Vice President Al Gore
Senior Executive Service
Tuesday, May 5, 1998
When I learned that I was speaking at an event to honor employees who have made enormous contributions to the federal government -- but never get the respect or recognition they deserve, I thought: "Finally! Vice Presidents' Appreciation Day here in Washington.
Vice Presidents' Appreciation Day is a day that will link me to some of the immortals of our past. People like Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, who used to tell the story of two brothers -- one went to sea and the other became Vice President. Neither was heard from again. Or John Nance Garner, who described the Vice Presidency as a "spare tire" on the automobile of government. Or my personal model, Vice President John C. Calhoun, who was once described this way: "His public appearance as the so-called ?Cast Iron Man' was belied by his personal warmth and affectionate nature in private life." Can you imagine having a reputation of being so stiff they called you the "Cast Iron Man?" I really don't know how he went on.
I feel very honored to have this chance to address so many members of the Senior Executive Service on Public Service Recognition Week. For more than two centuries, America has offered the countries of the world history's greatest ongoing lesson in the art of self-government. During these years, we have become not only the world's model democracy, we have become the world's pre-eminent power -- in military might, economic strength, and scientific knowledge. None of this could have come without a government that works, and you are the ones who make it work.
Today, I would like to offer my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for providing the American people "the greatest government in the world." In particular, I want to acknowledge three groups of award winners that have been singled out for special recognition this week. First, I would like to recognize the recipients of this year's Public Service Excellence Award for excellence, innovation and teamwork in federal, state, and local government. Please stand and let us show our appreciation. In addition, we have the honor today of publicly recognizing and thanking 224 career executives who have received from the President the Rank of Meritorious Executive for their ongoing efforts to deliver exceptional public service. Please stand and be recognized. Finally, those up here on stage with me have been awarded the "Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive," for extraordinary service to the country. This is simply the highest honor we offer. Please stand and accept our congratulations.
To those of you who won awards, and to those of you whose efforts are worthy of awards -- let me underscore my congratulations. Not only do you work diligently to deliver exceptional service to the American people, but the service you deliver is helping build the public trust that makes democracy possible. Trust in government, after all, is simply the faith we have in our own ability to solve problems by working together.
As you all know, when President Clinton and I first took office in 1993, he asked me to work with you to figure out how to reform and reinvent government -- to make it work better, cost less, and build higher levels of trust with the people we serve.
Now, I must say, I was a bit taken aback at being given this assignment. I had no hands-on experience. But, in the end, it was a good thing that I didn't imagine myself an expert in managing the federal government, because that meant I had to seek out experts. And I sought out you. In my mind, there is no question who are the top authorities on running government. It reminds me of the story about the government executive and the university professor arguing over government. The government executive suggests a solution to a long-standing problem, and the university professor scoffs: "Oh sure, that might work in practice, but it will never work in theory!
In my view, the top government experts are not in think tanks, or universities, or newsrooms -- the world's foremost authorities on how to run government are right here in this room. That's why I came to you. That's why I asked you to design our approach. And that's why we are having such success. Because the ideas began with you.
My colleague in President Clinton's cabinet, our dynamic Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo, was describing the other day his experiences in reinvention over at HUD.
He said, "Well, you come in with a new plan -- and they say, "oh another new plan, another genius came in with another plan." And you say, "No, but this time it's a really smart plan." They say, "yeah, I know this time it is a really smart plan, just like the other ten geniuses before you with their really smart plans." "No," you say, "this time it really is going to happen." They think, "Yeah, I know -- that is what the other Secretary said and the one before him, and the one before him and soon you will be gone and there will be another genius, with another plan." But you eventually get past that, because you finally say, "No, this time it really is different, because this time it's your plan. This time the genius is you."
Let's face facts. If I'm trying to sell you Al Gore's ideas -- If I'm trying to convince you that I'm right, then I'm wrong. Because I don't know how to run your departments, only you do. If I am going to make any difference while I'm here, it is because I will use my time and energy to make sure you're given the help you need to change the culture of the federal workforce into one of aggressive innovation and experimentation -- with the goal of serving the public, with the guide of common sense, with the yardstick of measureable results, and the ultimate accountability of the bottom-line.
With this approach, we have begun to make a difference. We have eliminated 250 outdated programs, 16,000 pages of regulations, and 640,000 pages of internal rules. On top of that, we have balanced the federal budget for the first time in thirty years, and that is a direct result of many of your cost-saving innovations. In fact, the Rank Award winners we're honoring here today have pioneered approaches that have helped save the United States taxpayers more than $260 billion. That is almost as much as the amount of the federal deficit when we took office. These results have an impact on the public and on the public trust. Recent surveys show that the percentage of Americans expressing confidence in their government has climbed from 20% in 1994 to nearly 40% last fall. And we show every sign of climbing higher.
Last week, I spoke to members of the sub-cabinet, to tell them what we've learned about reinvention. Today, I want to tell you what I told them, because I want you to hold them accountable for putting into practice the principles that have begun to work.
I told them to let you loose, to give you more room, to get out of your way -- not to hinder your imagination, or put any burdens or boundaries on your creativity. I told them we want to take full advantage of your talents -- and we should do that by giving you more freedom and more trust, and ask you to give more freedom and more trust to those who report to you -- all the way out to the front-lines.
I also told them that there are three grand principles of reinvention. It's all right here -- in the Blair House papers (Hold up):
Number one: Deliver great service. This requires that we identify customers; continuously ask them what they want; set measurable goals and standards, and publicize our results. And don't hesitate to compare yourselves to the best. The Social Security Administration did. And Business Week rated the Social Security Administration's 1-800 service as the best in the business, better even than LL Bean or Disney.
Successes like this come from trust -- from trusting the knowledge and experience of front-line workers. The people who face the customers every day already know how to improve service. We just have to tap the knowledge already there.
Number two: Foster partnerships and community solutions. Experience shows that most businesses and communities understand the need for regulations, and will comply in a public-spirited way if they can figure out what they're supposed to do.
For example, up in Maine, the home state of OPM Director Janice LaChance, by the way -- OSHA identified the 200 companies with the highest injury levels and made them an offer -- "form worker safety committees with your employees to self-identify and fix hazards, and we'll stop writing tickets and start helping you comply." Almost all of the companies signed up and began working in partnership with OSHA. As a result, 14 times more hazards were identified and fixed than OSHA had identified on its own, and worker injury rates were cut almost in half. In addition, company productivity went up. These are the kind of results you get when trust becomes a benchmark for the way you do business.
Number three: Get the most out of your people. I believe people have an inner drive to excel -- to make the fullest use of all their talents. When you give them that opportunity, it's like firing a rocket -- the energy released is almost explosive. To tap the full potential of the workforce, we should start by getting more power to the frontlines -- by asking people what authority they need to do their jobs, and what decisions they should be able to make themselves that are now being made for them by others. Then we need to give them that authority.
Our great Secretary of Education Dick Riley hands out wallet-sized reinvention permission slips to every single employee in his department. The slip says: "Ask yourself -- One: Is it good for my customers? Two: Is it legal and ethical? Three: Is it something I am willing to be accountable for? Four: Is it consistent with my agency's mission? Five: Am I using my time wisely? Six: Is the answer yes to all of these questions? Seven: If so, don't ask permission. You already have it. Just do it!
Your ultimate job is to inspire your workforce with a vision of what they can be and what they can do, and to keep the job from grinding them down with distrust -- with irritating, infantilizing insults like time sheets, onerous approval processes, systems to track their activities, and limits that make it hard to get the tools they need to do their jobs. General George Patton once said: "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." Inventor Thomas Edison was even more emphatic. He once said: "We don't have any rules around here. We're trying to accomplish something." Invention and innovation demand freedom. We cannot afford to tie our people up, or hold them down.
One of the great political classics of Western literature cautions us: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." And yet, we in government must take the lead, we must introduce a new order of things, to keep pace with the accelerating demands and expectations of the people we serve. We have begun it, but only you can sustain it. And only if you make it known to all who report to you -- that this government expects every employee at every level to commit the full use of their talents in the service of the American people.
That will be your greatest contribution. More than launching initiatives, streamlining agencies, or cutting costs -- if you can help radiate into our culture an enduring inclination to sharpen our vision, question our methods, and pioneer new approaches, you will have contributed more to this country and its people than any honor or award could ever fairly describe. You will have engaged the minds and hearts of America's public servants, and helped enkindle the fire of public trust. And that -- as much as any other national asset -- is what has made ours the greatest government and the greatest nation on the face of the earth.