steps of the campaign will be to develop a plan for phasing in a "single integrated system" so that federal computers will be "able to talk to each other," said Meese. OMB also will begin standardizing reporting systems so it will no longer get apple-and-orange figures from government agencies.
Although Wright said the effort would save taxpayers at least $20 billion over the next three years, he said he had no idea how much it will cost to implement the reform campaign because much of it is still in the "concept stage." But, OMB should have some ballpark cost figures within six months, he said.
The government will replace its current computers when they become obsolete to avoid a huge, one-time replacement cost, he said, only this time the government will make sure that agency computers are compatible with computers in other agencies.
Besides watching over Reform '88, the Cabinet Council will oversee long-range management reforms that will be recommended later this year by a private task force headed by J. Peter Grace, chairman of W.R. Grace & Co.
Wright said a computerized information system already has been installed to link the White House and Cabinet departments and cut down the steady stream of federal couriers who carry messages.
The presidential task force will begin focusing next month on nine cost-saving projects, including the collection of $33 billion in delinquent debts owed the government, increasing the sale of excess government property and reducing agency paper work -- jobs that other arms of the Reagan administration have already taken on. One of the group's first missions will be to count the government's physical assets to see "what we have, what's best and how to share what works," Wright said.