In a move likely to flag congressional attention, the Reagan administration has decided to move ahead with a major reorganization of the federal agency in charge of arms limitation negotiations -- the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Bureaucratic shake-ups are a routine part of the political ebb and flow in Washington. But with the future of the strategic arms limitation talks and other negotiations still undecided, and major arms controversies brewing across the river at the Pentagon, changes at this small but politically important agency offer some interesting clues as to current thinking within the administration on arms-control organization and policy.
As approved by the President's new arms control chief, former Yale law professor Eugene V. Rostow, the disarmament-agency plan touches several sensitive areas:
* Weapons analysis. The largest of the agency's four subsections -- the Bureau of Weapons Evaluation and Control -- will be disbanded. During the Carter years this bureau found itself embroiled in numerous controversies.
Its congressionally mandated reports on the arms control effects of certain American weapon systems -- like the neutron warhead and the nuclear cruise missile -- sparked vigorous debates at times within the executive branch, as did , to a lesser extent, its studies on US Soviet defense spending and arms sales.
* Verification. A new office of verification and intelligence will be set up. Holding the Soviets to more stringent verification standards is one of Mr. Rostow's top priorities; he has suggested publicly the idea of convening special talks with the Soviets to work out "principles of behavior" in the verification area.
Mindful of their verification provisions, Mr. Rostow also has voiced support for two signed but unratified nuclear testing treaties -- the Threshold Test Ban of 1974 and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty of 1976 -- although his views here are thought to be opposed by Defense Department officials.
* Public Relations.The plan calls for the establishment of a new bureau for congressional and public affairs. The agency's public profile has always been a thorny issue with Congress. On the one hand, liberals have long argued that the agency ought to do more to publicize the dangers of the arms race, while conservatives, worried about a hard-sell approach to disarmament, managed up to 1975 to include in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's statute a ban on the dissemination of "propaganda."
Now, however, winning the propaganda war may become part of the agency's new mission. Citing recent Soviet efforts to fan the flames of unrest in Europe over the neutron warhead, Mr. Rostow told a Senate committee last month that "countering that campaign must be an important part of ACDA's work."