Clean House in Washington

WITH a new homeland security department being set up - the most massive reorganization of the federal government since World War II - it's also time to consider improving the civil service.

A new report by the National Commission on the Public Service makes several thoughtful recommendations. Among them:

• Reorganize government into a limited number of mission-related departments (such as homeland security). One glaring example of the lack of coordination: Some 541 air, water, and waste programs are currently run from 29 different agencies. The commission also sensibly recommends that Congress realign its committees to reflect these more focused departments.

• Streamline the presidential appointments process. According to the Brookings Institution, the average time to complete a presidential appointment has gone from just over two months in the Kennedy administration to just over eight months in the current Bush administration.

• Reduce the number of political appointees. The growth in this area has continued to set records with each succeeding administration, leaving a a top-heavy management structure, and civil servants demoralized and often out of the decision-making loop. In 2001, President Bush faced 3,361 offices to fill by political appointment, as compared with 286 positions under Kennedy.

• Revamp ethics regulations and paperwork. Believe it or not, some 250,000 federal employees now have to make full annual disclosure of their personal finances using extraordinarily complicated forms; for 25,000 of them, that information is made public. This cumbersome scheme needs also needs streamlining.

Almost every president has tried to wrestle the bureaucratic bear. While they've made good changes, it's been a hodge podge approach. Bolder reorganization is needed.

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