"We're not arguing for bigger government or smaller government; we're arguing for better government," Mr. Volcker said in releasing the final report of the National Commission on Public Service, established by the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning policy institute here. He and other commission members cited the newly created Department of Homeland Security as a possible model for consolidating functions now spread among many agencies.
Mr. Volcker, who headed a similar commission 13 years ago that found a "quiet crisis" in government, acknowledged, "This is not a subject that is ordinarily associated with making the blood run hot."
But the government is facing a wave of retirements of senior civil servants and new management challenges posed by technology, terrorism and a glut of aging baby boomers who will need services. Therefore, Mr. Volcker said, it is more important than ever for the government to avoid "the moral equivalent of planes running into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon before we make some changes."
The panel said most of the government was still running on a 50-year-old pay and personnel system designed for a work force that was overwhelmingly clerical, while today's work force is dominated by higher-level managers and technical experts. It called for the gradual abolition of the General Schedule classification and pay system, which groups most white-collar employees into pay grades and job descriptions that no longer reflect the complexity of government's functions.
Bobby L. Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers, issued a statement dismissing the report. "The solutions being offered are all distinctly contrary to the interests of citizens and taxpayers: give the keys to the public treasury to big contractors and high-level political appointees and forget about accountability, equity or good government," Mr. Harnage said.
The commission contended that successive administrations, skeptical of career civil servants, had imposed a top-heavy layer of political appointees with little expertise in running agencies, effectively demoting and demoralizing the longtime civil servants who should be the core management force. President John F. Kennedy had 286 top positions to fill in cabinet agencies; the number ballooned to 914 by the end of the Clinton administration and should be reduced, the commission said.
Most of the commission's recommendations were deliberately broad, like an architectural rendering and not a blueprint, Mr. Volcker said. As a first step, the report said, Congress should grant the president expedited authority to propose organizational changes, which would then be subject to an up-or-down vote, without amendment, within 45 legislative days of submission to Congress.
Constance Horner, a commission member who was director of presidential personnel for the first President George Bush, said, "I think we shouldn't underestimate how hard it will be to get this done," but she said she believed there "is greater receptivity to getting on with it" than in the past.
The commission also recommended that Congress and the White House work to modify ethics regulations and financial disclosure requirements that now apply to more than 250,000 federal employees. It heard testimony that between 1995 and 2000, 99.3 percent of the public disclosure forms filed were never viewed by any member of the public.
"The ethics regulations imposed on public servants have grown out of proportion to public need and to common sense," the report said. "The system has become dysfunctional and must be re-examined."