How Reagan's six-unit Cabinet works on issues

Cabinet government, Reagan style, is beginning to take final shape. First and foremost in the present Reagan blueprint is to bring Cabinet members together in six separate groups to discuss, debate, and make recommendations in subject areas that pertain to each.

The idea, the White House says, stems from the Ford administration, when an economic policy group within the Cabinet proved most effective in the governing process.

This subject-matter approach divides the Cabinet into six councils:

* Natural resources and the enviroment.

* Food and agriculture.

* Commerce and trade.

* Human resources.

* The National Security Council (already established by law).

* Economic affairs.

The plan still needs the approval of the various Cabinet members -- but the White House expects it to be implemented, perhaps with one or two more groups added, within a couple of weeks.

The proposal is being billed as an "alternative" to an earlier Reagan idea of following his California approach to government in which he met daily with a small, select group of top-level appointees.

That idea, floated by the Reagan people during the transition, soon ran into obstacles, particularly from incoming Chief of Staff James Baker. Mr. Baker said he thought such a "supercabinet" would irritate those in the Cabinet who were not included.

But some White House "insiders" say Reagan still have a handful of Cabinet members that he meets with on a day-to-day basis -- simply because this is the way he likes to work. Those seen as most likely to be included in this inner circle are Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of Treasury Donald T. Regan, Attorney General William French Smith, and CIA Director William J. Casey.

"There will be a supercabinet without that name being applied to it," one administration source says. He says it would "emerge," that it would not be "structured."

Longtime observers of the presidency are dubious that Reagan will be able to make cabinet government truly work -- at least for very long.

Other presidents have structured their administrations in ways to try to ensure that their Cabinet members not only had frequent access to the Oval Office but also were the ones to be relied on principally for the recommendations that were turned into presidential initiatives or programs.

But before long top aides in the White House, because of their location right at the elbow of the President, became the chief advisers.

But Reagan insists he is going to use his Cabinet as the principal instrument of government -- not his White House team.

Already he has shown that he means to carry out this commitment to Cabinet supremacy by making his foreign affairs adviser in the White House solely a "coordinator" on policymaking. Secretary of State Haig has been given assurance that he alone will be the shaper of foreign policy. Thus there will be no Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Reagan White House vying with the secretary of state as the former nationa l security adviser did in the Carter administration.

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