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Taming the Wild Bureaucracy

May 26, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ Mankind might never learn to control bureaucratic growth with any greater success than it has had with crabgrass, but it isn’t likely to give up. Neither is the bureaucracy.

In real dollars - dollars of the same buying power; that is, with the effects of inflation removed - the federal government will spend 10 percent more on regulation in 1988 than it did in 1980.

It was in that latter year, you might recall, that a big campaign began to get the government off the backs of Americans. It was headed by the newly elected president; it was, in fact, a centerpiece of his new program.

Headway, if not success, was achieved for several years. The dollars went down and so did the number of jobs. But it seems that while you can wear down a bureacracy you can never extinguish its eternal flame. It began growing again.

That’s the report on President Reagan’s mighty campaign against the growth of government in America, which he declared was not only becoming an encumbrance to good management but a nasty, costly, ineffectual nuisance.

A just released analysis of the effort, made at the Center for the Study of American Business, reaches this conclusion:

″The data on regulatory spending indicate that President Reagan’s early successes at cutting federal regulatory budgets have been more than offset by steady spending increases during his second term.″

It can be argued, of course, that as the economy and population grows, so must government; and that some of the growth is a consequence of shifting priorities. But somehow, old priorities also manage to remain alive.

Researcher Paul Tramontozzi points out that after the administration’s successful early efforts - three consecutive budgets that cut real spending on regulation - the regulatory tab has grown by 25 percent from 1983 to 1988.

Based on the president’s proposed budget for 1988, spending by 52 major regulatory agencies will rise 7 percent to $10.5 billion from $9.8 billion, according to the analysis by the center, which is at St. Louis’ Washington University.

Staffing is also scheduled to rise in 1988, but only by 1,000 jobs to 118,000. But this increase follows a significant employment rise of 5,000 from 1986 to 1987.

On the brighter side, in spite of the recent increases, the employment total through 1988 is 9 percent lower than the 130,000 regulatory jobs that existed when the campaign began in 1980.

Financial success has been harder to achieve, and satisfaction must be accepted as a slowing of the rate of bureaucratic growth rather than an actual shrinkage. But in itself, that slowdown was no slight achievement.

Tramontozzi says the 10 percent growth in expenditures from 1980 to 1988 is ″more than might have been expected based upon the administration’s early reform rhetoric.″ But he points out that it is far off the pace set in the previous decade, when real spending rose by 132 percent.

In effect, he suggests, regulatory growth is not so much a consequence of administration wishes as it is of public opinion. Public opinion and public demands change. Those changes, he indicates, are reflected in the numbers.

He calls attention to the fact that spending growth under the Reagan administration is concentrated in three areas: environment and energy, finance and banking, and general business.

Between 1980 and 1988, spending in these areas is scheduled to rise 30 percent, 62 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Or in absolute terms, the increases are scheduled to be $773 million, $258 million and $140 million.

End Adv PMs Tues May 26

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