Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Old Executive Office Building
1:35 P.M. EDT
MS. ROMASH: The folks that are up here with me are the senior management team of the NPR. This is a BACKGROUND briefing, which means they are senior administration officials. They ought to be able to answer every question you can think of, so we'll get right to it.
Q: Is there any reason why [name deleted] can't be on the record? He's been on the record and quoted widely.
MS. ROMASH: We're doing a BACKGROUND briefing. We can talk about it later. But it basically comes down to we set the rules. It's a BACKGROUND briefing. They're senior administration officials.
Q: Is this reinventing government? (Laughter.)
MS. ROMASH: You know, we're trying to provide you as much information --
Q: But we're trying to avoid --
MS. ROMASH: I understand. We're trying to provide as much information as we can, as quickly as we can, to help you report a complicated story.
Q: All the news magazines were obviously briefed over the last week.
MS. ROMASH: And I've also spent a fair amount of time with a lot of people in this room over the past several weeks who have called and asked questions. We think this is the best way to get out the information we need to get out.
Any other questions about the process before we start?
Q: Yes. Where can we get the supporting papers that are listed in the back of the report?
MS. ROMASH: There are -- let me take two seconds then and explain the way the National Performance Review worked. We organized about 200 federal workers and divided them into teams. Some of those teams went agency by agency. Some of those teams looked at systems that cut across the agencies.
Each of those teams presented a fairly detailed report. And the size of those reports vary depending on the subject or the agency that was covered. The report that you receive today represents the work of those teams and the major recommendations in those reports.
The appendices at the back of the major NPR document are every single one of the recommendations those teams made. We expect in the next month or so that we'll be releasing additional information. Honestly, we're deciding now how best to organize it. I think this report, everyone will agree, is readable, understandable, plain language, and you can imagine. I mean, we have pages and pages and pages of material. So we're in the process now of deciding what the most effective way is to get it out and to present it. But we expect that in the next month or so, that information will be available.
And, again, if there are specific questions you have, these folks are all very well versed in the thousands and thousands of pages, and could help you out.
Let me get right to it.
Q: My understanding is, you were telling people on the Hill Friday that about 70 percent of this can be done by executive order. My reading of it is kind of maybe the reverse, because you've got the DEAFBI merger, the food safety inspection, much of the personnel changes all have to go through Congress, don't they? Can you kind of lay out what's going to happen this week in terms of executive order, what might be happening in the next couple of weeks, and then what you think has to -- generally, not all 200, but generally, some of the things that have to go through Congress?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is very difficult to settle on a precise number as to how much of this is legislative, how much of this the administration can do. The reason is obviously that if an agency of the government, say, undertakes a major reengineering process of its work, as we suggest in the report, to make it work better and cost less, the fact is that may not require legislation up front, but obviously congressional committees have oversight on that agency. So, in fact, to say, oh, 42 percent or 50 percent or set a number, is really very unrealistic. There's a lot of this that the administration can initiate on its own, and obviously we need -- and we will require -- the cooperation of Congress throughout a process that's this big.
On the executive order, later this week the President will issue the first of what we hope will be several executive orders. It will focus on customer service. And it will direct all the agencies of the government that deal with the public to begin the process of setting customer service standards -- first, identifying their customer; setting customer service standards; and then living up to the goals that they set.
Q: What day will that be?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know that we've decided yet. Probably later on in the week.
Q: Are you going to do that in the post office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All the agencies of the government. And, in fact, the post office already has set some customer service standards.
Q: When will you start sending --
Q: Let's finish legislation up.
Q: Can you just kind of keep going where -- you've got your one executive order. Can you keep going on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the other executive orders?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, certainly after that, one of the executive orders that will have to be done early, because we promised to do it in the report by October, is to create the National Partnership Council, which is the new labor management partnership between the administration and the federal unions. And that partnership council will begin to work on revisions to the personnel laws that we suggest in the report. So that will probably be another one that comes soon.
After that, we haven't decided. The lawyers are now detailing which ones need to be memorandums, which ones need to be executive orders, and it's a complicated discussion.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The broader question you're asking is how do we plan to get these enacted. Is that what you're asking?
Q: Well, I'm kind of interested in what's going to go to the Hill.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think if you go through the report it's pretty easy to see where the administration could take action and where legislation is needed. As for how we get these through, our goal is to get as much through as quickly as possible. We believe it's important. We support the entire package and want movement on the entire package.
There's a number of different avenues we can take. There is a commission that Senator Glenn's committee has reported out; certainly that's one option. The '95 budget is another option. Certainly the debate that will go on now in Congress is a third option. We want to find the quickest and most effective way possible to work with Congress and move these proposals through. Some of the things we can do by talking to agency heads and say, do this. Some of this --
Q: But do you know how many of those things you can just do by talking to agency heads and saying, do this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, it's tough to put a specific number on it because of the point my colleague made earlier. There are things the agencies can do, but because the connections between the agencies and the Congress have become so close, some of them legislated, some of them simply by practice, you have to recognize that there's an enormous amount of cooperation that has to go on between the Executive Branch agencies and the congressional subcommittees that have oversight over them.
Q: What we're looking for is a series of numbers --the number of percentages of actions that could be done by the agencies themselves, the number or percentage of actions that could be done by the agencies but there's congressional oversight, and the number of actions that can be done -- that need to go through, done by legislation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We can certainly go back through -- we've struggled with this ourselves, because I've been asked that question by you, Ron, and others over the last couple of days, and it's not something -- the point I'm trying to make is that it's not something that lends itself to easy black and white divisions. Because in some cases, there are things that an agency head can do, but we need to recognize the oversight of the congressional subcommittees and the need for that agency to work together with Congress.
We will go back and take another crack and see whether we can do it, but because so much of this stuff is grey, it's hard to give you a number.
Q: But isn't that something you need to figure out before you can determine how --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Listen, at this -- you guys, there's a focus on, well, does Congress or does the administration do it. We want to get it done, and we're committed to a process that works with Congress --
Q: But you have to do it --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, but you know what? A lot of this will happen in the course of the Cabinet secretaries doing their work with their congressional subcommittees, with their reauthorization bills and in their normal, day-to-day dealings with Congress. A lot of the agency recommendations will, in fact, be implemented by the Cabinet secretaries who were a full part of this.
Q: Can this be done without congressional approval? Can much of it be done to quantify it in some way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that much of it can be done without congressional approval, but let me give you an example of why it's so complicated. We set a goal for agencies to reduce their internal regulations by half. Now, theoretically, this is something that simply an agency can do. And, certainly, there's a lot of silly regulations -- Al Gore, when he went to every agency would ask, his first question -- tell me about a regulation that makes your job hard. And he collected lots of silly regulations. Well, certainly, the Cabinet secretaries can begin getting rid of the regulations that are really obsolete and don't make any sense anymore.
There will, however, come a time when some congressional subcommittee is going to say, well, this regulation is really policy, and we want to have our say in that, too. And, therefore, even a recommendation as apparently as simple as that makes it difficult to say that, no, we could do this totally without Congress. That's why we're having trouble answering this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just clarify it one more time, because there's a difference. We need to make the distinction between the actions -- how much are administration and how much are Congress -- and the money -- how much are administration and how much are Congress. A large portion of this money only becomes real if Congress takes action.
Q: What portion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, it's difficult to put a number on it, because a lot of the systems changes that we're talking about -- they are not fine lines. You can't -- it's a fabric that's woven so tight it's hard to separate.
But it's important to recognize that this savings does not become real unless Congress gets on board and makes some tough decisions with us. The President is ready to act; we're ready to work with Congress. But that's an important point.
Q: Can you go back to what you said about the committee -- the executive order on the partnership council -- the personnel laws. The President made a big point about -- and the Vice President made a big point about the large numbers of the regulations on personnel. Can that be done within existing civil service or union agreements, or does it have to be a new negotiation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a good example of why it's tough to answer this question. Certainly a large portion of the personnel regulations -- for instance, the ones that are added on and extrapolated on by the agencies themselves, okay, and don't even come out of OPM. Certainly you don't need legislation to get rid of a lot of those. There are other regs that have to do with specific pieces of the law, and we would like to change -- we've identified in the report
specific pieces in the law that we'd like to change. So, obviously, those would depend upon changes in the law. So it is a combination process.
Jim King can start this process of simplification. Bob Reich or Donna Shalala can begin this process of simplification. And, in fact, get a lot done. Okay? But at some point you do, in fact, need at least the cooperation of Congress.
Q: Is the construction fee in effect now? Is the order to reduce regulations in effect now, or does that also await executive order?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't --
Q: The plan contemplates you will order a temporary freeze in new office construction.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is something that I believe is under Roger Johnson's authority, which he will do soon.
Q: Two things. First, some of the commentary on this has said that you are asking Congress to stop micromanaging as much as it has been in the past. Could you talk about that a little bit? And the second thing is, are there specific chunks of legislation that you will be sending up? And if so, have they been cleared in advance with committee chairmen or with the leadership?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the first one, we do think Congress has micromanaged, but let me also add, we think that this micromanagement problem -- there's plenty of blame to go around. That not only has Congress been guilty here, the agencies have been guilty, the bureaucrats have been guilty. Over the years, you have layers upon layers of micromanagement. And we heard these stories time and time again. We looked at them. And this report makes a clear statement that we ought to drop back from this.
The big chunks of legislation -- procurement legislation --there is currently a bill in the Senate government ops committee, and there is an acquisition reform bill being written in the Pentagon. We expect that within a couple of months those two will come to the Congress to deal with procurement and that they will reflect in large measure the themes in this report. Clearly once we establish the national partnership council, that group will send up a piece of legislation on revising Title 5, the civil service laws. Those are the two big ones.
We also expect to be talking with Congress, particularly with the leadership, on reforms to the budget system -- those reforms that require legislation. And as you well know, there is a similar body in Congress that has been looking at the way Congress does its business. And we expect that hopefully many of the themes we identified in our report will be picked up in that report, and we will have a similar parallel reform document on the Congress and how it works.
Q: What's to prevent Congress from really -- and the subcommittees and the appropriations committees from just picking this thing apart bit by bit, piece by piece? Because, as you said, a lot of the things that you all can do can be vetoed by Congress. In fact, they've already started that. And you talk about consolidating offices in the department -- if you try to do it, they could put a rider in the appropriation bill saying don't use the money. What's to prevent that from happening? I mean, you're going to have your hands full and you're going to reduce your staff at the same time that you're going to try to fight this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there's two things that prevent it. First of all, Congress is coming back from this break, having heard a lot of complaining from Americans about the government.
And the complaints run into categories. It's not just the budget deficit, it's the performance deficit, it's the trust deficit. And so, I think that there will be a new enthusiasm for things that are government reform, so that people can go back to their districts and say, yes, we're trying to do things to make the goverment work better and cost less. And, by the way, those two pieces are equal in the public's mind in terms of importance.
What was the second part of your question?
Q: You want to cut the size of the government, you want to cut the size of the White House, and you're going to have fires going on all over town on this stuff.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One of the things that we built into this process was, remember that every agency, every major Cabinet department had a reinvention team. In some departments, that team was 100 people. There are people now all throughout the government, people both not just in the political appointees of the government, but in the permanent government, in the bureaucracy who are committed to these kinds of changes. We believe that they will be a vehicle for change year in and year out, and will, in fact, help us carry through a lot of these things.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You should know as well that we've done a fair amount of consulting with Congress before we release this report. There are a number of members on the Hill, both -- people like Senator Glenn, Senator Lieberman, Senator Roth, Congressman Conyers, who are very much committed to these kinds of changes.
Q: They're not the problem. The problem is the House Appropriations --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, I understand --
Q: and people who have got their little subcommittees who spend their whole lives protecting the honey bee subsidy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't mean to downplay how tough it's going to be. We know it's going to be tough. But we also have been very heartened by the conversations we've had with Congress to date. And we have reached out from the very top leadership through the committee structures, through to the session members and have received very, very positive responses. We know there's tough things in here. If these were easy cuts, if these were easy proposals, then someone else would have made them already. But I want to make clear that we have talked to Congress and that we have received very strong and positive responses in many instances.
Q: this business of an up or down bill as a big government reform bill, wouldn't that be more difficult for a congressman to vote against, to have a big government reform bill cutting waste in government? Isn't that a way to avoid having it picked apart?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is, and there is a commission bill that was reported out of the Senate Government Ops Committee that gives some variation on that. If that's the way Congress would like to handle this package of legislation, then that's fine with us.
Q: Why don't you propose it that way if you really want it - -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll tell you, because we got into this looking so intently at the Executive Branch first that we wanted to see what our full package looked like before, and consult with Congress before we went to them with a legislative strategy or package, or demands as to how they should handle this. And, as I said, a lot of
this stuff we can do through the Executive Branch, and a lot of this stuff Congress -- there are pockets in Congress that have been thinking of these things for a long time, and we believe that we can work with Congress in any forum that we get.
Q: Can we get on with this subject and get on with the subject of things that you wanted to tell us about today?
Q: Sarah, this is --
Q: Does OMB give up any power under these recommendations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. In fact, I think OMB, as with Congress if Congress moves to a parallel -- to do a kind of parallel reform structure -- in fact, it's a different kind of oversight for everyone involved, and that is that we are beginning a long and it will be slow move towards moving the government to measuring outputs, not inputs; measuring results and performance.
We believe that OMB is uniquely situated within the government to be the lead in the development of performance measures and move us towards performance budgeting. And as you know, the passage of the Government Performance and Results Act this summer already places the federal government with a mandate to, in fact, move towards the measurement of results by 1998. So this is something that not only did we endorse, but we hope to accelerate that progress.
Q: When this endeavor began I had thought and I think the administration portrayed it as a two-pronged effort. One was to improve the performance of government, the procurement system, the personnel system; and the other was to identify programs that are outdated, don't work anymore, have limited constituencies, and basically waste a lot of money.
There's a lot in this report that's on the performance end. There seems to me to be little on the eliminate outdated programs end. There's a lot of talk about merging programs. There's a lot of talk about working closer with the states on programs. And there seems to me to be very little line by line cut this out, it's old and stupid and it only exists because two congressmen want it. Can you address the question of how the emphasis in the report turned out as it did?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Would you tell that to the people who have been calling my office, screaming about what we are trying to eliminate? It's very hard to do the eliminations. We have begun a first step on eliminating programs that we thought were obsolete. We've also recommended some consolidations. But remember, this is a first step in a process. We expect to have further recommendations over the next four years and to take on each one of these areas in more detail.
On a lot of things we would have done more, we would have more recommendations, but this was our first step.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would also, again, to just restate the point that my colleague made at the top of her answer, there are significant recommendations in here that really do propose dramatic changes. And you've sort of brushed them aside and said, well, there's a lot of consolidations and there are a lot of this and that. When we talk about moving food safety into FDA, that's getting rid of it at FSIS. When we talk about the DEA-ATF merger, that means getting rid of things. When we talk about wool and mohair, when we talk about honey, when we talk about the university -- I mean, there are a range of things in there that we are closing -- that we are closing, despite the fact that we have heard a lot in very high volumes from a lot of people. So I don't -- you know, there are significant recommendations in here.
Q: On that point, what is your estimate of the amount that would be eliminated from programs being shut down?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I mean, you can add it up. I mean, you can look at that section in Chapter 4 on eliminations and then refer to the back and add it up. I haven't done it.
Q: And are the Cabinet secretaries involved with ATF and DEA on board now? Because we were told -- some of us were told last week by Cabinet secretaries that those things were not about to happen.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I understand the position of Attorney General Reno, she is concerned with how quickly she can do this. She asked that there not be any deadlines in this report, because it is very difficult. But we do recommend broad authority for the Attorney General to do consolidations and get rid of duplication in law enforcement activities. And we believe she is looking at exactly those things.
Q: And Secretary Bentsen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think Secretary Bentsen is fine. (Laughter.) We do not recommend the immediate movement of the ATF into Treasury because, frankly, they have enough to do just to look at the question of DEA.
Q: Can I follow on that? Because the President said today that what is in the report that says the President should do he will do. He was very direct about that. But you're saying that two Cabinet secretaries have raised questions about the speed with which these kinds of things can be implemented or whether, in fact, they would be
implemented at all. That's not the same thing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. They've raised questions about the speed because they're very complicated, they have a lot of internal questions to resolve. There's a lot of complex systems there and a lot of history there, okay? And we intend to work with them and give the Attorney General whatever flexibility she needs to make this happen.
Q: If the Attorney General decides ultimately that --or the Secretary of the Treasury decides ultimately that this is not doable, does the President do it anyway?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I understand that before these recommendations went forward, before this report was completed, the Vice President met personally with every member of the Cabinet. Some of those meetings lasted more than two hours. This was very much a coordinated effort. It was not confrontational. The Vice President cared very much about what the Cabinet secretaries wanted, didn't want, what they thought made sense, what they thought didn't make sense. What is in this report reflects a consensus between the Cabinet secretaries and the Vice President. What we're talking about on DEA and ATF is not an "over my dead body" response. It's a "yes, I believe this should be done." But it's also very complicated and very difficult, and we need to make sure we do it right.
But understand that --
Q: So what is the answer to my question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer to your question is that there is nothing in this report that has not been reviewed with the Cabinet secretary, and that has not been included with the agreement of the Cabinet secretary. So I understand, because a lot of you have been calling me and saying, well, geez, the Attorney General said this or this Cabinet secretary said that. There are -- where there is no difference is the commitment to make these things happen. The Cabinet secretaries who are on the front lines have a very clear view of the road they have to go down to make them happen. But there is a commitment to make them happen.
The recommendations that are in this report recommend a joint process -- reflect a joint process between the Cabinet and the Vice President and the National Performance Review. Understand as well that it wasn't just the National Performance Review teams at work. The President asked each Cabinet secretary and each Cabinet secretary created a reinvention team within their own agencies. And our National Performance Review team worked very closely with those reinvention teams. So that when we got to the end of the process and the Vice President sat down with the Cabinet secretary, there were no surprises on either side because it had been that joint a process throughout.
Q: I'd like just to follow on that, please, because as of last Thursday in her weekly meeting with reporters, Attorney General Reno said essentially that she hadn't made up her mind about the merger of the DEA and the FBI, and wouldn't do that until she had a chance to consult with the new FBI Director Freeh. Now, are you saying between last Thursday --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I'm sorry, Mick, I can't speak for the Attorney General. I can't speak to the NPR process and for the Vice President. I know that the Vice President consulted carefully with every member of the Cabinet, he cared very much about what their views were, what they thought was realistic, what they thought would work. And the recommendations in this report reflect our belief, one, in Cabinet support for these recommendations and, two, in the belief that they are doable, and that the Cabinet secretaries are committed to making them happen. I'm not comfortable speaking for the Attorney General, because that's not my job.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about all the jobs that you're eliminating and how you're going to start getting rid of some of these federal employees whose jobs are now going to be abolished?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We proposed a great simplification in the control structure of the federal government. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people involved in the government in the administration of red tape. We believe that a significant number of those people can be -- those jobs, rather, can be either eliminated or used to serve customers better -- okay -- in other words, move to frontline jobs. There is an enormous, enormous hierarchy of administration and red tape which makes the government cost a lot more.
Now, a lot of the downsizing is dependent upon being able to change and simplify the basic systems of the government. In other words, if we can get decent procurement reform, if we can vastly simplify this archaic mode of buying things that the government has, then you will need fewer procurement specialists. If we can simplify the personnel laws and the personnel regulations and the classification system, you will need fewer personnelists.
Q: So someone just says, okay, we've abolished your job, it's been great, you're out of here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we presume that this will take about five years to happen. We presume that there will be a lot of attrition going on. A lot of these jobs will go by attrition, that there will be some early retirement and buy-out provisions making this happen. We do not think it will be extraordinarily painful, but I can't say that there won't be any pain at all.
Q: How many of these 250,000 positions actually have warm
bodies filling them now? How many people will lose their jobs, not how many positions will be eliminated. And what's the estimated cost of the buy-outs in early retirement packages?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't say how many people are actually in those jobs right now. I don't know that. You'd have to ask OPM. But I would say that the plan for buy-outs assumes that this can be done within budget. And the Defense Department, the intelligence agencies and NASA currently are talking about buy-outs that they do within budget. In other words, they have the money in their budget and those three groups already have the authority to do it.
Q: You don't have an overall figure for the federal government? And is there anyone else who has an answer to the first question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, because -- you'd have to call OPM.
Q: I want to ask you about how you scored these. A couple of things in this that are listed here were in different form in the budget. For example, wool and mohair was just scaled back in the budget. In scoring the savings, did you take into account the budget; and also, can you speak to why the agriculture subsidy cutback was eliminated in the final draft?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All of the scoring was done in conjunction with OMB analysts. And we worked with OMB analysts in the scoring. In the scoring of the potential systems changes, what you will see -- because those tend to all be if-then changes. In other words, if we can simplify the procurement system, we believe we can achieve a five percent savings over time.
The assumptions that went behind that scoring are listed an Appendix B, and you can see what we assumed and how we came to those numbers. The wool and mohair, I think the difference is that we proposed eliminating it as opposed to scaling it back.
Q: cutback that already occurred under the budget bill in scoring the savings that you get out of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't believe so. I can double-check it for you, Tim, I don't believe so.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I don't believe so.
Q: elimination of the agriculture cutback?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The crop deficiency? We did not
include that in the final report. We didn't feel it was ready to include in the final report. There were too many complicated questions about the definitions there, and there were several issues that we looked at and we didn't feel comfortable going with to include in the final report, and we can come back to them.
Q: Of the 252,000 jobs or positions that you're proposing be eliminated, how many of those positions are political appointees, positions that the President names?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We did not propose eliminating many political appointees, and for good reason: If you look at the proportions in the federal government, there are about 3,000 political appointees to 2.1 million federal civil servants. In other words, there are not a lot of people to make sure that the mandate of each election is carried forward, and we didn't think that was good --
Q: Are there any political appointees?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q: If I could follow along this line, in terms of personnel policy, a lot of these policies that have been built up over the years are to protect against nepotism, cronyism, racial discrimination. If you're talking about taking these and throwing them out, what kind of guarantees will there be that you won't replace this with political cronyism, nepotism?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's no intention -- let's be clear about this -- there is no intention to get rid of the merit system. There is no intention to get rid of the basic civil service concept that we have a civil service which is independent from political control. And if you read the report, it says, replace this with guiding principles. There will still be laws governing these important things. There will still be laws on racial discrimination, there will still be laws on protecting the civil servants from political control, et cetera.
What has happened, however, over the years is that you have an incredibly unwieldy system. You have 459 classification categories. There is a great deal of room for simplification and streamlining without touching the basic premises behind the system that are important.
Q: Some agriculture questions, two. One is, many times they've tried to consolidate offices, ACSC, soil conservation particularly. What makes you think that this swing at it will be any more successful than the past?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is Secretary Espy's plan. I believe that sometime this week, perhaps even this afternoon, he's going to be unveiling further details of his plan to the Agriculture Department employees. This is something whose time has come. I mean, let's face it -- we've all heard the joke about the civil servant crying, and somebody comes in and says "how come you're crying," and he says, "my farmer died." Anybody who has looked at the numbers in the Ag Department and looked at -- knows that this is long overdue.
Now, I think the time is right, Secretary Espy is leading the way on this, and I think, frankly, that there's a lot of members of Congress who want to make -- they're under two pressures. Yes, they're under pressure to deal with constituencies and special interest groups, et cetera. They are also under pressure, however, to make sure that they've got a government that works better and costs less. And I think that that will help.
Q: On food stamps --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On food stamps.
Q: How do you do electronic food stamps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's being done -- the State of Maryland does it all over the state. You get, essentially, a credit card, like a credit card. In it is encoded what you are allowed to buy with food stamp money. You go to a store that takes it -- and most stores do -- you run it through, and it charges it against your account. And you eliminate the paper -- food stamps -- most importantly, you eliminate the black market in food stamps, which, as you know, is rampant and has us paying for all sorts of things that we don't intend government money to go to. You eliminate the black market in it and you eliminate a lot of fraud.
Q: Does this require congressional action?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. We're already doing this all over the country, and we intend to speed it up.
Q: You've got a whole section in the back of the book about using information technologies government by E Mail, kiosks for people and all this stuff. Do you have any feel for, A, who is going to do that? Because right now there seems to be some -- even trying to get checked in this morning, a gap between computer and real --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q: How are you going to -- do you have any feel for how you're going to undertake this sort of conversion to information technology in the government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A great deal of this requires -- it sounds surprisingly simple -- but it requires leadership. A lot of these basic systems, to make them happen, involve coordinating several big departments. Food stamps, you've got to have Treasury and Agriculture involved in the transferral to EBT. A lot of it also involves getting rid of the layers of rules and regulations that have governed information technology in the federal government.
As you may or may not know, I mean, we started to govern the way we buy information technology in an era of mainframe computers. When the buying of information technology was fundamentally different, when the market was fundamentally different than it is today. We propose to vastly simplify that and allow the government, like the private sector, to take advantage of some of the cost efficiencies which you can get from the Information Age.
Q: What about E Mail? Are you going to implement that from here or from the agencies, or what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we'll begin within the agencies and then move interagency.
Q: Before Congress left, the President promised that they'd have a chance to vote on more cuts when they came back, and the congressional leadership has also promised them. Is this what they're going to get, or is there more? And if this is it, how much of this is going to be up there soon for them to vote on in terms of dollar amounts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly we would welcome quick congressional action on any or all pieces of this report. And certainly it's not beyond the realm that some of this money and some of the savings we're recommending would be included in something like that.
Q: But is there going to be an actual package?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We want to focus -- I think that's a question better directed at either Dee Dee or Mark. We are saying we want this savings enacted as quickly as possible. It is certainly appropriate to think about things like wool and mohair, honey, some of those things as part of a package that Congress could consider now. We want to focus on getting as many of these proposals passed as quickly as possible.
There are a number of ways we can do that. Certainly that is one of them and certainly there are things in this report that would be appropriately acted on in that way.
Q: Well, the traditional way would be to send legislation to the Hill. Are you going to send legislation to the Hill?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That goes back to the question
that was asked earlier about why didn't we put it in one big omnibus bill. You can tell, there are 800 some odd recommendations in here, many of them dealing with very specific, highly technical areas. So that when you think about putting it in one bill like, for example, on base closing, it's not as simple as that.
We made a decision when the entire package was done that there were a number of -- the Vice President talks about the President has a whole keyboard to play and it's a pretty big keyboard. There are a number of options available to us, and we don't want to restrict any of them. The goal is to get as much of this passed as quickly as we can.
I'm going to take a couple more and then turn it over --
Q: Can I just get one procedural thing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, yes.
Q: Ron asked a little while ago about the OPM and how many real bodies are involved in 250,000. You have nine people on stage; can somebody find that out for us before the end of the briefing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: One specific question on a pending -- some of these recommendations suggest major policy changes. I'm interested in one -- 102 under Interior talks about --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can you hold on a second, because I want to make sure she hears your question and she's not listening.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I mean, we think they're all real bodies -- 252,000.
Q: So at the end of five years 252,000 people will have lost their jobs through attrition or being fired or through early retirement or buy-outs?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Check the numbers in the report and you'll see that -- I believe these are in the appendix. There are -- we estimate some 700,000 people who are now involved in the government in these control structures, whose job it is to manage red tape. We're talking about getting rid of red tape. We believe -- and this is, I believe, in the appendix part. Yes, about 700,000 people who are in control, who are the people who run the red tape in government. We believe --
Q: Could some of these people --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just -- please let me
finish. Please let me finish. We believe that there are probably two times too many. That 700,000 is probably two times too many. So what we are recommending is that we ought to get rid of some of those 700,000 who are basically in the business of controlling red tape or creating red tape -- so that the government can work better. When you're talking about getting 23 signatures for a computer, if you change the procurement laws so that you only need two signatures, it's inevitable that some of those jobs will go. So when we talk about the numbers, understand what the total numbers are. And we think that by the commitment we're making -- that is, buy-outs, help finding other job offers, attrition, retirement --that those numbers can be achieved within five years.
Q: breakdown from $108 billion -- is there somewhere in one of these appendages --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, look in Appendix B. And B has the breakdown and the assumptions.
Q: A very practical point of view is that some of these people will be unemployed and all the salaries -- what happens?
Q: Is it not possible that some or a great deal of these 252,000 people won't be off the government payroll at the end of the five-year period, but they will have different jobs in government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Some of them may have different jobs in government, but the commitment is to reduce --
Q: So you're not literally trimming 252,000 jobs from the payroll?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. The commitment is to reduce the government by 252,000. Now, we are leaving it up to agencies to reengineer their work most efficiently. We think, as have any other major corporation -- any major organization that has downsized has found that the first place you go is to the white collar work force. The first place you go to find unnecessary fat is the white collar work force. Chrysler, in the last several years, trimmed 30 percent of their white collar work force alone. If you go -- benchmark this against other large organizations, you will find that that's the place where you go first. But we are not locking our -- we are saying that that's where you go first. But we expect some job loss may come simply from the computer revolution, from being able to do things better by reengineering through information technology.
Q: I guess the bottom-line question is at the end of Fiscal Year 1999, will there be 252,000 fewer people --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Fewer, yes. That is the goal.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But understand that that -- as
with our savings, those reductions depend on our ability to get through Congress the changes we are seeking. None of this is going to happen by magic. So it -- while we have identified specific savings and specific reductions in the federal work force, it is critically important to recognize that none of this becomes real unless Congress works with us in a partnership.
Q: whole process of reinventing government --
Q: You're sure you mean none of it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry?
Q: Are you sure you mean none of it becomes real?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. There are some things the President can do. There are some changes the President can make. I don't have hard numbers on, well, this many jobs or this many dollars.
Q: You don't mean none of it, you mean a lot of it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But it's just important to recognize that we're talking about 252,000 jobs and we're talking about $108 billion. I just want to make sure it's clear that single-handedly we are not going to be -- it's impossible for us to make this happen. Our commitment is to do everything we can to make these reductions real.
Q: But how realistic is something like biennial budgeting, which has been around a long time, when you have someone like Senator Byrd and others that feel very strongly about their turf and probably -- also even on the state level, some that do biennial budgeting have said, well, it's fine in theory but you have a lot of revisions that come up over the course of two years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, you do.
Q: Certainly, the Vice President, having served with Senator Byrd, has a tremendous amount of respect for him and for his point of view, as well as for the points of view of others who may think that biennial budgeting doesn't make sense. We believe it makes sense and we --
Q: But it takes more than respect to get something like this through.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's one change in the world that I think makes biennial budgeting a good idea at this point in time. Again, the passage of the Government Performance and Results Act requires that we move to performance measurement in this government by 1998. If you are going to do real performance measurement what you find is that the Congress in its oversight capacity will then be charged with
measuring the results, the actual results of government work. When states and cities have used performance measurement, they use it in conjunction with a biennial budget because what you do is one year you concentrate on the money and in the off-year you concentrate on the actual evaluation of the programs. Something which does not happen these days because of the constant attention paid to the money.
Yes, you need to make adjustments in the off-year. Everybody who's done this recommends it. But there are 21 states now using this. I think that if you look at biennial budgeting in conjunction with what is now the law of the land, it begins to make a lot more sense.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm going to stop it there and make Mr. Osborne and Mr. Sharp available to you. They are both on the record.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:18 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269173