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START WITH THE BUREAUCRACY IN CUTTING FEDERAL BUDGET

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After President Bush reluctantly agreed to consider tax hikes, public attention focused on that prospect to the exclusion of other parts of his plan for eventually balancing the budget.

Generally overlooked in all the furor over the Bush flip-flop on taxes is his continued insistence on more cuts in federal spending.But exactly where should such cuts be made? Some officials insist the federal budget already has been cut to the bone. What nonsense!

For those who think further cuts cannot responsibly be made, a little reading is in order. Specifically, they should peruse an article in the June issue of Washington Monthly magazine called "How to Cut the Bureaucracy in Half." The author is Scott Shuger.

This article, which was brought to our attention by Scripps Howard News Service, is a horror story of bureaucracy run amok.

The federal government today employs 3.1 million civilians, slightly less than the number at the climax of World War II. The crucial difference, of course, is that today the nation is not at war. Even Ronald Reagan, well-known for his opposition to big government, finished his stint in the White House with 7.5 percent more federal employees than when he started.

What do these people do all day? Many are dedicated public servants. But others don't do much. One employee of the General Services Administration told Shuger that her boss gathered the staff every day to read aloud from the National Enquirer. Several spoke of mid-week golf games, long lunches and even real estate or computer software businesses run from the office. And there is much memo-writing and meeting-attending - often to no discernible effect.

One key to the problem, writes Shuger, is "Slot Syndrome": Once a job is created, it becomes impossible to eliminate, even after its mission is obsolete. Many bureaucrats are "Headless Nails": "You can get them in, but you can't get them out." To fire a delinquent employee requires a detailed three-year record of inferior performance. Very few bosses have the inclination to keep such a record.

So the time-servers wait for the bonanza of retirement. GS-14s (those at the middle of the government bureaucracy) earn about $65,000 a year; with normal life expectancy, each will earn $1 million total pension benefits.

Most of the bureaucrats told Shuger their offices' personnel could be cut 25 percent to 50 percent with little adverse impact on government performance. Civilian government salaries now cost the taxpayer $85 billion yearly. So we're talking about major savings. But is anybody in Washington listening?