- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

George W. Bush's domestic policy advisers are working on a government reform plan aimed at using computer technology and privatization to deliver federal services at less cost and with fewer workers.

In what is described as "a work in progress" that the Texas governor intends to announce some time before the general election campaign, the plan calls for using many of the technological improvements and downsizing reforms made by business and industry to dramatically transform the way federal programs are run.

The reforms include contracting out more government work to the private sector; seeking more competitive bidding on contracts, program mergers and consolidations; and eliminating wasteful spending practices.

The plan also calls for using the Internet and other software technologies to deliver government services at a cheaper cost with fewer federal employees, according to Mr. Bush's advisers.

Bush advisers, who agreed to speak only without attribution, revealed the general outlines of the plan to The Washington Times yesterday.

"The federal government has lagged behind the private sector in its use of technology to become more efficient and productive with a lot less cost," said a key budget adviser who is familiar with the emerging reform proposal.

"Within the last 10 years the private sector has significantly trimmed the fat out of its management operations and that is what the government has to do. There are enormous budget savings to be made here," this adviser said.

But another Bush adviser said that any personnel reduction derived from the reforms would be made through attrition by declining to replace workers as they leave government for other jobs or retire.

The Bush proposals are being developed by a team of campaign advisers that includes former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who made a reputation for himself by privatizing municipal services and cutting costs; and William Eggers, a former analyst and writer with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank that specializes in privatizing government programs and services.

Mr. Eggers, who is on Mr. Bush's domestic policy team at his headquarters in Austin, Texas, was the director of the Privatization Center in Los Angeles.

Mr. Eggers was unavailable for comment about the reform plan, but he has been an outspoken and vigorous advocate of privatizing government activities.

"Instead of asking, should we be doing this, people are making things efficient that the government shouldn't be doing anyway," Mr. Eggers said in an interview several years ago when he was promoting a book he co-authored about privatization, "Revolution at the Roots."

"A lot of Republicans and conservatives are getting in office saying they will run the government like a business. That's the wrong approach," he once said. "Government will never be as efficient as the private sector."

Mr. Bush has made a number of reform proposals in his presidential campaign, including across-the-board income tax cuts, school choice vouchers, and letting workers invest part of their payroll taxes into their own personal retirement funds.

But thus far he has had little to say about controlling federal spending and pruning inefficient, redundant government agencies and programs.

Mr. Bush's tight-knit circle of advisers say that he does not want to launch the kind of all-out drive on government-wide spending cuts that characterized the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Instead, Mr. Bush's policy focus has been on spurring increased economic growth and returning a significant portion of the budget surplus back to the taxpayers, his advisers say.

But a Bush campaign insider says the Texas governor intends to begin talking more about the need to control spending to draw a sharper contrast with Vice President Al Gore's more ambitious spending proposals.

"This is not the David Stockman-style slash-the-budget approach," Mr. Moore said of the Bush reform plan, referring to President Reagan's first budget director. "It's aimed more at providing better services at a lower cost.

"Where I disagree with this is should the activity be done at all by the government? If the answer is no, then I'm not terribly excited about making it work more efficiently," he said.

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