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Gore Team To Unwrap Plan For Streamlining

Six-month effort aims to `reinvent' deeply entrenched central bureaucracies

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THE White House plan to ``reinvent government'' - that is, to streamline the management of the people's business - goes public on Tuesday.

Even though the final proposals in the plan are not yet clear, leaks from many evolving draft versions in recent weeks have hinted at the grand scale of the plan's designs.

The six-month effort that has consumed much of the attention of Vice President Al Gore Jr. has contemplated merging the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms into the Federal Bureau of Investigation; setting federal budgets every two years instead of annually; privatizing the air-traffic control system; and eliminating 35 programs at the Department of Education.

In addition, the drafts include basic moves toward efficiency and responsive service, such as allowing people to pay federal income taxes by credit card, requiring the Internal Revenue Service to mail out refunds within 40 days, promising that callers can reach the Social Security Administration's toll-free number on the first try on most days, and allowing faster termination of incompetent federal workers.

President Clinton and Mr. Gore will spend much of next week outlining and promoting their plan, which will include some actions the president can take unilaterally through executive order and some that require congressional approval.

The White House casts the reinventing-government initiative as one of three major ones this fall, along with the North American Free Trade Agreement and an overhaul of the health-care system.

Behind the reinventing-government proposals is the idea that government bureaucracy can gain efficiency by adopting private-sector practices, especially greater autonomy for employees and more focus on the customer.

The appeal of this kind of waste-cutting move is ``enormous,'' says William Schneider, political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. But ``the timing is a little off.''

People are very cynical about politics these days, he says, and they want to see public officials cut waste and streamline government up front, raising taxes as a last resort. Mr. Clinton raised taxes first and only now is proposing efficiency measures.

``It's like he's not serious,'' Mr. Schneider says.

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