PORTLAND, ORE. ROBERT GEE OF THE SUN'S WASHINGTON BUREAU CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — PORTLAND, Ore. -- After a week of boasting of how government has benefited Americans under the Clinton administration and of deriding Republicans for bashing bureaucrats, the Clinton-Gore campaign shifted emphasis yesterday and claimed success in shaping a leaner, more efficient government.
"We have proved you can make government work," President Clinton told cheering Oregonians at a downtown rally here. "In everything from hiring people to buying things, we've eliminated double talk and bureaucracy."
Vice President Al Gore then presented Clinton with an annual report from Gore's task force on "Reinventing Government." Invoking a phrase long used by Republicans, Gore said their administration had run the government "more like a business."
Even so, on their four-day plane and bus trip through the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, the president and vice president -- and their wives -- have been pushing for new federal laws to help ordinary Americans and to make businesses shoulder the cost.
They want laws to punish companies that don't give workers time off to attend parent-teacher conferences; to order that newborns and their mothers can stay in hospitals for at least 48 hours; to force insurers to provide the same level of benefits for mental illness as for physical ailments.
In their speeches, the president and vice president didn't back away from any of this. But this time, they insisted that those ambitious plans hinged on making the government more efficient.
Clinton said, "You have cheered for the things we want to do. We cannot do these things, and we could not have achieved what has been done in the last four years had it not been for the leadership of the vice president and our determination to give you a government that costs less and does more."
The report from Gore asserted that the administration had: Cut the federal work force by nearly 250,000 positions, bringing it to the lowest level since the Kennedy administration.
Saved taxpayers $118 billion over five years with those staff cuts, purchasing reforms and other efforts at streamlining.
Made the government agencies that serve the public more responsive and efficient.
But Clinton boiled down the efficiency argument to a Reaganesque anecdote. He told the crowd about an unnamed "woman in Sacramento" who was so surprised by the fast and helpful service she encountered at her local Social Security office that she left "dazed and confused."
In a barb aimed at the media, which, he asserts, have not focused enough attention on his task force, Gore dubbed his latest report, "The Best Kept Secrets in Government."
Some who have looked into the vice president's assertions, however, find them inflated. Two-thirds of the cuts in federal employment, for example, have come at the Defense Department and were set in motion by the Bush administration and by Congress well before Clinton took office.
In addition, in calculating the size of government, the Gore task force fails to tally up the hundreds of thousands of government contractors and consultants, an army of people that, as a Gore aide, Elaine Kamarck, acknowledged yesterday, is larger than during the Kennedy administration. But she said those numbers were declining, too, largely as a function of lower defense spending.
Moreover, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the five-year savings of government downsizing at $61 billion, about half the savings claimed by the administration.
The General Accounting office, after a survey of 24 government agencies, found little evidence for the seamless streamlining that Clinton and Gore boasted of. Half the agencies said the cuts they had sustained left them unable to fulfill their mission. Fifteen of them reported that the best or most experienced workers had taken the Gore-induced buyouts, leaving the agencies with insufficient institutional memory.
And most of the agencies reported to GAO that they had not yet been able to reduce the middle managers at headquarters that Gore's task force said was cluttering up the bureaucracy.
Pub Date: 9/21/96