President George Bush's initiative to privatize an enormous number of jobs now held by federal government employees has caused a real stir. Mr. Bush's order allows private firms to bid for nearly half of all federal jobs, which currently entail an astounding 850,000 employees.

Like Mr. Bush's earlier directive establishing the Office of Homeland Security, this latest move has caused fear and consternation among many unions whose members include federal workers.

We believe that the federal government (as well as state and local government) are too big, too involved in work that the private sector could do, and could/should be reduced. We think that the majority of rank-and-file Americans would agree with us.

Letting the free enterprise system address much of what the government is now doing should have some very positive effects, like cutting the bill Washington sends taxpayers each year, increasing productivity and simply reducing the behemoth federal government.

Government at all levels has a tough time living within its means. For the federal government, operating in debt is a way of life -- something no private enterprise can do for very long. Private enterprise must succeed to stay in business, but the federal government will go on and on, no matter now poor its performance.

The private sector should have the ability to bid on any work or position that is appropriate. Obviously, a lot of work needs to continue being done by government employees, and even if Mr. Bush's plan were to play out with the numbers he's suggesting, that would still leave federal employment rolls at 425,000.

We understand the apprehension that this plan is creating in the more than 400,000 federal employees it may affect. But surely many of them would continue doing the work they now perform, but as members of companies in the private sector. They have the experience and training; they know the jobs.

Competition is a linchpin of our economic system. Why not put it to work in the public sector as well as the private. If government can do something more efficiently than the private sector, let it continue to do so. But if competition indicates that the private sector can make the same product or do the same work better or more economically, why not allow it to?

Mr. Bush's idea will not go forward without foot dragging. Many in the federal system will dig their heels in and assure everyone that what they and their agencies do cannot be done by the private sector. That may be true in some cases. But in every situation where it is feasible, let's give the free enterprise system the opportunity to show us what it can do.