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Third Reinvention Revolution Conference
Washington, DC

April 21, 1998

I'm here to celebrate the work being done by men and women of courage, imagination and dedication throughout our government. And to make an important announcement about what we are doing to give working men and women like you, in the federal government, the opportunity to innovate and bring your creativity to the service of the American people.

Because the reinvention you're accomplishing together really is, as the name of this conference suggests, nothing less than a revolution. We throw that word around kind of loosely, sometimes, and of course, that's something that's understandable in our country, because of the fact that 225 years ago, we had a revolution that led to our founding, which guaranteed a government that would secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now, because we established self-government by revolting against a centralized bureaucracy that was a monarchy, we've always had in our political culture, and in our American character, the readiness to strike out at any kind of concentration of power that looks like it's arrogant or unhealthy in any way, shape or form. And that's good, and it's partly for that reason that complaining about the government is as American as apple pie. You would think it was written into the Bill of Rights, the right to complain about the government.

By the time President Clinton and I took office in January of 1993, confidence in our self-government had plunged to a thirty-year low. There were an awful lot of reasons for that. One time, not long ago, I sat down, wrote out a whole speech just on that topic. How did that happen? I think there are a lot of things that -- and I'm not going to recap all of it, but I do think there are a lot of things that are were kind of body blows to our national self-confidence in our self-government. Personally, I think that the post-War euphoria after World War II, when were clearly the exemplar of democracy and prosperity, and standing astride the world.

I think that began to give way around the time of the assassinations, that tragic period early in the 1960s, that continued through the '60s. Then I think the Vietnam War took a terrible toll, and I think that Watergate, and the terrible crisis that our country went through, and then the continuation of the Vietnam War, and the 21 percent interest rates, and you could list a long list of things. And without a period of time during which we could recharge our batteries, and restore that good feeling about the course of our self-government. And throughout a lot of this period, the size of our government kept on growing like Topsy, without improving the quality of government. A lot of faulty management theories were used and propagated, and actually, during the twelve years before President Clinton came there -- we pick on that period. I don't mean this as a partisan comment. It was a trend that really began before that.

But during that time before we got here, confidence in government had plunged to a thirty-year low, and during that twelve-year period, we added 200,000 nondefense employees to the federal government. And the quality of service, and the missions undertaken, didn't really justify that kind of increase. More importantly, the excellent federal employees who know how to make things work well, if they're given the leeway, and empowered with the resources, and trust and flexibility were not listened to. They weren't given a chance to do the right thing. Instead, they were encumbered with a system that was really out of control.

And so five years ago, President Clinton asked me to lead our efforts to reinvent our federal government so that it would work better and cost less for the American people. He wanted more than just cosmetic changes. He said then he wanted to make the entire federal government both less expensive and more efficient. He wanted to change the culture of our national bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement toward initiative and empowerment. Well, five years later, I'm proud to report to you that we've made a great deal of progress, and we're headed in the right direction for a change. Today, our self-government is leaner, more effective, and more customer focused. Thanks to Reinventing Government, or REGO, as we call it -- as some of you know, that's GORE spelled sideways -- we have worked very hard on this.

We've reduced the size of the federal government by 350,000 employees, to give us the smallest federal government since the early 1960s, and as a percentage of the work force since before the New Deal. We eliminated over 200 outdated federal government programs. We slashed more than 16,000 pages of red tape, and saved the American people over $137 billion.

But even more than reducing the size of government and making it more efficient, Reinventing Government has been about a different vision of the role which our self-government should play in the life of our country. We've tried to give the American people the same universe of choices that they have in the rest of their lives.

Just think about it. Over the past decade, American business has really changed the way it does business. Not all businesses, but, by and large, it's easy to see a revolution in the work place where the private sector is concerned, because of new management approaches, new technologies, new efficiencies, new reinventions.

And American business now emphasizes choice and quality and efficiency. At least, the ones that have reinvented themselves, and, as consumers and customers, most of us have learned how to pick out the ones that really get it, and are really on their toes, and are doing an excellent job.

And they have replaced a belief in centralized control with a fundamental faith in the workers on the front lines, and they're empowering them. All around American, companies large and small have stopped doing business as usual. Well, to boil it down to its essence, what REGO is all about is our decision to stop doing government as usual. And our reliance on you, Federal employees and managers, to bring about those changes.

Once the federal government was a bureaucracy of hierarchies and monopolies, rules and regulations, where the focus was on filling out paperwork and making sure forms were done in triplicate. Today, the focus is on working efficiently, and on offering Americans more choices.

We wanted a government that sees citizens as customers to be respected and served, the difference being in the government, the customers are also the bosses. A government that emphasizes results over red tape. A government that replaces bureaucratic nonsense with old-fashioned common sense. By showing that government can work well, and work for the good of the people, we're restoring America's faith in the idea of self-government. And that's something we absolutely must do, if we're going to have a government that works for all of us, because if we still believe that, in the United States, we, the people, rule, then our confidence in democratic government should be very important to us. I mentioned that period during which our national confidence in self-government began to decline. There's actually a series of public opinion polls that measure that process. In 1964, 76 percent of the American people had trust that government would do the right thing most of the time. They asked the question, "Do you trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time?" Seventy-six percent said yes.

Thirty years later, that number had declined dramatically, to less than 20 percent. And the decline was in both political parties and every demographic category. Because Americans saw a government that didn't work for them, and even worse, they saw a government that they felt just didn't work at all. And when I started doing town hall meetings with federal employees in every single Cabinet department and agency, I found out what I should have known, what many of you knew, but which came as a surprise to a lot of people in the public. I found that federal employees were really more upset about it than citizens of the country generally, because federal employees had to live with it every single day. And also, they had to endure the kind of all out assault on the image of public service that we have had to -- that our country endured for awhile.

In fact, according to a new study from the PEW Research Center that some of you have seen, the main factor in Americans' distrust of government was the rating of government performance. Well, I believe that our work in Reinventing Government has slowly and steadily begun to reverse the downward trend of Americans' trust in their government, and the facts bear it out.

According to one survey conducted last fall, that stream of numbers reflecting the overall trust in government has begun to go back up again. According to one study, it was up eighteen points in just the last three years. But having said that, we've still got a long way to go, and I think everybody here understands that.

But the distance between where we are and where we should be is shrinking now, instead of expanding. We're moving in the right direction, instead of moving in the wrong direction. And that should give us good courage. That should cause us to feel a lot of confidence that we can go the rest of the way. Well, that's one of the reasons why I directed the thirty-two agencies with the greatest impact on the lives of average Americans to move beyond reinventing programs to begin reinventing themselves, and really focusing on the kind of service that they deliver.

And we need to do more to free up front line workers from the burdensome rules and regulations that tie their hands now, and stop the flow of their ideas. And that's why today I'm pleased to announce that President Clinton has just signed a memorandum to the heads of our executive departments and agencies to take a very important further action to increase the use of waivers to expedite innovation and improve customer service.

In this memorandum, the President cites two examples of the benefits that this kind of new freedom can bring. First, the Coast Guard Marine Safety programs have increased managerial flexibility for field commanders to waive unnecessary requirements that had previously accounted for more than a half-a-million work hours annually. Also, the Department of Agriculture's animal plant health inspection services tort claims adjudication team used a waiver to reduce the processing time for tort claims of less than $2,500.00 from fifty-one days down to eight days. And these examples illustrate what can happen, and we want to happen more.

We're asking that internal agency waivers be approved or denied within thirty days, and can only be denied by the head of an agency. We believe this will really speed up the waiver process.

With this action to streamline waivers, we will open up the floodgates of reinvention all over the federal government. We cannot rest in our drive to give the American people a government that works better and costs less, and provides Americans with better service.

I would just like to close my formal opening remarks here by again expressing great, deep thanks to all of you on behalf of President Clinton and myself and the American people, for being pioneers, for being leaders, for being agents of change, for being reinventers, and in the broadest sense, for helping to restore and redeem the promise of our American self-government. Let's forge ahead in changing the way government works for all of us. Thank you very much, and thank you for what you are doing.

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