Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Private Sector Initiatives at a White House Briefing for National Service Organization Leaders

April 27, 1982

Thank you very much. [Applause] Thank you—please. Look, you're volunteering. That's enough. [Laughter]

Well, welcome to the White House. I can't think of a group more representative of good citizenship than this gathering today. So, when I say, "Welcome," it's more than a greeting; it's also an expression of thanks for all the many things that you and your organizations are doing to better this country and improve the lot of those in need.

A hundred and fifty years ago, as a young French nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville traveled throughout our new country chronicling the observations in his now well known book, "Democracy in America." The American way of life captured his imagination, especially the vitality with which our forefathers went about solving problems.

He wrote, "Wherever at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association." He said, "The people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries." He's believed to have said at one time, commenting on this very thing, that good deeds in America start with somebody seeing a problem, and then he crosses the street and talks to a neighbor and they talk. And pretty soon a committee's formed, and the next thing you know the problem is solved. And, as he is supposed to have said—and you won't believe this—but no bureaucrat ever got involved in it. [Laughter]

Well, it was this spirit of direct action, of unbridled optimism, of compassion and freedom that made America great and unique among the nations. It's a tradition that you represent and a spirit that, with God's help, we can build upon.

There are, of course, some who believe the vigor observed by de Tocqueville is fading. Well, now, don't you believe it. We're witnessing a rebirth of concern and involvement that historians may describe as a reawakening of the American spirit. For the first time in decades, people are starting to realize they have an important role to play and that they can make a difference. This is the purpose of our Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives, established last December.

Bill Verity, Chairman of the Task Force, is here with us today. And, Bill, I have just left a meeting of the Associated Builders and Contractors—their leadership, at least, who came to see me in the Oval Office, and—you might be interested to know that this is an association of the small, the independent contractors, 17,000 of them nationwide—and they have just voluntarily voted to increase their dues 30 percent, because they now have a program in which they're training and educating and teaching people who want to learn how to become builders and contractors and craftsmen and so forth in that business.

I'd like to clear up one point, speaking about this Task Force. By encouraging private actions we are not inferring that government's role should be eliminated. On the contrary, the budget we've proposed for Health and Human Services for 1983 is increasing 8 percent or $20 billion over 1982. And that budget, for just that one agency in our country, will total over $274.2 billion, which is $53 billion bigger than the defense budget and is larger than the entire budget of any country in the world except the United States itself and the Soviet Union. And while some programs have been reduced, in general what are described as budget cuts are simply efforts to slow down the runaway growth in spending.

When I entered office, getting control of spending was an absolute necessity. We were on the edge of an economic abyss. Everyone would be worse off today if we had permitted inflation to keep going at the rate it was before the 1980 election. At that rate a family of four on a fixed income of $15,000 would today be over $1,000 poorer in purchasing power. Putting America's economic house in order meant changing attitudes, particularly the dangerous tendency to turn to government to solve every problem.

After being told for decades that government is the answer, some people's reluctance to try a different approach is understandable. What if, for example, the Boy Scouts of America were a government program instead of a voluntary activity? Well, someone's worked out what the answer to that would be. It's been estimated that just doing what the Boy Scouts are doing now, in the way they're doing it, if run by the government, would cost about $5 1/2 billion a year. And yet as an efficient, nongovernment activity, scouting costs a total of only $187 million a year.

Because it's based on volunteer effort rather than paid bureaucracy, it is amazingly more efficient. But beyond the financial savings, everyone involved—scouts, scout leaders, parents—everyone is having a more meaningful experience because of the time and resources voluntarily contributed to scouting.

The many accomplishments of your organizations represented here today prove to me that there is an enormous potential ready to be tapped. And that's the reason you've been invited here today. The tapping is about to begin. [Laughter] I need your help to activate those on the sidelines and to encourage those already involved to keep going.

The Jaycees, a group that's always close to my heart, have responded to the call for direct involvement with all of the enthusiasm and gusto for which their organization is famous. The Jaycees national leadership has committed the full resources of their 7,000 local clubs and 280,000 members toward a bold effort to establish a public foundation on voluntarism in every community where a Jaycees club exists. The potential value of this project alone is enormous. And Bill Verity tells me that you'll be hearing more about it shortly, so I won't take any more of your material, Bill.

It was recently estimated that the value of just the annual time volunteered by Americans is $64 1/2 billion worth. Whether it's a grandmother volunteering at the church day care center or a member of the Kiwanis Club at the charity car wash, much is being accomplished, and we think it should be encouraged. And that's why we established the President's Volunteer Action Award and brought this year's recipients to the White House. Eighteen individuals and organizations received recognition for doing some wonderful things to make our country a better place to live in, everything from helping victims of cancer to just counselling the troubled.

One program receiving the award is known as "Christmas in April." When April comes to Washington we think of the cherry blossoms. In Midland, Texas, they think of helping the elderly and handicapped people fix up their homes. Since 1973, thousands of volunteers working through the "Christmas in April" program have repaired the dwellings of Midland's less fortunate, disabled, and elderly.

Now, I realize that I may be preaching to the choir here, but there are too many people who don't know about the many wonderful things that your organizations are doing. As a matter of fact, that's proven by the mail that I get. I get letters from people telling me, now inspired by the recession and the need to get our budget under control, writing in and saying, "Can't we do something to make it possible for people like ourselves who want to, to volunteer and be of help?" In other words, they just haven't found out about all the things that you're doing. So, that's a lot of what Bill's task force is also doing. Getting the word out is the reason that it was created.

The list goes on and on, especially for programs aimed at America's young people, such as the work done by black fraternal organizations in providing tutoring for ghetto young people—offering them a chance for a better future. And then there are the many programs sponsored by service clubs to combat drug abuse.

I wish all those who claim our greatest days are past could grasp the energy and vitality in grass roots America today. Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine, saw this. He spent a lifetime watching and recording it. And his reflection in 1962 was not so different from that of de Tocqueville. He said, "We're the country of the endless frontier," he wrote, "of the big sky, of manifest destiny, of unlimited resources, of 'go west, young man,' of opportunity for all, of rags to riches, mass production, 'nothing to fear but fear itself,' technical know-how, 'a chicken in every pot,' gung ho and can do." Well, it may sound a little corny but Henry Luce was absolutely right. This is the stuff that put the first man on the Moon and sent the space shuttle Columbia into orbit and brought her home again.

When I was inaugurated, I said that our people have a potential for greatness, and they've proven it when it counted. Today I need your help to encourage them to put that potential to work directly on some problems that we've let sit too long. After you leave today, I'm asking you for a renewed commitment. Talk to your boards of directors, your members. Identify, take on a new project and a private sector initiative, and put the full resources of your organization behind it. Talk it up at your annual conventions this year. Let others know about what you're accomplishing.

What we're trying to build in this country is a new bond between the public and the private sectors. Bill Verity calls this "a new coalition, a community partnership," and I'm sure you'll be hearing more from him about how much can be accomplished.

I don't—this thing that I'm just going to say to you might sound now as if I'm being militant or something, and I'm not. I happen to believe that the foreign policy of this country must have one goal and one only, and that is world peace. And I want to do everything I can to bring about a reduction in armaments worldwide, to bring that dream closer. I say that because I'm going to use an example about one of the men in our military.

I also believed back when we still had the draft that we would be better off if we used that same American volunteer spirit for our military. And I'm proud and happy to say today that the enlistments are up and, oh, sure people can say, "Well, that's because of the recession." Well, the recession couldn't be responsible for the esprit de corps, for the morale of those young men and women that are in our armed forces—their pride, again, in their country.

And I got a letter from an Ambassador of ours, in Luxembourg. He had been up on the East German border where our Second Armored Cavalry regiment happens to be stationed. And he wrote to tell me that he praised them and what he found there and the fine spirit. But, he said, as he started to leave, one young 19-year-old lad followed him over to the helicopter. And the lad wanted to know if the Ambassador ever had an opportunity to get a message to me. And he—since he happens, an Ambassador, to be the President's representative, he said, yeah, he thought he could do that. And the kid said, "Well, will you tell him for us that we're proud to be here and we ain't scared of nothing?" [Laughter] I kind of like that.

But I just think that together we can and will do things. After all, we're Americans.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Private Sector Initiatives at a White House Briefing for National Service Organization Leaders Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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