July 16, 2002
White House Chief of Staff Card Addresses the Excelgov Conference in Washington, DC
Thank you very much. It's a wonderful privilege to be here and I thank Pat for that introduction and I had the pleasure to work with Pat on a number of different events. And I watch her as she creates a climate for excellence in government.
And, Tim, we appreciate your role in this activity and the magazine that you put out causes us to have a sense of learning and understanding of what it means to be a government executive and to learn from others.
These times they are a changing and that is not an overstatement at all. In fact, we are in a very different time. Most of you get to experience a different administration every four years or maybe ever eight years.
But we all know that while administrations change, seldom does America change. But on September 11th there was an event that caused all of America to change. And it meant that there would have to be changes in the way the executive branch of government did its job as well.
Just today, the President unveiled a national strategy for homeland security. This national strategy wasn't even contemplated a year ago. No one saw as a great charge that America had to readjust a focus toward Homeland Security.
Sure there was discussion about some of the functions that we now recognize as part of Homeland Security. But there was not great charge form the American people, from Congress, special interest groups to focus on Homeland Security as the focus of America.
But September 11th of last year, our focus did change and leaders rose to the challenge, starting with the President of the United States. I will never forget September 11th. I doubt any of you will. And certainly there are millions of people, not just in the United States, but around the world that will never forget September 11th.
That was the day that I whispered in the President's ear that a second plane hit the second tower, America is under attack.
And the President canceled his event that day in Florida. Got on Air Force One. He flew high in the sky out of harm's way while we could assess what was happening on the ground and how our government had to respond.
But that day is a day that none of us will forget, but I'd like to tell you a little bit about another day that I will never forget. And it was September 14th was the day that I saw the manifestations in government as to the changes that we would be undertaking as a result of that terrorist attack on September 11th.
The day started not unlike a typical day for me. I usually get to the office between 5:30 and quarter of six in the morning. And I got to the office at about quarter of six that morning. Started to do what I always do which is skim the newspapers, read the intelligence reports, go over the President's schedule one more time and prepared to greet him when he shows up in the Oval office.
He had a busy day scheduled that day. It was a Friday. The President arrived in the Oval Office a little earlier than he had on the previous days. He showed up at a quarter of seven.
And I have this little locator box in my office that the Secret Service transmits information as to where the President always is. So I knew where he was. And I saw that he was on the south grounds of the White House, which meant he was heading to the Oval Office.
So, I went down to the Oval Office and sure enough he walked in, 6:45 AM. I greeted as I always do, good morning, Mr. President, are you ready for the day. And I started to go over the day's schedule and he interrupted me. And he told me what the day's schedule would be.
The President always does his homework and he had done his homework Thursday night. But then he also said that he wanted to bring in a new set of briefers. And I said, okay, we'd make that happen.
I then went to a small senior staff meeting in my office at 7:15 and then a senior staff meeting in the Roosevelt room at 7:30. And at two minutes of eight, I got up from my seat and went into the Oval Office and the President started his usual CIA briefing. Dr. Condolezza Rice, the CIA director, the CIA briefer, the Vice President and me.
The briefing that morning was a pretty in-depth briefing. It included for the first time a threat report outlining all of the threats that were seen by the CIA to America's interests around the world.
And after that briefing finished, another briefing took place, a briefing from the FBI Director and the Attorney General. It was a briefing about threats to America that emanate from within.
As the briefing started, the FBI director outlined the situation with regard to the terrorist attack on September 11th. And it was clear that they were building a case for prosecution.
They talked about how the terrorists got plane tickets, got on planes, moved from one airport to another and then attacked our citizens. And the President, while he was very interested in that report, said Mr. Director, that's building a case for prosecution. I want to know what you have to say about the terrorist threats that haven't materialized yet and how we can prevent them.
It was the first introducing of a change in culture to the FBI that their focus had to be about protecting America rather than just about maybe catching a spy or building a case for prosecution.
That meeting lasted about 20 minutes. I know that it sent a ripple of change throughout the FBI, once the FBI director got back to the FBI department. The bureaucracy changed that morning at the FBI, as their focus was redirected to one of protecting all of us as a top priority.
Now, if the day had ended right there, it would have been a historic day, because America didn't change that day. A large effort of government employees were being given a new mission, an important mission and the President expected results.
But that was not the end of the day. It was the beginning of the day. And the President convened his cabinet. He went into the cabinet room and the President sat at the cabinet table and all of his cabinet members were there.
And as you would expect, he turned to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense for a report and the Attorney General for a report. And their reports were all about the activities that took place on September 11th.
And the room was quiet and we listened to every detail, as to the nature of the attack and the nature of threats and the nature of security in our country. And the President made some comments about how we were going to respond as a nation.
And he used for the first time -- that he would convene a war council to address this new war on terrorism. And he talked a little bit about the war council and how it would function.
And then he went around the table and he addressed every single cabinet member about what their job was. He said that his focus would be on winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland.
He reminded us that we all had a responsibility to make sure our economy could get back to growth as quickly as possible, given that shock of September 11th. But then he said to the Secretary of Education, your job continues to be to make sure that no child is left behind and that the education reforms that were passed by Congress would be implemented well in the states.
And he went to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and he said, your job is to make sure that there are housing opportunities for all Americans.
And he went to the administrator of the EPA and said, your job is to make sure that we care for our environment and that we meet our responsibilities with common sense, that we take care of our country and our planet.
And he went to each cabinet member and he talked about their job, reminding us that we all had a job to do, even while he might spend more time on winning the war on terrorism while securing the homeland.
He also talked about the need for us to recognize that the great contributors to the success of our country were the people who were working for our country, you. And that all of the employees in the federal government, whether they work in the bureaucracies in Washington, D.C., or our boarders or in our military, were part of our response to terrorism. And he viewed you all as important members of our successful team.
It was a rallying cabinet meeting. It showed the President's resolve. It showed his determination, his focus, but also his understanding of all of the work that government had to do for the people in our country.
And that was very comforting, because he spoke with in-depth knowledge about the responsibilities at each one of those cabinet agencies.
Now, if the day ended after that cabinet meeting it would have been a pretty phenomenal day. First of all, Presidents don't have that many cabinet meetings, contrary to myth. And this was not a cabinet meeting just for show. This was a cabinet meeting of substance and direction and management challenge.
But the day didn't end after that meeting. We went right from that meeting to the National Cathedral, up Massachusetts Avenue and the President entered the National Cathedral and it was filled.
There were members of congress, Senators, governors, Ambassadors, diplomats, military leaders, clergymen and women, policemen and firemen, American citizens.
And there was a wonderful prayer service for the country and the world and we heard from Imam, a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, an Episcopalian priest and a wonderful sermon, maybe one of his last to the world, from Billy Graham.
We sang hymns, we said prayers and the President addressed us. He reminded us that we have a higher calling and we have responsibilities and that faith plays a role in allowing us to meet those responsibilities.
It was a very moving service. Some of you may have been there. It was memorable for those who were there and for those who saw it on television. Not just in the United States but around the world. If the day had ended after that, it would have been a pretty phenomenal day, but it was still early.
And the President left the National Cathedral and he got in his limousine. And we ended up going to Andrews Air Force Base, getting on Air Force One and flying to New Jersey. Got off Air Force One and on to Marine One, with Governor Pataki from New York and Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City.
We helicoptered to Manhattan and as the helicopter hovered over Ground Zero, smoke rose up from the ground. It was a misty day and you could see literally thousands of people combing over the wreckage of the terrorist attack.
And the helicopter landed near Wall Street. We took the short motorcade down to what we now call Ground Zero and the streets were lined with people. And the President challenged the Secret Service to let him out of the limousine.
He got out of the limousine; he went over to the side of the street. None of these people had been through magnetometers or checked by the Secret Service, but the President started shaking hands, patting people on the back, saying thank you.
And there were all kinds of different emotions. Some people were cheering, some people were crying, some people were praying. Some people were angry. And you heard cheers come up, kick butt and -- but then someone started to say U S A, U S A. And pretty soon everyone was chanting U S A, U S A.
And I remember looking over my shoulder and there was a group of workers standing on scaffolding. They were chanting U S A, U S A but they were waving a Japanese flag. They were volunteers from Japan who had come to help us.
And there was a group of rescue workers U S A, U S A, climbing up on a barricade and they had Canadian flags sewn on their shoulders.
And the President then stepped up on what was a crushed fire engine and stood beside a firefighter, took a bullhorn and the crowd chanted. And the President said, I hear you. The whole word hears you. And the whole world will hear us.
That was a very very emotional experience. Those rescue workers were there, many of them serving as volunteers helping us in a time of need. If the day had ended there, it would have been a phenomenal day. But it didn't.
The President got into his limousine and went down to the Jacob Javits Center, which is a huge convention hall, about a mile and a half down the road from Ground Zero. And in the Jacob Javits Center there were literally thousands of rescue workers staging to take the next shift at Ground Zero.
And they came from every state in the union and many countries around the globe. And the President went to each group and he thanked them for their work, for their sacrifice in being there. He was patient. But he was a leader and he motivated them to do their job.
If the day had ended then, it would have been a phenomenal day, but it didn't end there. The President was asked to go one more room in the Jacob Javits Center. We arrived outside of the room and it was cordoned off with blue pipe and drape.
And the advanceman said, Mr. President, we have a microphone set up in this room. The plan is for you to go into the room for about 15 - 20 minutes, no longer than 45 minutes. In the room are families of the firefighters and policemen who are missing at the World Trade Center.
The thought is that you'd go in, make some remarks, shake some hands and then leave. The President didn't even wait for the briefing to be finished. He just went into the room.
And he said, I am not going to the microphone. Instead he went to each individual person in that room. He cried with them, he prayed with them, until there wasn't one person in that room that hadn't been touched by the President or hugged.
The President didn't rush from that meeting. He stayed for over two hours. There were all kinds of emotions. The greatest one was sympathy and fear. But there was also great hope, because our President represented us to those people during their time of great uncertainty and fear.
When the President left that room, no one said anything. Everyone was quiet. The President got in the limousine, didn't say a word. We went to the landing zone got on the helicopter and we flew over to New Jersey and got on Air Force One.
It was a different plane this time. The 747 was plane that took him to New Jersey, but he got on a small Gulf Stream and you know that any plane the President is on is Air Force One.
But the small plane included obviously the President, his military aid, a doctor, a nurse, some Secret Service agents, the pilot and co-pilot, a flight attendant and me. And we flew to Maryland to get ready to spend the weekend at Camp David where the President convened the first of his war council meetings.
And on that plane ride it was clear that the President was completely exhausted. He was physically exhausted, he was mentally exhausted, spiritually exhausted, emotionally exhausted.
And I said, Mr. President, it's not fair of me to say this, because history has to be the judge, but you're a great President. You did everything today that a President can possibly be expected to do.
You motivated a change in government, you defined responsibilities for a cabinet. You articulated the need as Commander In Chief for a war council. You prayed for a nation and for a world. You rallied workers serving their country, you expressed sympathy, empathy and love for American citizens.
He really did do a great job, guiding America on that day, September 14th. Why did he do it? He did it because he was called to do it. He was called by our great government, a government that gives us opportunities to participate that don't exist in other countries around the world.
We do have a great democracy. You are working in your job in part because we have a great democracy. It allows you to participate in a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
So, we are blessed, we're blessed to have you working in our government and the President appreciates the work that you do. And excellence in government is not an exception in the United States. It's the norm. And it's a credible every day expectation.
You represent the best opportunity for excellence in government, because you are there, even when those of us who are political appointees are not. And our President understands that. He knows that excellence in government means good management, good services, good attitude and good performance.
And he wants to rally you on to excellence by helping you to do your job. The President has called for the creation of a Homeland Security Department. You know that this department was not created with a giant spotlight. It was created with a lot of work being that you may contributed to without even knowing it.
But it was put together in such a way that we focused on the functions and responsibilities of government in the truest of Milton Friedman's expectation that we would meet the responsibilities of government and they are among others, to protect us.
And it was put together without the bias of bureaucracy or personality or leadership. It was put together to meet the security demands of our country.
This new department of Homeland Security -- and I hope Congress will create this department in such a way that it can live up to the expectations of securing the homeland -- will require some of you to change where you ere, maybe how you were. It will certainly change some of those people who you know in government in terms of how they do their job.
But understand that September 11th invited this change and it is necessary.
This new department is not being created to add a bureaucracy to government. It is being created to address a challenge that has come to our government that we have to address and that is securing the homeland.
You have all heard that there are over 100 entities in the federal government, in the executive branch, that have something to do with Homeland Security. Not one of those 100 entities had as their top mission protecting the homeland.
I guess you could say the FBI does now. About six weeks ago their mission was changed, so that they do look for terrorist and try to find them before they attack us.
But those other 99 entities in the executive branch of government did not and do today not have as their number one mission protecting the homeland. We think it's imperative that an agency in government now take that one as a commission with a command and control function that will be functional, effective; and, yes, efficient.
So you have to be part of that solution. And I would invite you as people that help to manage our government to find a way to work to that solution efficient and effective.
The new Homeland Security department will constitute 175,000 employees who are currently working at other agencies throughout the executive branch. They'll have to find new colleagues to work with as they bring their old friends.
But they'll also have to recognize that the leadership will demand that they understand the real mission is protecting the homeland. And then you meet your other obligations.
Congress is considering Homeland Security right now. Some of you may have an opportunity to consult with members of congress as they consider the new department. I hope you will take an objective look at how the department was created.
It was created with function in mind rather than bureaucracy. It was created with an idea of consolidation and coordinated mission. It was also created with an expectation that the new secretary of Homeland Security would have the ability to manage a department that some would say would not be manageable.
And that's where your excellence is really needed. See, the President does believe that management is very important and that's why he called for a management agenda that is guided by some very important principals.
We want to make sure that we manage human capital the right way. You are the human capital in our executive branch bureaucracy that helps to manage other human capital opportunities.
We need to have competitive sourcing in our government so that we get the best solutions for our taxpayers. We also know that we have to have improved fiscal management. We've seen the challenge of bringing improved fiscal management in the corporate world. We have live up to the expectation of improved fiscal management in the government world and the President expects that.
We have to find better ways to use the technologies that we have in government. E-government should be a reality rather than just a dream. And this new department will help create a client for a technologically advanced department that will meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
And finally we need to have management that reflects budget and fiscal discipline that can be efficient and effective. We need better integration of our budget forces and our performance. We can no longer have a budget debate here and a performance debate there. They should be integrated as we deal with our bureaucracies serving the American taxpayers.
So, September 11th changed a lot. For some of you it will mean a change in the job you do, where you work. Some of you may be at the Department of Homeland Security. Others may be at the department of Social Security.
But all of you will see that we have a new mission in the 21st Century. And it's a mission that puts us in partnership with the American people, a partnership that demonstrates to them how valuable they are to us and how valuable we are as a government to them.
The attack on September 11th was an attack unlike any that had come on our country. We've had wars here before, the civil war. We had an attack on our country in World War II, in Hawaii. But this was the first attack on our country that was not an attack from another government, another ideology or another philosophy.
This was an attack seeking to invite anarchy. Anarchy is the greatest enemy that we have as a government. You are our government, you have to stand up to help fight anarchy, by doing a good job every single day, so that our citizens, our taxpayers, our bosses respect us and the job we do.
So, I compliment, I praise you and I appreciate you, because you really are what government is all about and you do reflect excellence in government.
It's a privilege to be here. It's a great privilege to be the President's chief of staff. I should tell you that the President's chief of staff is nothing more than the staff who are responsible for the rest of the staff.
I'm not the President in waiting [LAUGHTER] or the Prime Minister, we don't have one. My job is to make sure the staff serves the President and gives him the tools that he needs to do his job and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a staffer with this President and working with staffers who are doing a great job for this President. And they do a great job in part because of the great job you do.