THE White House plan to ``reinvent government'' - that is, to streamline the management of the people's business - goes public on Tuesday.
Even though the final proposals in the plan are not yet clear, leaks from many evolving draft versions in recent weeks have hinted at the grand scale of the plan's designs.
The six-month effort that has consumed much of the attention of Vice President Al Gore Jr. has contemplated merging the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms into the Federal Bureau of Investigation; setting federal budgets every two years instead of annually; privatizing the air-traffic control system; and eliminating 35 programs at the Department of Education.
In addition, the drafts include basic moves toward efficiency and responsive service, such as allowing people to pay federal income taxes by credit card, requiring the Internal Revenue Service to mail out refunds within 40 days, promising that callers can reach the Social Security Administration's toll-free number on the first try on most days, and allowing faster termination of incompetent federal workers.
President Clinton and Mr. Gore will spend much of next week outlining and promoting their plan, which will include some actions the president can take unilaterally through executive order and some that require congressional approval.
The White House casts the reinventing-government initiative as one of three major ones this fall, along with the North American Free Trade Agreement and an overhaul of the health-care system.
Behind the reinventing-government proposals is the idea that government bureaucracy can gain efficiency by adopting private-sector practices, especially greater autonomy for employees and more focus on the customer.
The appeal of this kind of waste-cutting move is ``enormous,'' says William Schneider, political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. But ``the timing is a little off.''
People are very cynical about politics these days, he says, and they want to see public officials cut waste and streamline government up front, raising taxes as a last resort. Mr. Clinton raised taxes first and only now is proposing efficiency measures.
``It's like he's not serious,'' Mr. Schneider says.
But if Clinton can take some bold steps by executive order, before other elements of his plan are mired in congressional debate, says Schneider, he might still make an impression.
SUPPORT for the entre-preneurial model of government cuts strongly across party lines. Business models of government efficiency began appearing in the Nixon and Carter administrations and were popularized by Ronald Reagan's privatization push.
The most influential force behind the current wave of entrepreneurial government is writer and consultant David Osborne, who coined the term ``reinventing government.'' His 1992 book of that name is possibly the nation's first book on the theory and practice of public administration to reach best-seller status.
Mr. Osborne's ideas were embraced by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp and a cadre of young conservative aides in the Bush White House, led by policy adviser Jim Pinkerton, who developed what he called a New Paradigm for reconceiving bureaucracies.
Osborne himself was always more closely aligned with centrist Democrats. He is a full participant in the Gore-led effort.
For conservatives, reinventing government offers a way to break up its monolithic power. For liberals, reinventing government offers the promise of more effective means to meet traditional liberal goals.
These reforms mark a fundamental break in the history of the modern administrative state. In the 1800s, federal convicts were handed over to private chain gangs and customs duties were collected by privateers at sea.
Around 1900 the Progressives began creating government bureaucracies to administer laws - without the corruption and abuses of private contractors.
The move back toward privatizing and greater discretion by bureacrats holds risks. ``Are we prepared to tolerate mistakes?'' asks Donald Kettl, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin who co-authored a recent guidebook on improving government management.
``The real issue is what model is government going to follow,'' says Richard Moe, a government management specialist with the Congressional Research Service, ``At what point are you turning over what is the essential management of an agency to a private party?''