Washington — White House officials claim that billions of dollars in potential savings are being achieved in President Reagan's overall program to "get the federal government out of the private sector."
The program, broadly speaking, breaks down into two parts:
* A review of dozens of government regulations affecting wide segments of American society, with the aim of reducing, postponing, or eliminating as many rules as possible. Another 30 such regulations are about to come under review in a third round of scrutiny by the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief , says Vice-President George Bush.
* An effort to identify and root out waste, fraud, and abuse from federal government operations, or -- to put it more positively, said an official -- to "imporve the management of government."
This operation falls to the Presidential Council on Integrity and Efficiency, chaired by Edwin L. Harper, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
To some extent the two prongs of the program overlap, said on OMB official, "In areas where regulatory or legislative reform is needed to effect better management."
Generally, the regulatory relief effort is welcomed by businessmen -- on whom much of the paper work and expense of regulation falls -- and challenged by citizen groups concerned with the environment, health and safety at the place of work, and the rights of women, minorities, children, and the handicapped.
Many of the batch of 30 regulations about to be reviewed, as identified by Mr. Bush, fall into the latter areas. Earlier reviews concentrated more on rules governing energy, transportation, and conditions at the place of work.
"We are not prejudging," said Mr. Bush, stressing that review by itself did not mean that regulations necessarily would be changed.
The goal of the task force, chaired by Mr. Bush and directed by James C. Miller III, is to identify rules and regulations that may be "burdensome, unnecessary, or counterproductive."
"Private citizens ought to be able to make decisions by themselves," said Mr. Miller in a telephone interview. "In certain areas, such as health, safety, and the environment, it is justifiable for government to intervene.But this should be done in the way least intrusive."
Of 61 regulations reviewed earlier, said Mr. Miller, "formal action to modify or eliminate 12 has been taken," with another 10 heading in that direction.
Officials hesitate to specify dollar savings from regulatory relief at this point, when the program is just beginning. Some estimates, however, are available from OMB, and they total billions of dollars.
Figures offered by an OMB official include both parts of the cost-savings program -- regulatory relief and the attack on waste, fraud, and abuse.
In fiscal 1981, said the OMB source, savings of $2.4 billion are foreseen, rising to $7.5 billion in fiscal 1982. almost the same amount the following year, and up to $10 billion in fiscal 1984, the year President Reagan hopes to balance the federal budget.
"The biggest dollars to be saved," said deputy OMB director Harper, speaking of his program, "come from the waste and abuse side, not criminal fraud."
so far, said Mr. Harper, $4 billion of waste has been uncovered. This amount went into planning the fiscal 1982 budget, primarily in program reductions. Of this $4 billion, he said, $2.9 billion was in the Defense Department and $1.1 billion in nondefense agencies.
Harper cited debt collection as a key area of concern. "It is outrageous," he said, "that the American people pay $10 million a day in interest on delinquent debts."
Delinquencies, he said, total about $25 billion, of which half is in the income tax field. Some $16 billion is held to be collectible by OMB. In his task force's work, said Harper, "some 66,000 federal employees were found to owe the government $37 million."