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US advisory body will try to unravel bureaucratic knot

One can argue persuasively that this year's startling actions on budget, taxes, regulations, and intergovernmental relations are proof that the "Reagan revolution" is already reality.

But there is widespread movement afoot in Washington to make even deeper and more lasting changes in government operations.

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Its model is the Hoover Commission, a blue-ribbon panel that had significant impact on the structure and business of government in the years following World War II. It enjoys broad bipartisan support ranging from conservatives enjoying new-found power to unrepentant liberals. The White House likes the idea, and so does the "citizens' lobby," Common Cause.

Specifically, bills progressing thorough Congress would establish a new "Commission on More Effective Government." The commission's broad mandate would be to probe the management, organization, and operations of the executive branch of federal government as well as Washington's relations with state and local governments and the private sector.

The 18-member commission would be appointed by the President, Senate majority leader, and House speaker, with some members representing state government and others not involved in any partisan political activity. Given the pary loyalties of today's political leadership, there likely would be 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats unless expected amendments prevail and an even 9-9 membership is required.

The commission would have 30 months to hold hearings and formulate recommendations before reporting to Congress and the President.

"We've tinkered here and there with the governmental machine, but what we've ended up with is a Rube Goldberg arrangement that costs the taxpayers more and more in wasted money and gives less and less service to the people," says Sen. William Roth (R) of Delaware, chief Senate sponsor. "Now is the time to have the best minds in America comprehensively review government . . . so that we can start making it work better."

Liberal Democratic Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri agrees and has signed on as one of many cosponsors. Deputy White House budget director Edwin Harper told a Senate Committee the Reagan administration "heartily endorses" the proposal.

To those cynics who say the commission's report would simply gather dust, the bills' supporters point out that the Hoover Commission (appointed by President Harry Truman in 1947 and chaired by former President Herbert Hoover) saw 72 percent of its recommendations adopted. Among these were the Military Unification Act and the State Department Reogranization Act.

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"I was here in time to help implement the Hoover Commission recommendations," recalls Rep. Richard Bolling (D) of Missouri, veteran lawmaker and chairman of the influential House Rules Committee. "I'm completely convinced that this is the only possible way that this country can reform its government."

The growing bulk and complexity of government in this country is a source of increasing concern. Federal spending is 15 times greater today than it was 30 years ago. While the number of federal civilian employees has remained fairly constant since the late '60s, the number of workers in other levels of government has shot up. In 1950 there was one government job-holder for every 24 Americans; now, the ratio is one for every 14.

Many attribute, this increase to federal programs and requirements. Between 1949 and 1979, there was a net gain of 529 federal departments, agencies, bureaus, offices, administrations, institutes, services, and other organizational subdivisions. The size of the Federal Register (one measure of the increase in federal regulatory activity) has increased nearly 300 percent in the past decade.

"Intergovernmental relations today have clearly crossed a new threshold of complexity and confusion," the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, a highly respected bipartisan group, warned last week. "The looming fear is one of unrestrained intergovernmentalism, of government pragmatism out of control."

The Hoover Commission did its important work at a time when the United States was entering a new era in both foreign and domestic federal activity. Supporters of a new "Commission on More Effective Government" say the time is ripe for another look at the fundamentals of how Washington operates.

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