Attorney General Dick Thornburgh tentatively has decided to abolish most or all of the government's special strike forces established decades ago to fight the Mafia, according to a published report.

In its Sunday editions, The New York Times reported that Thornburgh is planning to dismantle the 24 regional Organized Crime Strike Forces because he believes the job can best be done by local U.S. attorneys.Thornburgh told the Times that the problem with strike forces "is that they are an independent field office of the Justice Department that competes with U.S. attorneys."

The proposal is supported by most of the nation's 94 U.S. attorneys but is meeting resistance from 130 strike force attorneys, the Times said. Strike force lawyers argue that U.S. attorneys have limited resources for combating organized crime and that they lack personnel familiar with or experienced in dealing with such activity.

The proposal, which is under study by Edward S.G. Dennis, head of the Justice Department's criminal division, already has the tentative approval of Thornburgh, the Times said. Dennis strongly advocates abolishing the strike forces.

The local U.S. attorneys are pressing for a system similar to one already in use in the Southern District of New York, where the strike force attorneys were merged into the local office and no longer reported directly to Washington, D.C. Supporters of the New York system credit it for allowing former U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani to successfully prosecute several Mafia cases.

In the interview, Thornburgh said he would prefer to replace the strike forces with a "cadre of experienced prosecutors" who could be dispatched to work with local U.S. attorneys when needed. The Times said Thornburgh will decide the future of the strike forces in a few weeks.

Thornburgh's proposal is not new. Former Attorney General Edwin Meese unsuccessfully tried to dismantle the strike forces.