Progress Report - Chapter 3


Community Empowerment

The federal government is poorly equipped to help communities in distress. Its separate departments, with their separate programs, treat only the symptoms of problems, not problems themselves.

In one department, social welfare experts try to treat the symptoms of poverty and family disintegration. In another, economic development specialists try to entice investment into inner-city neighborhoods. But the ills of communities are too sweeping, too interconnected to respond to such one-dimensional approaches.

President Clinton has a better way. He seeks a large shift in public policy away from the notion of looking at one problem in isolation from all others. Problems come in clusters, and the nation must treat the underlying dynamic of how they relate to one another.

Just two days after the release of From Red Tape to Results, the President implemented one of its key recommendations by creating the Community Enterprise Board. Its purpose, as the President's September 9, 1993, directive explained: to serve distressed urban and rural communities by implementing "a comprehensive, coordinated, and integrated approach that combines bottom-up initiatives and private sector innovations with responsive federal-state support." The board will advise and assist the President in coordinating, across agencies, the various federal programs available to distressed communities and developing further policies to help them. [22]

The Vice President serves as board chair; the vice chairs are the assistant to the President for domestic policy and assistant to the President for economic policy. Members include the secretaries of 10 Cabinet departments and heads of several other key agencies.

The board's first task was to implement the Administration's empowerment zone legislation, which Congress approved as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. It authorized HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to designate-- as they plan to later this year -- nine communities as empowerment zones and 95 as enterprise communities, making them eligible for federal funds and other benefits: access to capital, credit, and banking services; targeted small and minority business assistance; investment partnerships with other financial institutions and the states; public safety; world-class schools; and rural development and investment initiatives.

The process is not just about obtaining federal money and other benefits, however. It is about encouraging communities to think anew about the challenges before them. Vice President Gore compares the process to the story of Dumbo's magic feather.

Dumbo the elephant, he explains, thought he could fly because of the magic feather in his trunk. Dropping the feather one day, he found that he could fly anyway. The secret was not the feather but his big ears. In the same way, the Vice President said:

Communities may lose the magic feather of a community empowerment award, and discover resources within themselves they never knew they had. [23]


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