NEW YORK — PRESIDENT Bush has a drug czar. What the president needs now is a ``waste czar.'' At least that's the opinion of J. Peter Grace, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1982 to head up a commission to find ways to trim government fat.
Mr. Grace, who is also the chairman of W.R. Grace & Co., a chemical company, wants the new czar to cut ``the political pork barrel,'' and have the responsibility for the elimination of waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in all government programs.
``It's an amazing fact, but there is no one in government today who represents the American taxpayer. The `waste czar' is that person,'' said Grace yesterday in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.
Grace says the first items on the czar's agenda should include more effective debt collection of the $32 billion in overdue and unpaid government loans, defense procurement reform - which he figures will yield $7 billion in the first year - and the line-item veto.
On Feb. 17, 1982, President Reagan asked Grace to spearhead a private-sector group to suggest ways to cut government spending. The result was a report that made 2,478 specific recommendations to save $424.4 billion over three years.
At the time, many members of Congress were critical of the resulting report. Grace says, however, that Congress ultimately enacted many of the recommendations. In 1985, the House of Representatives and Senate began a ``Grace Caucus,'' which now has 133 members in the House and 32 members in the Senate. The chairman of the caucus, Rep. Richard Armey (R) of Texas, says the biggest accomplishment so far is the base-closings bill, which saves $700 million a year.
Representative Armey disagrees with Grace over the need for a waste czar. ``Peter is a CEO, and he is used to getting facts and taking action. He is frustrated by the slowness and cumbersomeness of the process,'' says Armey. Instead, says the congressman, ``We're better off with disciplined and better behaved legislative and executive branches.''
Barbara Clay, a spokeswoman at the Office of Management and Budget, had no immediate comment on Grace's remarks.
Perhaps Armey is right about Grace's frustration level. Yesterday, Grace said, ``Most members of Congress are lawyers and, in my experience, lawyers use numbers like a drunk uses a lamppost - for support rather than illumination.''