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President Bush Addresses His Leadership Team

December 16, 2002
President Bush Addresses His Leadership Team

Announcer: On December 16, 2002, at the end of the second year of his administration, President Bush took time out to talk with his senior management team - the cabinet and sub-cabinet appointees. He praised his team's accomplishments in response to unprecedented challenges - and spoke about his expectations for the next two years. Following the President: remarks by OMB Director Mitch Daniels and Heath and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. First, President Bush.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thanks for that warm welcome. After all, I appointed you. (Laughter and applause.) And I'm glad I did. You've done a fabulous job. And I appreciate you coming here today to give me a chance to kind of share some thoughts with you.

First, I am absolutely convinced this is the finest administration ever assembled. I appreciate your hard work, I appreciate your efforts, I appreciate your love for America. I appreciate you understand the fact we are here to serve something greater than ourselves.

On the wall of the Oval Office is a picture called A Charge To Keep, based upon the hymn, A Charge To Keep I Have. The theme of the hymn is to serve something greater than yourself in life, and that's what you're doing. For that, I'm grateful, and so is our country.

I appreciate Andy Card. I was afraid he was going to keep going with the longest introduction in the history of the President. (Laughter.) But I love his leadership. I love the fact that he and a fabulous White House staff are working long, long hours to try to make sure the goals that we set in this administration are met.

I thank the members of my Cabinet who are here. All of them have made a great sacrifice to serve our country, as have you all.

We're off to a pretty darn good start, it seems like to me. We're off to a start of doing a couple of things important for this country. One is working together to change a culture, a culture which in the past has said, if it feels good do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else -- to ushering in a culture which says that each of us are responsible for the decisions we make in life.

We want to usher in a culture of responsibility. We'll never know if we have in the short-term because cultural change takes a while. But I believe cultural change needs to start with good examples and good leadership. And you all are providing good leadership and good examples.

This is a clean administration, and that's the way it's going to remain. If you're here to serve something greater than yourself in life, it means you're here with integrity and honesty and decency. And you're here to remember the boss is the taxpayer.

I believe we have made some pretty good progress about showing the American people that, if given some problems, we know how to solve them; that we're not here for political reasons, we're here to make this country as safe and secure and as good as it can possibly be.

I remember campaigning in Chicago -- the press doesn't believe I said this, and we're still trying to figure out I did -- I know I did -- (laughter) -- that said, the only reason you would have a deficit is if you had a war, an emergency, or a recession. Never could I have predicted that we would have all three. (Laughter.) But, fortunately, we put together a team to deal with all three. That's what we're here to do.

America is now a safer country because of the hard work of this administration. We're safer because we responded to an enemy. We're safer because we work together to put a department of homeland security through the United States Congress. We will be safer when we implement the most far-reaching government reform since 1949. It's going to be a fantastic legacy of this administration for future administrations.

You see, and we're going to need them for future administrations because the war that we're now in is going to last for a while. And that's the second thing we've done. We are fighting the war on terror the way the American people and our forefathers would want us to fight the war on terror -- relentless, patient, unified. We have made it clear to enemy and friend alike, we won't rest until we have secured the freedom of America, until we have brought every single terrorist to justice. (Applause.)

And we're bringing them to justice. You know, one of the interesting things when I step back and kind of analyze what this job is about, I really spend a lot of time educating the American people about the realities of the first war of the 21st century. See, it's hard for a lot of folks to understand that the era in which we grew up in has changed. We grew up when oceans protected us. It's a hard transition for people to accept the fact that we can no longer be smug or confident; no longer can we see a gathering threat across the sea and kind of decide whether or not we want to deal with it or not. The battlefield has now come home.

That's hard for America to accept. The strategic vision of our country has shifted. So I spent a lot of time explaining to the American people as clearly as I can the new realities of the 21st century. I also have to spend a lot of time explaining to them the new realities of the first war of the 21st century.

See, if it was a matter of destroying tanks or regimes, we'd have won by now. Nobody can match our military might. But it's a matter of hunting in caves, putting the spotlight of freedom in caves around the world, and kind of taking these dark shadows of places where people hang out, and bringing those who love freedom into those dark shadows.

But we're making progress. You've got to know that this administration -- thanks to a State Department which is continuing to keep together one of the greatest alliances for freedom ever formed, and a military which is staffed full of brave young men and women -- slowly but surely, we're dismantling the al Qaeda network. We're on an international manhunt. And the reason we're on an international manhunt is because we will win this war one person at a time.

And the American people understand it. I hope our friends understand it because the stakes are high. The stakes are really high. Because not only are we dealing with suiciders who are -- use our own assets as weapons, we're dealing with people who have got the capacity to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction. And so this administration is dealing with the real threats we face. And I want to thank you for that. Not only are we dealing with them, we're getting positive results. And after all, that's why we're here. There's enough hot air in this town. What we need is results. We need people to focus on -- (applause.)

And finally, we -- finally, the country was in recession when we came. And the biggest thing we got to worry about is people not being able to find work. We want the men and women of America putting food on the table. We want people to be able to provide. It's a -- ours is a society where we have consciously made the decision to reform welfare to encourage work. We consciously made the decision here in America to encourage the individual to rise to his or her talent. And therefore, one of the ways to make sure that happens is jobs.

And we came here, and the jobs were on the decline. Economy showed three quarters of negative growth, and then the enemy hit us. And that hurt. Then we had some of our fellow Americans forget what it was like to be a responsible American. They thought they could lie, cheat and steal. They thought they could deceive the taxpayer and the -- and the investor alike. So we had something to deal with. We had problems we had to solve. And the American people expected us to solve them, and we are. We're solving them.

We got a trade bill out of the Congress -- the first President to do so in a while. We got a good tax bill out of the Congress so that the people can have more money to spend to keep the economy growing. We got a terrorism insurance bill out of the Congress to put the hard-hats back to work. We got the most far-reaching corporate reform since Franklin Roosevelt was the President, to send a chilling message to those who lie, cheat and steal that, we're going to find you, and we're going to bring you to justice if you don't understand what it means to be a responsible corporate citizen and a corporate leader here in America.

And so we're making progress. And that's what we're here to do. And I want to thank you for your hard work. You see, the American people are ultimately going to judge this administration based not how pretty we are or how cute we sound, but whether or not we do the job. And I'm here to tell you we're doing the job. And I want to thank you for helping us do the job.

And since we're doing the job, I hope you don't leave looking for another job. (Laughter.) One of the things I like is continuity. I think if the team is functioning well, you ought to stay. I know it's a sacrifice. And it's a huge sacrifice to serve your country. But after all, one of the things I tell the American people, there's a new sense of patriotism here in America. It's more than just putting your hand over your heart; it's serving the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. And so for those of you thinking about looking elsewhere, don't. (Laughter and applause.)

We got a great team. And I hope you're enjoying yourself. Most importantly, I hope you realize that you're making a contribution to the country. And after all, that's what service is all about.

Now, we just came through some mid-year elections. Everybody said, hurrah, you know, we did great politically. I want to tell you, good policy equals good politics. This isn't -- this administration is going to continue to focus on good policy. We're certainly not going to rest on our laurels. People say, well, what else is there to do? There's a lot to do. There's a lot to do.

We've got to make sure that the war continues to be waged in a way that makes sense. Obviously, we're going to have to deal with Saddam Hussein here pretty soon, one way or the other. As a member of our administration, I hope you know that I hope this can be done peacefully. I hope that -- if the rest of the world had the same conviction we had and the understanding that we've got, I think it's possible that it will be done peacefully. And so you'll see the State Department and the national security team continue to work to bring about a peaceful resolution. But, obviously, I made a calculation. I made a calculation of risk and reward, and not dealing with this guy would create too risky a world as far as I'm concerned.

You know, just let me -- one step back. In this town, it's easy to commit troops. You've got all kinds of experts committing our troops into action. But there's only one who makes the decision and only one who hugs the widows and the moms, and that's me. And therefore, when you hear all the talk about troops, you've got to know it's my last choice, not my first. It's something I take very seriously when we talk about the contemplation of the military.

But I also take Mr. Saddam Hussein seriously, and I take the threats that face America seriously. And our most serious obligation is to protect the American people from future harm. And so if the world -- if Saddam doesn't listen to the collective will of the world, you just need to know that we will lead a coalition of the willing, and for the sake of peace, we will disarm Saddam Hussein. (Applause.)

We will continue to work to make sure people can find work. There are big issues we face. We face issues such as the health care system in America. I'm worried that we're headed toward a single-payer system where the federal government, in its almighty wisdom, will make decisions for providers and for patients, to the detriment of the health care system of the American people. We've got to think boldly about how to make sure we implement a health care system based upon our philosophy and our vision, which says we'll take care of those who cannot help themselves and we'll empower people to make the right decisions for themselves.

So one of the first issues you'll see out of the box is going to be Medicare. We want the Medicare system to work. We want our seniors to have the most modern medicine available, which, in our judgment, means our seniors must have more choices, similar to the choices you have in the federal employee health care plans that you have access to.

There's more issues involved, and you'll see us debating issues like welfare reform. You'll see us debating issues like -- like environmental issues. You've got to know something about me: I love the environment. I own my own ranch. Every day is Earth Day if you own your own piece of property. (Applause.)

I want our parks to be modern. I want our forests to be managed properly. This may come as a surprise to you, but we now have something like two or three times the number of trees today in America that we had at the turn of -- in 1900, which goes to show that mankind can be responsible when it comes to the environment. It's a common-sense view of our environment. And I'm going to continue to battle away to make sure a common-sense approach to making sure we've got clean air and clean water is available for the American people.

There is one big issue, as well. I want to end by telling you what's on the wall at the governor's -- at the President's office, and it's a picture of Lincoln. And Lincoln is on the wall because the job of the President is to unite the country to achieve big goals -- big goals for a great country.

Getting a budget through the Congress, as Mitch will tell you, is a big goal. It's not quite as big as I was trying to emulate they're talking about, you know. (Laughter.) I mean, getting Medicare is big, but not nearly as big as peace and a compassionate society, which is two big goals. We can't achieve those giant goals unless the country is united. And Lincoln is on the wall because he understood that. As a matter of fact, he had the issue of making sure the country was as united as possible when we were fighting each other.

I'm also a product of the '60s. That was an unpleasant time in America. The country was not united and, therefore, couldn't achieve big goals. And we paid a price for it. We're going to unite this country -- which is hard in Washington, I must admit. This is a town of zero-sum politics, you know. Senator so-and-so is up, and so-and-so is down, Bush wins, Congress loses. That's not the way I think, and that's not the way you should think. If you're here to serve something greater than yourself, you don't care who gets the credit, you don't care who gets the credit so long as the people we're serving benefit.

And the big goals are peace. And I just talked about peace. But we're going to have to be united to achieve peace. And you mark my words, we'll achieve peace, by the way. We'll not only achieve peace for America, we'll achieve peace for parts of the world that have quit on peace. I firmly believe that.

And here at home, the thing about this administration that I hope you understand is that we deeply grieve when any of us hurt. And we find pockets of despair in this land of plenty. Somebody is hurting, and there are people who are addicted, and people who are lonely, and people who wonder when we say American Dream, what the heck is he talking about. American Dream, it doesn't apply to me; I don't even know what you mean by American Dream. And so long as people ask that question, we got a problem here in this country.

But I believe we can solve that problem. As a matter of fact, I don't believe it, I know we can solve that problem by unleashing the huge compassion of the American Dream. Ours is a de Toquevillean type of vision that certainly doesn't exclude government's role. Of course -- listen, look at your budgets. There's a significant role when it comes to spending money in our government. But there -- money doesn't buy love. Somebody wrote a song about that once. (Laughter.) Love happens when somebody turns to a neighbor in need, and says, I love you, what can I do to help.

And that's the big -- second big goal. That's the biggest domestic goal we got. There will be issues and there's going to be legislation. But we've got a mission here to help people who hurt by encouraging our fellow Americans to become involved in service in their life of their country.

And it's happening, it's happening. We've got the USA Freedom Corps. We've got a faith-based initiative, which is going to capture the great compassion of our faith-based institutions. You all are setting good examples. And when all this happens, the culture will change. And the culture is going to change for the better, so that when we look back, future generations -- and by the way, history will never show us what we did, see. We'll know some short-term accomplishments. We'll be able to -- Nick Calio will be able to strut his stuff, and say, man, we've got the greatest legislative sessions two years in a row, and maybe we'll be able to do it again. And we'll be able to talk here and there, and elections show this. But you see, short-term history doesn't record the long-term significance of an administration.

That's why I don't worry about our standing in history. Plus, I know most historians didn't vote for me, so they're probably going to write something ugly anyway. (Laughter and applause.) But when it's all said and done, we'll be able to look back, and say, the world was a peaceful place, and as a result of the United States leading the world toward peace, there was seismic shifts in balance of power, so that future generations of Americans and future generations of people around the world could grow up in a peaceful environment.

And the other thing that's going to happen when we do our job, people will look back and say, you know, that's when the culture of the United States began to change. That's when that great promise of America was fulfilled -- when citizens loved citizens; when people understood that kind of the shallow materialism is not what America is about; when people understood that serving something greater than themselves, serving the country, serving a neighbor in need was part of the American creed, part of making sure that this wonderful country, the benefits of America extended to every single person who lives in our land.

That's going to happen. It's going to happen because of the hard work of the people in one of the finest administrations ever assembled. Thank you for what you do for America. May God bless your work and your families in this holiday season, and may God continue to bless America. (Applause.)

DIRECTOR DANIELS: If you're surprised to find me a part of this program, you're entitled [LAUGHTER]. I was surprised too. I'm pinch-hitting here for Don Rumsfeld who is out with a minor ailment or he would have been here to day.

Strikes me as a curious inversion on my usual pattern. I believe this is the first time an illness has caused one of my speeches. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE]

When you're a pinch hitter, you generally come off the bench cold, you're not necessarily expected to hit a home run, maybe not even a single. Maybe the best I can do here is bunt the runner over so Tommy Thompson can drive it home.

But for these few moments, I've chosen as my subject matter, unnatural acts. [LAUGHTER] I see I have your attention. [LAUGHTER] I'm not referring, Tommy, to the kind you like to fund grants for research on. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE].

Now, I have in mind perhaps the most unnatural act of all, because I believe it does not come naturally to political appointees in our federal government to spend their time, talent and best energy in managing the day to day business of the federal government.

And there's some very human and obvious reasons for this. It is so easy to throw up one's hands, given what we have inherited, to say it's just all to intractable, to leave it for the next person. It's so much more fun to be a part of the new new thing, especially under this President who has brought so much historic new policy for us all to work on.

It's so easy to lose a taxpayer mentality -- to say as they do at the State Department, to go native -- [LAUGHTER] -- is that what they say? [LAUGHTER] To slip into the habit of substituting it's not so bad for it's not near good enough.

And it's so easy to back down, especially when our unusual board of directors on Capitol Hill, instead of insisting on effectiveness and efficiency and reform often opposes those efforts or even prohibits them.

Ask Tommy Thompson who couldn't figure out why he needed 20 some legislative office, 40 some HR offices and 50 some Public Affairs offices. And has faced all kinds of resistance in trying to bring order and unity and effectiveness to that sprawling regime that he heads over there.

Or consider the problems the President faced in trying to bring order and purpose and the simplest of management tools to bear on the urgent task of Homeland Security.

Now, our president with all the huge tasks he has undertaken and with the additional task that history has added, never loses sight of this, never fails to remind us that it is our duty every day to take what was found and to find a way to make it more useful, more effective, more taxpayer friendly.

And you are making good things happen. Lower error rates in just two programs, Medicare and Food Stamps, saved billion dollars last year. The bad news is there's 30 some million dollars of erroneous payments yet to go.

Americans can now book a trip to a national park, find out if they're eligible for compassionate government benefits, comment on a regulation that could affect their life or small business all over the internet, all within the last two years.

And our fellow government employees can attain the training they need to become better and better at the jobs they do and to build their careers in public service, also using that same modern tool.

My friends at the Veterans Administration have put their laundry business up for bid. The Interior Department has done the same thing with its lawn care business. The Navy's asked whether it ought to be in the eyeglass manufacturing business. And maybe it should.

But there's a good chance that somewhere a small business will win that business and begin to deliver better service at a better price. And if the incumbent public employees win, it's a sure thing the taxpayer will too.

And many departments represented here are part of merging 22 payroll centers that for some reasons we inherited, most of them using different systems, consolidating them into two. And one day there will be one government wide system with modern information on each employee to the benefit of each employee and to the taxpayer.

And there's so much more, so many more examples I could list, but so many more tasks undone and so much left to do.

So back to baseball for one favorite story. In the late 1950's came a person to baseball the likes of which had not seen before. His name was Frank Howard, 6'8", close to 300 pounds, he once hit a baseball over 600 feet. He was the scariest thing anyone had ever seen in a baseball uniform.

And the first time he faced the New York Yankees, on the mound was the craftiest pitcher of the day, 5'6" tall, Whitey Ford. And Elston Howard took one look at Frank Howard and drew a deep breath and walked to the mound and said, well....and Whitey Ford said, what a strike zone. [LAUGHTER]

And that's the way I think we ought to look at the tasks ahead of us. Our strike zone is mind boggling, but to me that says that every pitch that is every day is absolutely precious.

At least when the goal is efficiency, effectiveness, service and reform, I hope you'll all be as action oriented as the President is in his every waking moment. I hope, as we used to say in business, you'll ask for forgiveness not permission.

At OMB there are certain words we're trying to ban from our vocabulary. We have a five-dollar fine for the use of words like never, as in Congress will never go for it. Or always as in, we've always done it that way. Or my personal favorite, inevitable.

We serve a President who's proving in the way that great leaders do that nothing in history is inevitable. So, please let's use the rest of this afternoon and tomorrow and every day available to us to perform some unnatural acts. Our strike zone is almost infinite and let's go take advantage. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

SECRETARY THOMPSON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, it's surely an honor for me to be here with President Bush as we mark the end of the second year of this wonderful administration.

It's always an honor to me to also be in the same room with the second most powerful person in the federal government, Mitch Daniels. [LAUGHTER]

I was so happy to join the President for his news conference on Friday to announce the small pox decision. In fact, this meeting was really called so we could get you all in the same room to vaccinate you [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] as part of our next clinical trial. So, just pull up your sleeves and form a line on the right as you leave.

When President Bush came into office, he set a very clear vision for America. In doing so, he set very high expectations for his cabinet and all presidential appointees on how to run government, so that his vision for America would become a reality.

The President made it clear that it was a new day in Washington. We're going to actually run the federal government, operate as one united administration that serves the needs of the American people, pursue an agenda centered on compassionate conservatism and most importantly get good results.

The President set these high standards because he wanted to do more than just talk about change. He wanted to make change happen. He wants lasting results for America. We must continue to have this passion as we head into this very important third year of the administration.

We all have examples of how we're getting control of our departments, running them more efficiently and effectively and as a result better serving the American people. But I've been asked to briefly share a few stories from the trenches of HHS, that I'm sure all of you can relate to in your own agencies.

HHS is a huge, diverse and geographically widespread department with some very large and very independent minded agencies. We employ 65 thousand men and women -- actually it was 67 thousand until OMB got a hold of it. [LAUGHTER] And provide more grants than all the rest of the federal government combined.

Our budget is 489 billion dollars, that includes 308 distinct line items. To give you an idea of how enormous the department really is, our budget is the sixth largest in the world. Only the United States, Britain, Germany, France and Italy are bigger than the department of Health and Human Services. And if the Italians don't watch out, we'll overtake them soon enough. [LAUGHTER]

When we came in, there were 40 different personnel offices; 130 legislative affairs personnel reporting to 11 different offices; nearly 600 press and Public Affairs personnel scattered from Atlanta to suburban Baltimore -- probably more, but we couldn't count them. Why they needed that many, I can't tell you.

Our email systems did not connect from floor to floor in the same building. The Medicare program used single entry bookkeeping which I thought had gone out with “I Love Lucy.” And each little segment of the department had created its own web site, totaling over 2000 sites of about a billion pages, but with little coordination and very little useful information.

The FDA, the world's premier Food and Drug organization, is scattered among 55 separate buildings. Makes the simple act of holding a meeting an accomplishment on the level of a state dinner at the White House. And the President knows how tough that can be.

And confronted by this host of problems and challenges, we found strength in the foundation of the President's charge. The people of our country are not served when there are officials sitting in darkened cubicles wearing green eyeshades, spending their time writing memos no one ever reads, drawing new organizational charts no one can understand; or develop web sites that don't help anyone. That's not good government, that's chaos.

So, we begin uniting HHS under the central theme that we truly are one department. Our goal is that every agency, every office, every branch at HHS works, not as separate fiefdoms, but as units of the common whole.

A department that works together to best serve its customers, the American people. From just a management standpoint, we've reduced the number of HHS personnel offices from 40 to 4 on our way to one.

The realigning and consolidating will soon have saved the equivalent of 1500 full-time positions. We've eliminated unnecessary management layers so that they now no longer will be more than four levels from the front line workers to the top decision makers.

And we commissioned an agency wide team to redesign a citizen center web site, which now actually works from one page to the next. We're also looking to the future by creating a new program, the emerging leaders program, which recruits the brightest college graduates to become the cornerstone of our future work force.

Over 8000 recent graduates applied for the 62 slots in the first emerging leaders class, forming a very talented, energetic and diverse group, most of whom had advance degrees.

By rotating them through assignments and bringing them into the HHS fold, we're going to be able to help insure the long-term health of the department. At a time when we much confront such a wide range of needs and concerns, it is critical that we also have a team in place across the government that is knowledgeable and prepared to advance President Bush's agenda.

At HHS we fought hard to return real scientific discussions to our boards and commissions. And while some have criticized us for actions, the fact is that compassionate conservative opinions have been shut out of government discourse for too long. We've sent the message that it's time to do what's best for America, not protect the status quo.

In the past year, our attention has been heavily focused on bio-terrorism. Through hard work, we're now better prepared to respond to a biological attack. The reason we've made such rapid progress is our readiness -- because of our ‘one department’ mantra -- we now have all of the disparate agencies from CDC to NIH to FDA working together on this one issue. It's a shining example of how we're delivering real results by working together as a whole department.

When it comes to our health agenda, as mentioned by President Bush, there's no more important time in history -- these next two years will be critical and we're focused on delivering results for our great President and the American people.

We're always mindful of how we want to be remembered down the road -- whether we will be remembered as an administration that stood for the same old worn out policies or one that acted powerfully to achieve lasting change for the good. As I tell my senior managers, if you are not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.

I want to share something with you, something the great Green Bay Packer Coach, Vince Lombardi once said -- by the way, the Packers are 11 - 3 on the way to the Super Bowl [LAUGHTER] -- Lombardi said, people who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems in modern society.

Ladies and gentlemen all of us came here -- came here to work for a great President, but also to make a difference, working together to find real solutions to the complex problems of modern society. So, let's be bold, let's thrive on the cutting edge, let's make lasting change for the President and for America.

If we're not willing to be bold and dynamic, we're taking up too much space in the administration and that's the bottom line. Ladies and gentlemen, here's to the next two years and four more after that.


THE PRESIDENT: Good job, Tommy. Okay, that's it. [LAUGHTER] So, now, go back to work and remember you're serving the greatest nation on the face of the earth. Have a great holiday season. God bless. [APPLAUSE]


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