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  Daily Briefing  

January 20, 1999

Clinton: State of the government is strong

By Brian Friel

In a State of the Union address that focused on Social Security and education proposals, President Clinton on Tuesday said the federal government has been reinvented to meet the nation's needs.

"Thanks to the pioneering leadership of Vice President Gore, we have a government for the information age. Once again, our government is a progressive instrument of the common good, rooted in our oldest values: opportunity, responsibility, community; devoted to fiscal responsibility, determined to give our people the tools they need to make the most of their own lives: A 21st century government for 21st century America," Clinton said.

In background materials on the President's address, the White House proposed giving more buyouts to federal workers to further reduce the size of government. The White House also touched on other efforts to reinvent government, including a proposed governmentwide customer satisfaction survey and the most sweeping changes to civil service rules in 20 years.

Clinton discussed his plans for future federal budget surpluses, which are projected to total $4 trillion over the next 15 years. About 89 percent of the surpluses would go toward sustaining Social Security and Medicare and promoting retirement savings, Clinton's advisers said in a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

The other 11 percent would be used to beef up Defense readiness and address other domestic priorities. About $110 billion would be spent over the next six years on Defense initiatives, including improving troops' pay and benefits, Clinton said.

Clinton praised U.S. troops for successfully completing Operation Desert Fox.

"Their mission was so flawlessly executed, we risk taking for granted the bravery and skill it required," Clinton said. Air Force Capt. Jeff Taliaferro, who participated in the operation, attended the address on Capitol Hill, and received lengthy applause from the audience of lawmakers and administration officials.

The future surpluses would would lead to the lowest public debt since 1917, Clinton said. In 1993, public debt was at 50.1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. It is now at 44 percent of GDP, and would decline to less than 10 percent of GDP by 2014, administration officials said.

Clinton also called for improved security at America's embassies in the wake of bombings in Tanzania and Kenya last year. More money needs to be invested in foreign affairs after a 50 percent decline in such spending over the past decade, Clinton said.

"The bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania reminds us again of the risks faced every day by those who represent America to the world. So let's give them the support they need, the safest possible workplaces, and the resources they need so America can continue to lead," Clinton said.

Clinton said the government must also protect the nation from the dangers of nuclear proliferation, biological and chemical warfare and terrorist attacks against computer networks.

In a State of the Union briefing Tuesday afternoon, Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, said computer security will be a priority in the administration's budget proposal.

Money will be spent on "developing systems that make our computer systems in government, and then working with the private sector, better able to deal with the kinds of attacks that we saw on the military system not too many months ago," Berger said, referring to hacker attacks against Defense Department computers last year.

Clinton called for a 30 percent increase in computing research, noting that government research led to the development of the Internet.

President Clinton also touched on the year 2000 computer problem, saying work over the next year can ensure the Y2K problem is "remembered as the last headache of the 20th century, not the first crisis of the 21st."

Clinton also proposed creating a domestic version of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a government agency that helps push American investment abroad.

"Our greatest untapped markets are not overseas, they are right here at home," Clinton said.

Republicans decried Clinton's plans as too reliant on the government.

Under the President's proposals, "government grows in every way imaginable," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., even before Clinton made his speech.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said some of the surplus should instead be returned to taxpayers.

"What we seek is smaller, smarter government, less Washington government spending, more money back with the people that earned it in the first place, and more discretion for them to use it in the best way they see fit," Lott said Tuesday afternoon.

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