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Democratic National Committee - Remarks at a Breakfast Meeting of the Executive Finance Committee

February 18, 1977

Good morning, everybody. How are you doing?

We've had a good, almost a month now in office, and I've learned a lot, I have not yet been discouraged about any of the campaign promises that we set forth the last 2 years. I have learned again to appreciate what you have done for me and for our party and for the country, and have felt a growing sense of partnership between the White House and the Congress, on one hand, the White House and you and those that look to you for leadership.

I have begun to appreciate my scientific and engineering and farming and agriculture background. I've also begun to appreciate the 2 years of campaigning that gave me a chance to learn about this country, and also to study some of the issues that have been so rapidly put on me since I took office.

But more than that, I've become confident about the future of our country. The soundness and the stability and the hope and the idealism and the competence of the American people is not easily assessed so well in any other position, I am sure, as it is from the Office of the President.

And I don't ever want to disappoint those who look to me for proper leadership, but I also see the danger of isolating myself from those who can be a constant guide and a constant inspiration to me.

So, I am particularly grateful to come over and meet with you this morning. We share a belief in the principles of the Democratic Party. And I want to make sure that those principles are always clean and decent and open and that we never forget where our strength is derived-from the American people who don't have much influence, who can't come to Washington for a meeting, who can't participate at the highest levels of either politics or business or the professions or diplomacy, but whose innate commitments in a cumulative way best exemplify what our Nation is and what it ought to be.

This morning, I'd like to mention just a few items that concern business and management and administration. I don't believe that the government can be sensitive to people's needs nor meet those needs effectively unless it is administered well. It's got to be efficient, economical, competent. And the same principles that apply to our own professions or your own business, whether it's in real estate or agriculture or manufacturing, apply to government in my opinion.

I think we are making excellent progress with the Congress in giving me authority to carry out my most important and frequently expressed campaign commitment, and that is to reorganize the structure of the executive branch of Government. I want it to work, and I want it to be so that it can be understood by the American people. I want to root out the influence of special interests. I want to make sure that because someone is powerful or rich or influential that they occupy no special privilege in Government. And in a complex, confused bureaucracy, those who are most influential, most knowledgeable, are the ones who can derive unwarranted privilege or benefit. That's not right.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to work closely with the Congress and with you in getting our Government arranged so that it can be both open and administered well I am trying to cut down on the number of regulations, guidelines, directives that have always afflicted my life as a farmer and a businessman and which I know afflict your lives as well. And I am absolutely determined that you are going to be pleased at the number of regulations that we eliminate, simplify, and consolidate.

And there is a growing excitement, not just at the Cabinet level but at the sublevels of departments that I am visiting almost every day about the chance not only to let your lives be freer and more meaningful but also to reduce the tremendous burden of unnecessary administrative responsibilities that fall on the fine civil servants in this Government who have just one career, one life to live, like yours, and who want to do a good job of serving the American people but quite often have been prevented from doing that by the complexities of government. And I think they are now ready to change.

I've also directed all the Cabinet officers this week to assess thoroughly the number of reports and surveys and forms that come into the Federal Government from you and others, and to eliminate all that are not absolutely essential, to simplify greatly those that are needed, to make less frequent the reports that we have to have on occasion, and to consolidate those reports across governmental agency lines so that the number might be reduced substantially.

We are going to put into effect completely for the fiscal year 1979 budget zero-base budgeting, so that we can assess every year not just programs that are proposed for next fiscal year but on an equal basis assess those programs that have been in effect for the last 5, 15, 20, sometimes 50 years, so we can make sure that next year we spend the money that we have and the human resources that we have, both limited, in the most effective way to meet priorities and needs that are obvious for next year, not what was needed 25 to 50 years ago.

This also permits the good civil servants, the professionals, for the first time to have an integral role to play in the evolution of next year's budget. It won't be derived from the White House or from the Cabinet secretaries' office or from the Office of Management and Budget. The budget proposal will be originated deep within the departments, so that those who. have had pent-up hopes that they could do a better job can have a chance to say that.

I want to be sure also that I have the opportunity, through making long-range projections of ultimate costs, and also the elimination of unnecessary expenditures, even some that have been approved 15 or 20 years now, that I can meet my goal of having a balanced budget by the end of this 4-year administration.

Some of the things are going to hurt, perhaps, some of you, and there might be Government commitments that won't be quite so attractive in the future. I am determined to reduce the amount of regulation, not just that that interferes in your administration but perhaps a regulation that protects your business from participating in a free and open and competitive business world. I believe in strong competition, and I am going to try to pursue that.

And the last couple of things that I'd like to mention are these: I am going to be very careful about what I say, but I believe it's better for the American people to know as my decisions evolve on matters that concern them domestically and in foreign affairs.

I intend to have a press conference at least twice a month, and I am trying to probe now for better ways to let American people have direct access to me through fireside chats, through call-in radio programs, and so forth. And we are trying to explore these different mechanisms to see which ones are successful and which ones are not.

But I want every person in this country who is interested to feel that they can put a question to me, no matter how embarrassing it might be or how difficult to answer, and that I will try to get the answer for them.

Now, I don't claim to know all the answers, that's not the point. But I want to be sure that there is an organic feeling that there is a partnership between the people and their government and not a bridge that has to be crossed nor a wall that has to be scaled.

And I am going to probably make some mistakes, and we are probably going to fumble on occasion, but I will try to make the mistakes on the side of letting the American people know what their government, what your government, what my government is doing. And I believe it's good to discuss these things openly so that when we do make a decision on foreign affairs that might be very difficult to put into effect, it's not just an isolated Presidential voice that speaks, it's not just an isolated Secretary of State's voice that speaks, but it's a voice that speaks with the full knowledge and, I hope, support of the Congress and the American people. I think it will strengthen us in international rounds if other nations know that our whole country speaks and not just the isolated leaders themselves.

I think we've had a bad time with these salary increases. I think the salary increases were warranted, but I think the way it's been done perhaps has caused some additional distrust. I had a meeting yesterday morning with the Ways and Means Committee,. and I suggested to them that in the future we not ever let any salary increases go into effect until after the next general election.. And I believe that one single change would let us consider necessary increases in salary for judges, for civil servants, for Members of Congress. I believe the American people would accept it much better.

I think this is one change that ought to go into effect. If we can vote for it, fine, or let it go into effect without a vote, that suits me fine; but not have the change go into effect until after the next general election has taken place.

Let me say this in closing: I didn't come here to teach you; I come here to reassess the relationship that ought to exist between us. We are partners. And I think the greatest thing that I need in the next few months is advice and counsel and instruction and information and tough criticism. Every one of you in this room is a leader in your own community and in your own profession. And I want there to be formed between me and you, using the Democratic National Committee structure as an avenue, or direct, sometimes, even bypassing the Democratic National Committee structure. But I need this very much, and I believe that we can bring to our country a very good quality of leadership to the extent that I can tap the reservoir of experience and intelligence and commitment that you have within you.

We've got an outstanding chairman of the Democratic Party to replace another outstanding chairman. Bob Strauss did an extraordinary job, and Ken Curtis, I believe, is going to equal that outstanding leadership.

And I am very grateful to Jess Hay, who I think exemplifies the finest aspects of business leadership, who also sees a proper relationship between professions and government. And I will try to use both these men and many of you on a constant basis to help me make the right decisions for the greatest country on Earth.

Thank you very much for letting me interrupt your breakfast.

Note: The President spoke at 9:01 a.m. in the John Hay Room at the Hay Adams Hotel to members of the Executive Finance Committee of the DNC.

Jimmy Carter, Democratic National Committee - Remarks at a Breakfast Meeting of the Executive Finance Committee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242130

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