Harder to say what's larger: The U.S. Olympic Committee's ambition as it tries to conclude its nationwide search for a new chief executive officer, or the task facing whoever accepts the job.

Last summer, a hired consultant determined that the USOC had outgrown its current structure and recommended a major management overhaul that led to the current CEO search.

Shortly thereafter, the USOC's private lawyers completed an internal investigation that discovered questionable practices in the past--some tied to last year's international scandal over the Olympic site selection process--and blamed the improprieties on a lack of oversight and poor administration within the USOC.

Small wonder that NBA Commissioner David Stern and a number of prominent executives said thanks, but no thanks, when contacted about the USOC's CEO position, a paid post that will replace the current executive director's job and be No. 2 in the organization to an unpaid chairman of the board.

Major League Soccer founder Alan Rothenberg and former Women's World Cup CEO Marla Messing are among those who have been considered for a job that could fall to a powerful corporate executive outside the sporting realm.

The task facing whoever gets the job is formidable: reshaping the organization from a largely volunteer-driven one to a more corporate body, regaining the confidence of those skeptical about the USOC's role in the Salt Lake City scandal and managing growing pains related to the organization's surge from a budget of about $13 million per quadrennium in 1976 to nearly $500 million today.

"It's a tough row to hoe, going forward," said Michael Plant, a former Olympic athlete who is president of USA Cycling and the Goodwill Games. "I think it's going to be very difficult, very challenging. Whoever steps into the job . . . will have to take it from being a staff-driven organization and turn it into something that runs like a business."

USOC officials say the management restructuring would have been necessary even without the Olympic scandal, which resulted from allegations that Salt Lake City officials lavished International Olympic Committee members with gifts and money to win their endorsement for the 2002 Olympics.

The USOC governs all Olympic and amateur sports in the United States under the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. Some members of the 500-person staff said the organization struggles to achieve lofty athletic goals because it gets sidetracked by self-serving issues raised by its diverse and large constituency.

"There is too much bureaucracy in different forms within the USOC," said Don Porter, a USOC board of directors member and president/CEO of the International Softball Federation. "Sometimes you give authority by not giving authority. With the lack of it, people take authority. I think it's time that gets reeled in. The USOC has gotten too big."

But Donna Lopiano, the head of the Women's Sports Foundation, said she doubts even a strong CEO can contend with the USOC's board, which includes representatives of many amateur organizations and national sport governing bodies.

"It's this huge money-making organization that has to get away from the dark ages and move into an enlightened institutionalized board," Lopiano said. "I don't think any CEO could move the USOC where it needs to go . . . because of that dinosaur board."

USOC Vice President Paul George, who plans to run for the job of chairman in an election expected to take place next fall, countered that the USOC's large board of directors is essentially the organization's congress, with the smaller executive committee entrusted with the functions of a board.

The voluminous investigative report completed last fall by the USOC's private law firm of Hogan & Hartsen lent legitimacy to complaints about the USOC's unwieldiness and managerial deficiencies. The confidential report concluded that:

USOC international grants were used improperly to influence the IOC selection process and the international relations department in charge of the grants employed a system of "extremely poor filing and document retrieval."

The USOC failed to provide sufficient oversight of Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Games and of the activities of former international relations head Alfredo LaMont, who resigned last year when it was revealed he was involved in business activities that conflicted with his USOC duties.

Some USOC members accepted excessive gifts during Salt Lake City's bid to win the 1989 national nomination as a candidate city for the 2002 Olympics but did not report them.

The USOC already has taken steps to address many of the problems raised in Hogan & Hartsen's report, on which the organization has declined comment. Last spring, after a panel led by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell recommended a series of organizational changes designed to strengthen the USOC's oversight and accountability, USOC President Bill Hybl immediately accepted each recommendation at a news conference.

Porter, the only American to head a world governing body of an Olympic sport, contends that the USOC's primary challenges have more to do with international politics than internal problems. He maintains that the USOC's international influence within the Olympic movement is on the wane, partly because of international resentment over a perceived bullying approach by U.S. lawmakers toward the IOC throughout the Olympic scandal as well as U.S. sports officials' failure to make inroads into international organizations as representatives or leaders.

Several IOC members have publicly rebuked Congress and the U.S. government for their involvement in the IOC's continuing reform process. Some USOC officials worry that there will be international retaliation levied upon U.S. athletes or U.S. cities bidding for the Olympics.

"We've got to be politically smart," Porter said. "All we're doing is losing whatever prestige we had, whatever influence we had."

The task of building--or rebuilding--international relationships will fall largely on the new chairman of the board. Though USOC officials are embarrassed that they failed to detect the conflict-of-interest business activities in which LaMont, the former international relations director, engaged, many also acknowledge that he was the most internationally connected member of the organization.

Of course, it was the USOC's desire to improve its international standing in the mid-1980s that led to the creation of LaMont's job and his department--which were harshly criticized in Hogan & Hartsen's report. Part of the challenge facing the new CEO will be ensuring that newly conceived grand plans aren't mismanaged into grand disasters.

"I've been an athlete at a high level, an Olympian and I've been an administrator" within the USOC, Plant said. "It's imperative to find somebody that understands this whole, big, huge, difficult organization."