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Although the Clinton administration made an early pledge to "reinvent government" by streamlining the federal bureaucracy and cutting red tape, much of the effort appears to have come to a near stop.

While the sweeping plan created confusion over how much money it would save, the vow to cut the bloated federal bureaucracy had real merit. But the difficulty in making such reductions is emphasized by the fate of the "reinventing government" campaign.Despite overwhelimng support in the House, the package appears to have been buried in endless committee work in the Senate.

One of the themes of the 1992 election was voter dissatisfaction with bloated government. Ross Perot rode the issue into a significant third party presidential bid.

After his election victory, President Clinton appointed Vice President Al Gore as head of a National Performance Review designed to "reinvent government." The task force released a study last September recommending about 1,200 cost-cutting and streamlining proposals. Some 300 of them required congressional approval.

The early going was encouraging. Despite balking at some provisions and swallowing hard over others, the House of Representatives in November passed a broad bill by a near-unanimous 429-1 vote.

However, the measure has all but died in Senate committees. The portion of the bill dealing with financial and personnel management passed the Governmental Affairs Committee. But Chairman John Glenn, D-Ohio, said he would not bring the bill to the floor until every other Senate committee with jurisdiction - practically every committee in the Senate - had acted on the other sections. There was little positive response.

So Glenn said he would introduce a much narrower bill containing only the issues before his committee. Essentially, that action marked the end of efforts to pass the kind of broad-based changes approved in the House.

That failure is discouraging.

The only approach left is for Congress to tackle one at a time the 300 items needing congressional approval. About half of them have been included in various bills, some already approved in the House, some in the Senate, with most still awaiting action. Fourteen measures have cleared both houses, including a bill to shrink the federal payroll by 252,000 employees.

Clearly, reinventing government is going to be a long, slow and extremely difficult process. At this rate, the cumbersome federal bureaucracy - as it has in the past - will simply outlast all efforts to streamline it.