Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to the Executive Committee of the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control in the Federal Government

July 18, 1984

Well, I want to welcome you all here today. And I'm sorry about the change in plans, but it did look, earlier, as if it was going to rain. And then I must tell you, we lucked out completely. The last time we moved something hastily inside, because of the fear of rain, the Sun came out, it was beautiful outside, and we were already inside. Well, it's just been raining cats and dogs; started just as we left the White House. So, we made the right decision. [Laughter] And, besides, I've never played the Kennedy Center. [Laughter]

We do hope to see all of you at some future time at your White House, and I do mean your White House. Nancy and I have always thought it was awfully important to remember that we're just temporary tenants there. Of course, it's no secret that we're hoping for a renewal of the lease- [laughter] —but we haven't forgotten that this home belongs, first, to the American people and to no one else. And it's in that spirit I wanted to speak to you today.

As I said recently in Texas, the changes that have been brought to government signify far more than a victory for any one person or any administration or political philosophy. When these changes were first proposed, the seers of Potomac land said it couldn't be done, that our problems were too vast and complicated, that our political institutions couldn't function anymore. They said that we couldn't simultaneously cut the growth of government, reduce tax rates, spark an economic expansion, launch a war on crime, rebuild our defenses, stop the expansion of totalitarianism, and put forward the most extensive series of arms reduction proposals in our nation's history.

Well, they were wrong. All those things are being accomplished, and they're too vast and sweeping to be the work of any one person or one administration. The impetus for those changes has come from what has always been the real source of America's success and greatness, the American people, themselves.

Now, I'm talking about all the average citizens who time and again have made their voices heard here in Washington, who said they'd had enough excuses from politicians and indifferent bureaucrats, the heartland people who took back their government from a Washington-oriented leadership that stood for pessimism, defeatism, and ineptitude.

And one example of the people's newfound influence here in Washington has been a cost-cutting revolution that this administration began the day it took office. Unheralded, almost unreported, it's a quiet revolution that's reaching into every part of the Government, pruning, shearing, cutting, cutting back bureaucracy, making it more efficient and less wasteful, and making it more responsive to the people.

Three years ago I called waste, fraud, and mismanagement in the Federal Government an unrelenting national scandal. Well, today, although we're still a long way from home, that scandal is starting to relent. And let me tell you why: From discovering benefit checks still being sent to the deceased to finding a hammer the Pentagon was paying $400 for, our Inspectors General, auditors, and administrators are putting the squeeze on billions in waste and mismanagement.

Through the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, we've used the Inspectors General as a strike force to cut out billions in waste, fraud, and mismanagement. All our Inspectors General are doing a remarkable job. Take a look at what's being done in just one department, Health and Human Services. In 1981 the Inspectors General program there accounted for 517 convictions in fraud-against-the-government cases and $165 million in savings. Only 2 years later, that office under Richard Kusserow, a former FBI supervisor that we brought in from Chicago, was responsible for more than 800 fraud-against-the-government convictions and $1.4 billion in savings.

Now, many of you will also know that the maze we call the Federal bureaucracy includes some 350 different accounting systems; 150 civilian payroll personnel systems; 1,100 payment centers, most of them poorly coordinated and many of them incompatible, with no effective cash or debt management. Under a carefully designed program called Reform '88 we are now bringing about some of the management reforms and cost reductions that will clear out this jungle and make some sense of Federal procedures and organization.

Accomplishments so far include the collection of billions of dollars in delinquent debt, reduction of paperwork by 32 percent, and suspending publication of an estimated 155 million copies of marginally useful Federal publications.

To ensure that reforms occur and that savings are made, we examined progress made during formal management reviews with each Federal agency as part of the budget process. But ultimately, I believe history will record the American people's biggest victory over bureaucracy and big government began with the work of you who are here today.

I think all of you remember the skepticism, the cynicism, and even the scorn with which the permanent Washington establishment greeted the announcement of the Grace commission. You know, I remember during the last campaign, anytime you brought up the problem of waste, fraud, and mismanagement in government, many people who'd gotten used to the ways of Washington said it was just campaign rhetoric. They said such problems were so engrained, and, as they like to say in this city, "structural," that nothing could be done about them.

Well, something was done about them, and in large part, we have all of you to thank for that. The end product of your 18 months of hard work was 2,478 recommendations on how to cut the deficit, conveyed in 36 task force reports, 11 special reports, and a two-volume final report to the President. Your 21,000 pages of the 48 reports are supported by 1 1/2 million pages of documentation, and your survey was conducted at no cost to the Government, with $75 million donated by the private sector in personnel, materials, supplies, equipment, and travel costs.

Now, I think you all know that I pledged to you last January not just talk but aggressive action on your recommendations. Well, I received a very thick memorandum the other day. It noted that our special task forces set up to review and implement your proposals have currently completed their reviews of 44 percent of the issues, and more than 80 percent of those issues have been forwarded for implementation.

You know, the review process involves very complex and detailed computerized data, all of which was summarized recently in that very thick memorandum that was sent my way. Kind of reminds me of the time that a government official said he was so disturbed by duplication in government that he was appointing not one, but two commissions, to study the problem. [Laughter]

But, you know, this is one time that I'm glad government is producing paperwork, because all of this paperwork is being produced to keep a careful tab on how work is progressing on your recommendations. It's kind of fun, isn't it? Just think—you, as private citizens, now have the bureaucrats making out forms, instead of the other way around. [Laughter]

I've just signed a major part of our deficit down payment package which is intended to reduce the deficit by $62 billion. Now, we're determined to get the full down payment of nearly 140 billion over these next 3 years, so I'll be ready with a veto pen to make sure the spending restraint that we need is fully reflected in the remaining appropriation bills to complete that down payment.

But for the future, what we need most are long-term reforms to ensure sustained reductions in spending growth. And that's why we'll press on for constitutional amendments to mandate a balanced Federal budget and to permit a line-item veto. And we'll continue to press for reduced spending growth by adopting the kind of commonsense, long-overdue measures that you have proposed.

So, I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a progress report on our waste and fraud campaign and to thank each of you for all that you did during the course of your work on the Grace commission. I know it meant many hours away from your jobs and families. Each of you here today, whether you personally worked on the Grace commission or stood by and supported your friend or spouse, symbolize the best in America—a willingness to set aside individual preferences for the common good of the country.

Our critics said it couldn't be done. Well, it was done because of a remarkable man named Peter Grace and because of remarkable people like yourselves. I'm grateful, and your country's grateful. You've given something back to America. You should be very proud of that. Your work was courageous and daring; you didn't seek the approval of the Washington establishment, but produced a report that shook the foundations of the establishment.

Napoleon once said to one of his commanders, "If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna." Well, there's a lot of work left to be done on your recommendations, but believe me, this administration has learned from your example. And I can promise you, again, not just talk but aggressive action. And believe me, together we're going to take Vienna.

Thank you. God bless you all. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the Executive Committee of the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control in the Federal Government Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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