"The President needs help." That statement in 1936 by a distinguished committee appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt to study the nation's highest office is used to open a new assessment of the United States presidency.
That earlier study resulted in the establishment of the Executive Office of the President, an institution that served the nation well for decades but which has become creaky of late. The just-released report from the National Academy of Public Administration reviews the machinery of the presidential office, then makes specific recommendations for atuning it to a changed world.
Greater cooperation between the White House and Congress is one of t he chief aims of the reorganization package, which grew out of a 14-month study by a 26 -member committee of the academy. Cochairmen were Don K. Price, Harvard University professor emeritus, and Rocco C. Siciliano, a Los angeles industrialist.
The report has been privately submitted to Edwin Meese, chief aide to President-elect Ronald Reagan, in what was described as a four-hour briefing. It is endorsed by President Carter and former President Gerald Ford and will be officially submittd to Mr. Reagan when he returns to Washington.
"The cumulative effect of many trends and events is threatening America's capacity for self-government," the panel says. "A clear danger is bearing down on us.
"At the same time that the problems we face are becoming more complex and interwoven, the power to deal with them is becoming increasingly diffused."
It notes that "this country cannot afford the luxury of a totally new education process every time a president comes to his job."
At another point the report says: "We must reduce the overemphasis on the constitutional separation of powers and acknowledge that in all major issues of policy and management the president and the Congress are jointlym involved in the direction and control of departments and agencies."
The panel of recommends restructuring of the Office of the President into six distinct units and creation of a stronger career civil service to give force and continuity.
In addition to retaining the present Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which it says "should be significantly strengthened in its ability to prepare the annual budget and providing administrative management on a governmentwide basis," the panel suggests new units in the White House: An "economic affairs staff would help integrate the economic aspects of domestic and foreign affairs." An "international affairs staff would replace the National Security Council, which would remain as an interagency committee to be used as the president wishes." A "domestic affairs staff would be a reconstitution of the present Domestic Policy Staff." A "White House Secretariat" would be "a small generalist group with the task of insuring that materials coming to the president's desk are organized and presented in a manner best-suited to his methods of operating and his needs for review and action." And "institutionalized arrangements," would be provided.
Making up an informal "management committee for the Executive Office would be four senior assistants to the president -- the heads of the three policy coordinating staffs, of the secretariat, and of the OMB.
The report flatly states that a "cabinet government" of the kind of President-elect Reagan says he intends to have won't work. On the other hand, it urges presidents to do just what Reagan has begun to do -- cultivate leaders of Congress and the chairman of major committees.