Arthur O. Barton cites an exchange from Shakespeare's King Henry IV Part One when he talks about his federal job:

"I can call spirits from the vasty deep," says Glendower.

"Why so can I," comes the reply from Hotspur, "or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?"

The federal government, Barton said, has tried over and over to get a handle on wasted federal office and warehouse space. Whether Barton succeeds this time, he said, depends on whether anybody listens.

Barton is the General Service Administration's assistant deputy commissioner for real estate and, for the time being, the project director for President Reagan's effort to better manage federal office space.

Put another way, he's the guy in charge of getting federal agencies to cut their office space by 10 percent or to an average of 135 square feet per office employe.

"I believe quite strongly that there should be a central coordinator to see that real estate is used effectively government-wide in order to make sure money is saved for the taxpayer," Barton said. "I'm that guy."

On the surface, he appears to be a crusty, hard-boiled career bureaucrat. But to his colleagues he is an insightful workaholic, for whom serving the public and saving taxpayers' money are guiding principles. Barton, 55, joined the GSA in its Chicago regional office in 1965, and has held a half-dozen key jobs in the agency over the years.

"I started in a desk at the middle of the room and slowly worked my way to the window," Barton recalled. "The window was status; it was the ultimate. And if you had one of those little dividers, you had arrived. A private office! Unthinkable for all but the most important.

"But over the years, it became carpets, blinds and then drapes." He rushed to his window exuberantly. "Look at this, blinds and drapes on the same window. Can you imagine? That's dumb."

For years, Barton said, "space was power for employes. It wasn't what you needed, it was what you could get. It offends me personally."

Now Barton has a chance to put his principles to work as part of the president's drive to reduce private office space and the accoutrements that accompany it.

So far, a draft regulation outlining how space will be counted in the future has been circulated to other federal agencies. Then agencies will develop management plans, outlining how they plan to achieve the cuts. The plans are supposed to be back to Barton by the end of August for his approval.

The drive to reverse the growth in office space began slowly. In the early 1970s, Congress told the GSA to begin charging federal agencies for their office space, whether it was federally owned or leased commercially. But as more low-rate commercial rental agreements expired, the new rates were not the $4 to $6 a square foot to which agencies had become accustomed, but in the neighborhood of $16 to $25. In some cities, the rates were much higher.

As budgets decline, rising rental payments force agency managers to cut their space, unless they're willing to cut their programs instead. Thus, Barton said, he expects agency managers to pay a little more attention to space reduction efforts this time around.

"Every agency has a different nuance, a different mandate and program responsibility," Barton said. "The real estate aspects were relatively incidental." But, he said, "agencies have come to find that renting space could force a program reduction."

So, he said as he unpacked into his new 110-square-foot office, "the secret is getting the spirits to listen."