George Bush photo

Excerpts of the President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nominations of James Watkins as Secretary of Energy and Bill Bennett as Director of National Drug Control Policy

January 12, 1989

Well, good afternoon. Today I am announcing two appointments that will complete one level of the process that began right after the election, that of finding the most talented, diverse and energetic group of people to serve at the Cabinet level. We're now starting very actively, full speed ahead, on the level just beneath this. But knowing of the interest, I wanted to get this - these announcements made.

I'd like to announce my intention to nominate Adm. James Watkins, the former Chief of Naval Operations, to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Energy. As you know, the Department of Energy has as part of its mission responsibility for matters that are of the most importance to the future and security of the nation; not only the development of energy policies, which will insure an adequate supply of energy for a growing nation, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect and preserve environment, but also the design and production of nuclear weapons that are vital to our national defense.

Admiral Watkins is uniquely suited to carry out these important tasks, and I am confident that he will do so with the great skill he has brought to every single mission in his long and distinguished career. The admiral served his country in the Navy for 37 years, after his graduation from the Naval Academy, in such key posts as the Commander of the Sixth Fleet, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, a Vice Chief and later Chief of Naval Operations.

And since then, of course, the admiral served as chairman of the AIDS commission and did what can only be described as a brilliant job. He has long experience in the Navy's nuclear-powered submarine program, from bringing a new reactor plant on line to commanding a nuclear-powered submarine, to managing nuclear programs here in Washington. This experience will indeed serve him well as he assumes his new responsibilities and I'm committed to solving the problems which exist within our atomic energy defense complex. And I'm sure that with Jim Watkins at my side we're going to do just exactly that.

I'd like to add two more personal observations about Jim. First, I've been impressed during his long and varied career with his concern for the people in the Navy - as Vice President, I had a chance to witness this from a very good vantage point - concern about people, not just for taking care of our military personnel and their families but especially for inspiring young people toward excellence, ethical standards and, ultimately, success. And I know he's going to bring that same commitment to the D.O.E. Certainly his taking on the vital tasks that he has demonstrates anew his commitment to serving his country.

And secondly, we spoke in our meeting about his commitment to protecting the environment, and his view, which I share, that it is not at all inconsistent with advancing both energy security and national security needs. Both Jim and I feel that a domestic oil and gas industry is vital to our national security interests. And we can have both a safer and more secure nation but we cannot rely on only one energy source. Nuclear power, oil, gas, coal, other sources all will be needed to meet the energy requirements and the security requirements of the United States in the years ahead.

My second announcement today concerns the Federal Government's response to a serious national problem, as serious as any that we face today. I think if you took a poll, the American people would say it is the most important problem we face; certainly it's as serious as any problem we're likely to face in the years to come. And I'm talking, of course, about drugs and drug abuse. I'm talking about drug interdiction of narcotics coming into this country, I'm talking about education so that we can cut down on the demand for drugs in this country.

And so let me tell you where I think we stand. It's an often-used metaphor but it's really the only one that really serves: We are at war. Drugs are a terrifying, insidious enemy; they challenge almost every aspect of American public policy - the law, our national security, our public health. And the threat they pose reaches deep into our nation's soul. It touches our very character as a people and it touches our future, our next generation, the nurture and protection of our children. Defeatism and despair about drugs simply will not do.

We have one formidable weapon in our arsenal, American opinion. The nation has turned a hard eye now on drugs. Zero tolerance is becoming a national attitude and one I mean to encourage, and this new consensus gives us an opportunity we can't afford to miss. We can use it to develop a meaningful, tough, consolidated national strategy against drug trafficking and drug abuse; against both supply and demand. And as President, I am committed to lead that effort and I plan to be personally involved.

Now the Congress has authorized creation of a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy at Cabinet level. And I'm especially pleased to announce my intention to nominate my friend Bill Bennett, former Secretary William Bennett, to head that office as its director. As you know, Bill has already had two - at least two - distinguished careers, first in academic life as a teacher and philosopher and then, too, in public life, most recently as the - President Reagan's Secretary of Education from February '85 until just last fall. And in that office he served on the White House Drug Enforcement Policy Board and he was a leader of anti-drug efforts in our nation's schools.

Coincidental is Jim Watkins was heading this AIDS Commission and putting emphasis on the education - the importance of education there; Bill Bennett, right along the same track, fighting that problem - a problem of better education - encouraging better education in our nation's schools.

And in his new job, Bill will be responsible for establishing and organizing a new and much-needed office in the White House. He will take the lead in developing a coordinated national drug policy and I'll ask him to implement that policy working with the Congress and with all relevant Federal, state and local agencies and programs. It is a tremendous undertaking.

And the bottom line is this: We need, fully and completely, to marshal the nation's energy and intelligence in a true all-out war against drugs. We can and must win that war and I'm delighted that Bill Bennett will be here to help me lead that campaign.

So, Bill and Jim, welcome aboard. Let me say a final word about both of these men.

They bring to our administration valuable experience, rich insight from a broad array of areas, experience in tackling very difficult assignments and doing them well. And I'm going to value their counsel on a wide range of issues that go beyond their specific responsibilities. As in the past, I'm going to ask each one of them to say a word and then I'll be glad to take some questions and then courageously leave and leave the questioning to Bill Bennett and to Jim Watkins. Jim.

Thank you, Mr. President-elect, for giving me this special opportunity to serve you and to serve the nation again in Government service.

As you mentioned in your introductory remarks, I've had many years of educational and practical experience in the military and more recently in the private sector in matters related to safe and efficient operation of nuclear reactors. This experience has confirmed my longstanding conviction that environmental and energy objectives can be made mutually compatible.

Consequently, I reject the stamp of mutual exclusivity that some would arbitrarily assign to them. I have confidence that after I've had a chance to get my feet on the ground in the position of Secretary of Energy, I can help find that desired and balanced formula wherein safety is never subverted, environmentally - environment is adequately protected and national security and other energy objectives are achieved in harmony with each other.

This is my commitment to you, Mr. President-elect, to the members of Congress for whom I'll working closely on these issues and to all Americans who are concerned about the many complex energy issues facing our nation today. Thank you very much.

I very much admire the President-elect and I wish to thank him today for his confidence in me. I'm honored by it, I am buoyed by it. And I shall reciprocate his confidence in me by loyal service to him.

I look forward to working closely and cooperatively with my colleagues in the Cabinet, in the agencies and in the Congress, and with the many groups of citizens all around the United States united by their opposition to illegal drugs.

Finally I would say this: This business -this drug business is a serious business, and this Government, this administration intends to take it seriously. I accept this nomination with humility, conscious of the enormity -conscious of the enormous task that lies before us. And I accept it with a firm resolve to do my best to make things better. Thank you very much, Mr. President.


Watkins's Background

Q: Mr. President-elect, how would you explain to the Texas oil and gas man how Mr. Watkins's background suits him to address their problems?

BUSH: I put it this way: They got a President of the United States that came out of the oil and gas industry; that knows it and knows it well. Admiral Watkins shares my views as expressed in my opening statement about the need for a strong oil and gas industry in terms of our own national security, among other things - leave the economy aside for a moment - in the terms of our national security. So we're compatible there.

I expect in the Department of Energy we will see people in high levels who are experts in the hydrocarbon business, in oil and gas. I have long been convinced, and the admiral agrees, that deregulation of natural gas, for example, is very, very important. And I hope, with his help, we can make headway on that in the Congress.

The Department of Energy has many areas of responsibility. One that is crying out now for solution, one area, one problem area, is this whole nuclear field. And Texans have a big stake in seeing that handled very well, as do rest of the 49 states.

So, we have in Jim a man who has been a tremendous success. His area of energy expertise happens to be in - in the nuclear end, but his knowledge of the world as a former Chief of Naval Operations has him understand as well as any of his predecessors, if not better, the need for a strong domestic oil and gas industry.

Priorities and Funds

Q: Mr. Vice President, the nuclear issue that you've raised today is likely to be very expensive. Some people talk about a $100 billion in the next several years. Another big item that may be confronting you in your first year is the savings and loan industry crisis, also [unintelligible] Do you plan to ask Congress for money to address these two problems and can you also at the same time under the flexible brief fulfill your other priorities if these two things absorb a lot of that money?

BUSH: Dave, you could've kept the list going in terms of what I read about how much a lot of other things are going to cost. But that's one of the things we're grappling with right now is how to solve these problems within the confines, the parameters of the commitment I made to the American people and we will be able to do that.

Leveraged Buyouts

Q: Mr. President, last year there were over 3,000 leveraged buyouts and mergers and acquisitions, both friendly and unfriendly. There are very few publicly owned corporations left. What are you going to do to stop this alarming trend?

BUSH: In the first place, you're talking to one who would, as much as possible, rely on market forces. Secondly, if there are abuses of our tax laws, they will be seriously -there's a whole tax law will be reviewed to see how they can be eliminated. For example, if people say that equity is debt and has asked to be treated as debt, and indeed it really is equity, there are things you can do in the tax laws to correct that. But I am not against bigness. I am not in favor of the Government picking winners and losers. I am in favor of the Government seeing that there is no abuse through the tax system.

Mandate for Drug Czar

Q: This position of so-called drug czar is a - is a new one. This is a first. Operationally, how do you see this proceeding? Do you see Secretary Bennett's primary set of attentions to be towards coordinating or using a bully pulpit? Do you envision a drug policy board anew? How do you see that working?

BUSH: We have a board that's mandated. We have a coordinating work in that each Secretary will have some bite of the apple. In interdiction, obviously the Department of Defense has major control of those resources although Treasury, with its fantastic Coast Guard interdiction, has a lot to say about that. It has an international component that the State Department has a major hand in. It has, as I mentioned in my remarks, an intelligence component. And I see Bill coordinating, working - and he and I have talked about this - working with these Secretaries. Now he's got to lead, he's got this portfolio, he's got on his hands the mandate to beat back this drug problem. And so it is a coordinative role, it is one where he is going to have to be out front, leading the way in a lot of areas. He's already demonstrated a wonderful ability to do that in education.

My view, I think, is in accord with his -and you could ask him - that both of us feel that the problem cannot be solved by interdiction alone, and that throws us into the major approach on the demand side. He's got to work very cooperatively with Dick Thornburgh, the Attorney General, in actual law enforcement. And so it is an anomaly, in a sense; there's nothing like it, there hasn't been anything like it. But nobody's faced -no Adminstration has had to really face this national problem in these dimensions before and yet nobody's had the - a guy like Bill Bennett willing to take it on before. So it'll work, it'll work. . . .

Nuclear Arms Plant Cleanup

Q: The White House today released a report to Congress that outlines a plan that over 20 years is estimated to cost $81 billion to clean up, to upgrade, modernize the nation's nuclear weapons production facilities. Are you committed to the findings and recommendations of that report, and also how do you intend to act on this immediately after the 20th of January?

BUSH: I am not committed to any report. I'm committed to asking Jim Watkins to immediately take a look at that, and everything else that's around, and formulate a national energy policy that clearly will include the safety and the cleanup aspects that I talked about.

Q: Isn't there a risk there in further delays that could cause additional national security concerns?

A: I think there's a risk if we imprudently go forward until he and I have had a chance to take a hard look.

Chemical Weapons Policy

Q: Mr. President-elect, I wanted to ask you about the chemical weapons initiatives attracting a lot of attention right now. What is your own reaction to the step the Soviets announced last week about reducing their own stockpile of chemical arms? Secondly, if we're going to try to convince the Libyans not to build a chemical arms plant, would our position be enhanced if we had some kind of a moratorium of our own, on our own production of binary chemical weapons?

BUSH: On the first part of your question, I'm glad that the Soviets have joined us in that; we've been doing that for some time. Secondly, I'd have to think about the second part. I think we're in a stage of starting on this problem, the solution of which I am strongly committed to, by nonproliferation. It seems to me that has to be a - the first step, and that is why there has been this understandable concern here and abroad about Libya. But whether our program can be used as an escape from further proliferation by others, I'd have to think a little more about that. But my view is I will press, as President, follow on what our Administration has been doing; press, as President, to try to find verifiable ways of eliminating these things. Yes?

Trip to Hirohito's Funeral

Q: I have two international questions. Your first international trip will be to Emperor Hirohito's funeral. Can you say anything to allay the concerns, the criticism of some of the allied leaders?

BUSH: Well, I haven't seen criticism -well, which - if you'd refer - maybe I will refresh my mind if you could tell me which criticism.

Q: Those pretty harsh statements you made about Emperor Hirohito, about New Zealand Defense Minister, for example -

A: I didn't know there were others. I know I'm doing the right thing, to represent the United States of America at this funeral. Obviously, as one who has served in the Pacific theater long ago in that war, if you had suggested to me in Sept. 2 - get this date now -Sept. 2, 1944, that I would be representing the United States at this event, why, I would have found that a little hard to believe. But we have a strong relationship with Japan, the Emperor has conducted himself in that job with tremendous dignity. From the day he went to see MacArthur there in Tokyo, when the war ended, that set a tone for a recovery that built into friendship. And our relationship is strong. And what I am symbolizing is not the past but the present and the future by going there.

Resurgence of Nuclear Goals

Q: Do you anticipate that on the choice of Admiral Watkins that there will be a - a resurgence of civilian nuclear energy research and development and promotion in this country?

BUSH: I hope so. But again, as he said, prudence, environmentally sound, but I don't think there's a person in the world that followed this campaign that doesn't know that I am convinced we are not going to solve the national energy needs of this country through hydrocarbons alone or through wind and thermal or coal alone. We must safely use nuclear power. And in appointing a man to head the Energy Department who has lived with the safe use of nuclear power and understands it, I think we've taken a very good step.

Orders for the Cabinet

Q: You told us you're going to be meeting with your full Cabinet later this afternoon to give them their marching orders. What are you going to tell them?

BUSH: . . . I'm going to tell them to think big. I'm going to tell them to challenge the system. I'm going to tell them to - as each one of them has demonstrated, to adhere to the highest ethical standards. And tell them I don't like kiss-and-tell books.

I'm not going to censor, but I'm going to tell them what I think. This will come as a surprise to some. I'd rather see their name on the record than insidiously leaked to somebody. Be on the record as much as possible. It's better for your profession and certainly better for mine. I don't mind differences being aired. I want them to be frank. I want them to fight hard for their - their position. And then after I make the call, I'd like to have the feeling that they'd be able to support the President. Talk to them a little about personnel. You guys don't have to come to the meetings now.

Tell them to work with Congress. We're going to have some fights with Congress but we're not going to approach it as though - as though we're dealing with the enemy, whatever party they're from, whatever philosophical bent the member of Congress adheres to. . . . I'm going to tell them I want to see some strong representation of minority faces in these jobs. I'm going to tell them I'd like to see us represent the United States with dignity but I don't believe that means we need any imperialism in the way we approach spending on these matters. Don't think we'll see a lot of my sons, my daughters, or their sons and daughters on the payroll and I might think of something else before we get through.

Nuclear Policy and Environment

Q: The balance has to be reached between production of these nuclear missile facilities and safeguarding the environment.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

Q: As a former military man, what can you tell people about your desires on this?

WATKINS: I had 25 years experience in that very area. I'll tell you one thing that Admiral Rickover did, he inculcated into us an intense feeling about protecting the environment. So much so that we stripped out our own regulatory authority and kept it within the Navy, because his prediction in 1962 to me, when I worked for him on his staff for four years, was that within 20 years we would have a serious accident in the private sector because there were corners being cut. And it was only 17 years later that Three Mile Island took place. Since that time, the nuclear power industry in the private sector has gotten their act together, through the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations; they put $65 million a year into 400 people who do nothing but come in and tell them what they're doing wrong and to share that industrywide, and we're beginning to pull out of it.

Demand Side on Drug Problem

Q: Mr. Bennett, with the profit motive so high, how much impact can be made aiming at the demand side of the drug problem, and how would you go about that?

BENNETT: Well, again, there'll be more to be said about that later, and I think it's proper to let the Senate hear my views on this once I've done my homework. But as you have heard the President-elect say, this is a problem of supply and demand. The Congress's view was to put in a deputy director for demand and a deputy director for supply. You've got to work all sides of this problem, all ends of this problem. If you just work one side, all the problems will flow to the other side, so that's what we plan to take a look at.

Follow-Through on Drugs

Q: Mr. Secretary, some of your critics have said that you're great at raising an issue, using the bully pulpit, but that you don't follow through. And if your task now is more coordinating and more on the follow-through side, how do you respond to those complaints?

A: Well, I respond by saying I think I follow through fine. And I think I followed through fine at the Department of Education. But what is meant by follow-through? At the Department of Education, the real follow-through, the ultimate follow-through obviously had to be America's classrooms, by America's teachers, principals and so on. In the war against drugs, you don't, I guess, expect me to be walking a beat or patrolling in people's houses. It's going to have to be followed through by all of us, by a clear determination on the part of the American people, both those who have official responsibility and all of us in our private capacities, to say that this stuff is wrong. That's where the real follow-through is.

Pupils Who Use Drugs

Q: Mr. Secretary, was it your position while you were Secretary of Education that kids in school using drugs should be thrown out of the classrooms, and is that still your position, and what do you think that would accomplish?

BENNETT: We often refer at the department and in our publication - "Schools Without Drugs" . . . we said in there that we admired a certain school system, and we pointed to specifically the Anne Arundel system, which I notice The Washington Post just editorialized about their position. I'm glad to see that The Post came to that view recently. The position at Anne Arundel was this - if you are a drug pusher you are expelled or you are suspended for a very long time, or expelled. If you are a drug user, you are suspended for a few days. You have to enter a counseling program. If you err, if you make a mistake and do it again, then you are suspended or - for a long period of time - or expelled. It's a very effective program. The most interesting things about it is the fact that very few students end up getting expelled once they realize that the school authorities are serious. A lot of school systems around the country are emulating that. The point, of course, is to be tough on this issue, but we certainly can't be tougher on our children than we are willing to be on ourselves. Thank you.

Restarting Nuclear Plant

Q: The Savannah River Plant is engaged in a massive repair program. The Pentagon says it needs all three reactors operating by the fall. It's almost certain that all three reactors won't be operating by this fall. Do you anticipate ordering the reactors to be restarted before this repair program?

WATKINS: I do not have the whole picture on the lifetime of the tritium resources we have in the country at this point, and how they relate to national defense. I do not have that detail. That's classified information that would not be discussed anyway publicly, but I have to get into that. Those are the kinds of things I'm going to be briefed on in the next couple of weeks, and get up to speed so I can put into my own context the urgency - sense of urgency - and the timing that's critical. And I think that will drive a lot - it'll drive resources, because I don't think there's many alternatives except that it will not be done at the expense of safety.

George Bush, Excerpts of the President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nominations of James Watkins as Secretary of Energy and Bill Bennett as Director of National Drug Control Policy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives