Joseph R. Wright likes to recall how his boss, David A. Stockman, poked his head inside Wright's office one day just before the fiscal 1984 budget came out and asked: "How's all the other doing?"
As deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Wright is responsible for its day-to-day operations and the tasks that Stockman doesn't oversee personally. Or, as Wright likes to describe it in speeches, his job is to put the "M" back in OMB.
A self-described workaholic, Wright, 44, has refused to let the track record of other federal reformers dim his enthusiasm for Reform '88, the Reagan administration's six-year plan, scheduled to end in 1988, to streamline the federal government.
Every administration since Herbert Hoover's has had its magic formula for making the government more efficient. And while some of those efforts may have slowed the growth of the federal bureaucracy, they have been unable to keep it from advancing.
The federal budget doubled in size between 1972 and 1982, according to the OMB. It says the government now administers 2,000 programs through 153 separate Cabinet departments and agencies.
"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," said Wright. "The government is weighed down by a morass of systems that are frequently incompatible, redundant or obsolete."
Reform '88 will change that, Wright said, by making the bureaucracy behave a lot more like a huge corporation with the OMB serving as a giant holding company.
"No one has ever tried to do what we are doing," he said, "and there is only one agency that can coordinate it--OMB."
Because Wright freely admits that "management reform" is not a "sexy subject," he has used a number of dog-and-pony-show tactics to interest the media in his news conferences.
He has been photographed:
Dumping armloads of federal publications into a trash can to show how the OMB has reduced the number of government publications.
Receiving an oversized $2.1 billion check made payable to Uncle Sam that represented money recouped from government debtors.
Holding a 12-foot-long chart that showed the cumbersome steps that a personnel officer must follow to fire an employe.
Wright considered, but dropped, a staff suggestion for his last news conference that would have had him appear with a dog dressed in Sherlock Holmes' garb to illustrate how the administration's "watchdogs," the federal inspectors general, had saved $5.7 billion by reducing government fraud, waste and abuse.
Wright's critics claim he has used such theatrics to hype stories for political gain. A congressional committee said Wright overstated IG savings and credited the Reagan administration with savings that were made when Jimmy Carter was in office. Reporters also discovered that Wright was holding an out-dated chart when he complained about how long it took to fire federal employes.
Some of his statistics also have been questioned. Wright frequently has told audiences that the government has 325 separate payroll systems that are largely incompatible. However, Wright's records show that neither the OMB nor the General Accounting Office has been able to confirm that there are more than 75 such systems.
A recent article in Government Data Systems magazine entitled "It Ain't Necessarily So" attacked what its author described as eight "myths" about the government's computer network. All of those alleged myths have been cited as facts by Wright in his speeches.
Wright shrugs off such criticism, and insists that within the next few months even his harshest critics will be eager to join the Reform '88 bandwagon.
"They're going to say, 'Son-of-a-gun, this thing is working' when they see what's happening," Wright said.
The hardest and most discouraging part of his job is persuading others that lasting reforms can be made, he said.
Before joining the administration, Wright was president of Citicorp's credit card and retail marketing subsidiary, where he supervised 2,500 employes in 27 offices. During his tenure the subsidiary's sales jumped from $100 million to $1.2 billion in five years.
Wright joined the firm after serving as an assistant secretary of agriculture during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He also has worked for Booz, Allen and Hamilton, a management consulting firm, and as an instructor at the Georgetown University School of Business.
Wright, who is a native of Tulsa, received a master's degree at Yale University in 1964. He said he was reluctant to leave Citicorp and return to government service because the goverment was so poorly managed.
He joined the administration as an assistant secretary of Commerce after meeting with presidential aides Edwin Meese III and James A. Baker III, who he said convinced him that Reagan was committed to reducing the size and power of government. Later, they asked him to join the OMB.
"After I met the people at the White House, I said, 'Son of a gun, this president, with his attitude and staff, really has a chance, a darn good chance, of turning around the government . . . budget, social programs, regulatory reform.' "
Wright said he signed up the day after they offered him a job. "I told them, 'I don't care how expensive it is to me personally, if we can make a difference, then let's go.' "
And, Wright said, "I really feel like that it is starting to happen. The economy is turning around and most of the administration's package is going through. I'm damn proud of what is happening."