print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

 Home > News & Policies > May 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press
May 21, 2003

Press Gaggle by Bridgeland
Sean Mccormack and John
Aboard Support Plane
En Route New London,

9:40 A.M. EDT

MR. McCORMACK: -- briefer at the end of the gaggle, John Bridgeland is going to talk about one of the initiatives the President is going to mention in his speech today, called Volunteers for Prosperity. This is -- it's part of the USA Freedom Corps; it's a program to encourage highly skilled American professionals in a variety of fields to volunteer for a flexible term of weeks or months in developing countries and emerging economies. But John will talk a little bit more about that at the end of the gaggle.

Let me start off with the President's schedule. He started this morning with his usual intelligence and FBI briefings. He's going to speak to the Coast Guard Academy today, and after I finish the schedule, I'll go through a little bit what the President is going to be talking about in his speech at the Coast Guard Academy.

When he returns to Washington, he'll meet with Senator Danforth and talk to Senator Danforth about his efforts to help the parties in the Sudan bring peace to their troubled country. And tonight he will participate in The President's Dinner, which will be open press. Coverage for the Danforth meeting will be stills. Any other questions on The President's Dinner I think Ari or Claire or Scott can help fill you in on some of the details of that.

The President's speech today, he's going to talk about the importance of spreading freedom and spreading hope throughout the world and the challenges that we face in that, not only from tyrants and dictators and terrorists around the world, which actually pose a threat to the safety and security and stability in the world, but also the other challenges that present -- that are challenges to freedom, the spread of freedom and security in the world. Those are things like poverty, the spread of disease, plague and starvation.

The President is going to talk about -- a bit about -- in the speech talk about the challenges that we've already faced in the war against terrorism. He's going to talk about our successes in the battles of Afghanistan and Baghdad. And he's going to honor the Coast Guard Academy -- our Coast Guard that participated in the battle for Iraq in not only in liberating the Iraqi people, as well and the compassion with which we actually bring stability and freedom to the world.

He's going to talk about in the speech -- let me look at my notes here. At some point he'll talk about the -- also the -- call upon our partners and friends and allies around the world to match their good intentions in fighting the plagues of poverty and disease with resources, as the United States has already done and is doing.

The President will talk about his emergency plan for AIDS relief, which is a $15 billion emergency plan for AIDS relief that's recently been passed by both Houses of Congress. This is an initiative that will help afflicted countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

The President will also talk about famine and agricultural productivity and efforts to relieve -- efforts at famine relief in Africa. The President in his FY 2004 budget has asked for $200 million for a famine fund for that famine in developing countries. He will talk about the announcement -- the President's initiative to end hunger in Africa, which was announced by Secretary Powell in Johannesburg in 2002. He will talk about the Water for Poor Initiative, which is again something Secretary Powell talked about at the Johannesburg summit.

And he will also tell you about the Millennium Challenge Account and the importance of Congress passing legislation to support the Millennium Challenge Account, which really embodies a different approach to aid and encourages good government practices, transparency and an end to corruption.

So what we have in being able to talk to the Coast Guard Academy, and at a service academy, he can highlight not only the fact that our -- making the world safer but also better. And in making the world better, the compassion that the United States brings to that effort.

So I'll be happy to take a few questions from you guys, and I'll turn it over to John to have a little discussion about the program the President will announce.

Q Anything more you can say about whether he'll meet with Sharon and Abas in the region?

MR. McCORMACK: Any sort of scheduling details we'll keep you up to date on. The only thing I can tell you about the upcoming trip is we'll have an announcement about the stops that we're going to be making in Europe, I believe, later on today. You all know that we'll be going to the G8, as well as St. Petersburg, for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. We'll also be stopping in Poland, as well, before St. Petersburg.

Right now, we're exploring possibilities for visiting with the troops on the way home from that trip to Europe yet. But nothing has been finally set in that regard. We'll keep you updated on any additional stops, if there are any, as well as what the President's schedule will be on that trip, any meetings he'll have along the way on that trip.

Q And is the White House --

Q Troops in the Middle East, right?

MR. McCORMACK: Troops in the region.

Q Is there any chance we can talk to Secretary Ridge during the course of this flight?

MR. McCORMACK: He's not going to be coming back.

Q Sean, is the White House trying to arrange a meeting with Sharon while Bush is on this trip? Regardless of where it is, are you trying to arrange a meeting?

MR. McCORMACK: Right. Again, Patsy, we'll keep you updated on his schedule as it develops. Any other questions before I turn it over to Mr. Bridgeland?

Q Just one thing, the House defense authorization bill would make it harder for the administration to cut bases in the next round of base closing. Is the administration trying to reverse that in Senate? And is there a veto threat being planned in case the Senate goes along with what the House has done?

MR. McCORMACK: I'll have to check for you on that, Tom. I don't have any information on that right now.

Q And has the President abandoned his zero-dividend tax and settled on 15 percent?

MR. McCORMACK: On taxes, the latest in from Ari is that we are making good -- good progress is being made, but nothing is final.

Q What about the glitch, it was determined whether the estimate was wrong on the bill? It turns out the one the Senate passed would allow companies to dump years and years of dividends at one time. It wasn't what the administration had intended and now it has to be redone. What is the view on that?

MR. McCORMACK: For any further details on the domestic policy, I'm going to have to refer you to Ari or Claire or Scott.

Q How about Medicare? What's going on there? (Laughter.)

MR. McCORMACK: One more. One more.

Q On Iran.


Q Has the administration concluded that Iran was behind the bombing in Saudi Arabia? And, if so, what is the administration going to do about it?

MR. McCORMACK: Well, we've had -- again, this is an ongoing investigation as to whose responsible for the bombing in Saudi Arabia. We have determined that there are links to al Qaeda. Those responsible for the bombing have links to al Qaeda. Beyond that, I don't have any further information. I've seen the news reports today. The only thing that I can say about Iran and links to terrorism is we do have longstanding concerns about Iran's links to terrorism, as well as the al Qaeda presence in Iran. We've conveyed those concerns to Iran. I believe Secretary Rumsfeld addressed on the record yesterday in his briefing quite clearly our views on those who harbor terrorists. Okay?

Q Annika Sorenstam should be playing on the PGA Tour?

MR. McCORMACK: Don't have anything for you on that, Dick. Let me turn it over to John.

MR. BRIDGELAND: Today as part of his USA Freedom Corps, the President will announce -- yes, today as part of his USA Freedom Corps, the President will announce a new international service initiative called Volunteers For Prosperity to deploy and enlist highly skilled professionals like doctors, nurses, computer specialists, engineers, educators, to be deployed in countries around the world consistent with his global prosperity agenda.

So these volunteers will be matched through USA Freedom Corps with nongovernmental organizations working through the Millennium Challenge Account, the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Digital Freedom Initiative, the Water For the Poor Initiative, the Trade for Africa Development and Enterprise Initiative and the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

There have been 100 -- just to put this in context, there have been 183,000 requests for applications for Americans to join the Peace Corps, and there are only currently 7,000 slots. The President will also restate his commitment to double the capacity of the Peace Corps from 7,000 to 15,000 volunteers over the next five years. And we remain on track to do that.

But this initiative calls upon highly skilled professionals who will be deployed for a more limited period of time, normally weeks or months. And today there are a whole host of organizations working with USA Freedom Corps and through the relevant departments and agencies who are prepared to accept skilled volunteers, for example, to work in hospitals to help prevent and treat AIDS patients, through City Links partnership to deploy individuals from city governments to help work on clean water and sanitation projects.

So through each of these initiatives and those that are coming on line, we will have a massive volunteer effort that will deploy highly skilled professionals.

Q You're essentially creating a market for the excess in volunteer capacity?

MR. BRIDGELAND: That's exactly right. This is a market -- not only a market for the excess capacity, but also a market that taps into the highly skilled, trained professionals who, in the course over the last year and a half, we have experienced are very anxious to serve for short periods of time in countries around the world on these prosperity initiatives.

Q How long do they serve for?

MR. BRIDGELAND: There will be flexible periods of time, working with the non-governmental organizations. It could be weeks, it could be months, or it could be multi-year assignments. The other thing that's significant here is that these non-governmental organizations are going to be receiving federal funds under these initiatives. And a factor in their ability to receive federal funds will be their ability to recruit, mobilize and deploy these highly skilled volunteers, which will show the more efficient use of federal resources in the field.

Q Is there additional funding for this program?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes, there are -- one example is the Digital Freedom Initiative, which provided -- we have volunteers right now, through the Geek Corps, it's called, but it's computer specialists in Senegal that are working and receiving -- the organization receives federal funds. These other NGOs will be receiving federal funds. And as you know, the AIDS plan and the Millennium Challenge --

Q But is there different money for the volunteers?

MR. BRIDGELAND: The NGOs will be paying the volunteers and leveraging those resources to draw down private funds. But new funds will be available for this initiative.

Q Are you John Bridgeland, or are you a senior administration official?

MR. BRIDGELAND: John Bridgeland.

Q How many people are we talking about?

MR. BRIDGELAND: We hope, eventually, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. And the U.S. --

Q Digital Freedom, people have already been deployed?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Yes, we have people in Senegal who are literally -- one specific example, you have a rug maker in Senegal, and you send a information technician over to Senegal, and they can open up, through technology and cyber cafes and telecenters, markets all over the world for that rug maker in Senegal. And that initiative alone is designed to help 360,000 small businesses in Senegal. And that's a pilot program that we're going to expand to 20 countries throughout Africa.

Q How many people are currently deployed in that?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Through there we have, I think, more than 40 volunteers right now. Again, that's a pilot program.

Q How long ago was it announced?

MR. BRIDGELAND: It was announced by Secretary Evans, myself, the administrator of AID just a few months ago.

Q Do we know -- switching gears for a minute, do you know whether the President will mention topical events at the top of his speech, like yesterday's change in the terrorist threat level, for instance?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Again, Sean can address that issue, but he's going to focus on his global prosperity agenda.

Q I realize that may not be --

MR. McCORMACK: That will be up to him.

Q When you say additional funds will be available, do you have a target amount? Do you have an idea in mind?

MR. BRIDGELAND: Well there are -- permitted use under each of these initiatives -- the AIDS Initiative, Millennium Challenge Account, is that non-governmental organizations will be able to use funds to implement programs. And so -- you know, I think in the millions of dollars you'll see NGOs receiving funds to carry out these programs. And we want to make them more competitive by showing their capacity to use highly skilled Americans to be deployed in the field.

Q Is that going to go beyond what they were going to get already, or there is going to be additional --

MR. BRIDGELAND: Well, there's going to be additional money through these programs for NGOs. And what we're doing today is, in addition to the funding provided, we're ensuring that these organizations are more competitive in the process if -- as a point of leverage -- if they can show their ability to recruit and mobilize highly trained and skilled Americans abroad. So there will be funds available for this program.

MR. McCORMACK: Thanks a lot, everybody.

END 9:55 A.M. EDT