Reinvention Revolution Conference
Natcher Conference Center, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland
Address by
March 25, 1996

VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Thank you very much. I am truly pleased and honored to be here with you today. I say that I'm honored because you in this room represent the very best that our government has to offer.
Over the last three years, it has been a wonderful personal privilege for me to get to know you, and when I say "you," I think of innovators like Joe Dear of OSHA; Lynn Gordon of Customs in Miami; Joe Thompson of the VA in New York, our very first Hammer Award winner back in 1994. And I think of so many others who have contributed wonderful, creative ideas about how to redeem the promise of self-government and make our government work the way it should.
And while I may not know each of you personally, I do know your work and I feel as if I know all of you, because we have a lot in common. Your work is great. Collectively, this group of people and everyone associated with the reinvention lab is changing how government works and, importantly, changing how taxpayers, our customers, feel about their government.
Many of you were at a conference we held outside of Baltimore in December of 1993. At that conference I told you that you would have the authority to do things differently, to replace the nonsense in government, and replace it with common sense and to introduce new procedures, to throw out the rule books where it made sense to throw them out and to focus on results and not remain obsessed with red tape and process.
You took me at my word, and you have really delivered. You've made a lot of progress that we can all be proud of. But the old system, like a character in a bad horror movie, is hard to kill. It keeps finding new ways of coming back at you.
I remember when I was a kid there was a horror movie called "The Blob," and it kept coming back, and they recently remade it, and I think they're remaking the old system, and it keeps coming back. But we are managing to stay ahead of it, and you are prevailing.
You were promised new authority and new flexibility. In some cases, you're still waiting -- I understand that. In other cases, when change came, it came with a lot of the old bureaucratic trappings still attached to it.
I think, for example, of the government Visa card designed to save time and money by allowing you to buy what you need when you need it -- a revolutionary idea. Well, those cards are a good idea, and we need greater use of them. But I also know that some agencies required you to spend a week in training before you could get your card, as if you've never used a Visa card before. And then they had you fill out all sorts of new paperwork every time you used the card. Well, that's the old system coming back in a new form. That sort of behavior injects the old nonsense into a common sense innovation and that should stop.
I also know that even though NPR recommended doing away with time and attendance cards and sign-in sheets and sign-out sheets, many of you still have to go through that waste and indignity. But, I have a breakthrough to report on that one: The GAO has issued new guidelines on time and attendance that remove all the old roadblocks. No excuses anymore; it's time to change. If someone's telling you it can't be done, you tell them that you know it can, and you insist that it be changed.
Well, when we started this reinvention process, I consulted prominent private sector reinventors about what they had done, how they did it, and what we should do. They were very helpful, but they said that given the size of our effort, it would take us approximately ten years to reach our goal. That came from the people who had been at the forefront of reinventing corporate America. There we were in Year One of this Administration, and they're talking about seeing results maybe in another ten years.
Well, we weren't going to wait ten years, and while there's still plenty of work to be done, I'm proud to report to you today we are already seeing results. We know that we've got a long way to go, but we are already way ahead of the game.
So why were the best reinventors in business so wrong on this one? Well, it's simple, because we have something that they didn't; we have you, and you have made a commitment to make reinvention your responsibility and to do something about it. In fact, a team from the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reinvention lab in Beltsville -- they're the ones that just got up there -- contacted us before this conference, wanting to make this pledge publicly. So come on up here. We're going to sign this pledge here. I'm going to ask them to sign this pledge, and then I'm going to sign it, and then I'm going to hang it in my office.
Thank you.
This says, "Reinvention Pledge. Reinvention is my responsibility, and I'm going to do something about it." This'll be here for all of you to sign before you leave when this is over, two days from now. Thank you all very much for being the first to sign it.
AUDIENCE: [Applause.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you again. Thank you.
Then I'm going to hang that up in my office in the White House.
The active participation and commitment of Federal employees are central to our efforts to reinvent government, and have been from the very beginning. The National Performance Review took shape one morning about -- well, three years ago this month when President Clinton called me into his office -- you know, he's in the Oval Office; I'm just down the hall in the square office.
AUDIENCE: [Laughter.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: He said that he had an important job for me. Now, having studied the role of Vice Presidents throughout history, I immediately asked, "Will that be the Big Mac or the Happy Meal?"
AUDIENCE: [Laughter, followed by applause.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: And somebody else picked up lunch that day, and the President and I talked about this new challenge and the task that I undertook, to personally lead the program to reinvent the Federal government. I'm grateful for that assignment; it's been a wonderful learning experience for me.
Then-Governor Clinton and I campaigned four years ago on a theme of change. President Clinton and I came into office committed to reinventing government, and on that day in March of 1993, we began to follow through on that commitment at full speed.
Unlike previous efforts to reform government, our goal was to make it better, not dismantle it. There is a big difference. It's like the old joke about the veterinarian and the taxidermist who went into business together and put a sign in front of their establishment that said, "Either way, you get your dog back."
AUDIENCE: [Laughter.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Our objective was to fix it, not to kill it and mount it on the wall as a trophy. We firmly believe, as do the vast majority of Americans, that government has a vital role to play in our society. There are just lots of challenges that we as Americans cannot successfully meet unless we have the ability to work together as citizens of this great, free nation by working through the instrument of self-government.
And defining the role of self-government is at the heart of the budget battles that President Clinton has been having with the Republican Congress. But we recognized that, as we resolve the question of what government does, we also have to tackle the problem of how government does what it does. And that is the first focus of reinvention for us.
A second guiding principle is our belief that much of the frustration that we as Americans have with government is that good people are trapped working inside a bad system. We want to liberate those people to do their jobs in the best way they can, limited only by their abilities and not by the artificial constraints of a bureaucratic system.
This belief was the premise behind our creation of the National Performance Review. In setting up the NPR, I turned not to outsiders but to those who know the most about government and what needs to be done to fix it -- Federal employees. Elaine Kamarck and I asked Bob Stone, a civil servant for 24 years, to become Project Director. In turn, he assembled a team that was, and remains, predominantly from the ranks of the career civil service. This approach is in stark contrast to the history of blue ribbon panels and appointed commissions trying to change government. We studied them all, and this is the first to rely on the people who work on the front lines where the rubber meets the road, who are filled with the most relevant and practical and valuable ideas about how to make government work the way it should.
Time after time, you have shown me just how right that decision was. With your help, your ideas, and your leadership, we are changing government and making it work better. And, all of this is being done by a civilian work force that is now the smallest that it has been since John F. Kennedy was President.
But we have not just shrunk the size of the government; we have started to make it work better. A few years ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, was itself commonly considered a disaster. Now it is widely praised for its effective and compassionate response to disasters. The Social Security Administration, to take another example, has been recognized by an independent survey in Business Week as having the best 1-800 phone service in the entire country -- better than L.L. Bean, Disney, or Southwest Airlines. If they want to win next year, they're going to have to get busy and get good enough for government work.
AUDIENCE: [Applause.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: The Small Business Administration has reduced its size, cut its paperwork dramatically, and dramatically increased the number of loans, creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs across America. This is part of the reason that we've seen more new small businesses created in each of the last three years than in any other year in American history.
These are just a few examples of how our government is improving. We've seen literally hundreds of others.
In addition to initiating reforms, one of the key roles of the NPR is to shine a spotlight on Federal employees who have shown initiative and creativity in making government work better and cost less. Just last week, we presented our 300th Hammer Award. Each of these 300 Hammers recognizes groups of employees who are putting government's best foot forward. Whether they are Customs agents in Miami intercepting more drugs while providing better service to legitimate travelers, whether they are OSHA inspectors teaming up with labor and management to improve workplace safety, whether they are EPA officials working with business and civic leaders in Seattle to turn an environmental problem into economic opportunity, or whether they're one of hundreds of other examples, these Federal workers are redefining that phrase "Good enough for government work." They're making it change the way the meaning of the phrase "Made in Japan" changed from the 1950s until the 1980s, when it used to be shoddy workmanship and then became high quality. Well, "good enough for government work," before long, is going to mean the finest craftsmanship, the best workmanship, the finest quality available.
And it may happen sooner than you believe it is possible. We're not the only ones noticing that the change has already begun. Last October, for the first time, the Ford Foundation and Harvard's Kennedy School presented six of their prestigious Innovations in American Government awards to Federal reinventors, placing them among the very best in the entire nation.
A new General Accounting Office report on reinvention labs reported in one of the morning newspapers here cites overwhelming evidence that the labs are improving service productivity and employee morale.
In the mail coming to the White House, we're getting letters from citizens and businesses who took the time to tell us how happy they are with the services that they're getting, and I love showing the President these letters from citizens who just bubble over with enthusiasm about an outstanding quality of service they've just been provided from the Federal government. It really is a clear example of the progress that we're making.
Now, for all this success, we recognize that we're far from finished with this job, and the conditions we're working under have changed. We now have, for the first time in a generation, a solid, bipartisan commitment to balance the Federal budget. And while Democrats and Republicans have fundamental disagreements over how to balance the budget, there is no debate any longer over whether to balance budget. For everyone here, that commitment to balance the budget has now raised the bar from where it was just three years ago.
But we're up to the challenge. Reinventing government, or Re-Go, as we call it -- which, of course, is "Gore" spelled sideways --
AUDIENCE: [Laughter.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: -- Re-Go is a priority for this Administration and is a key to how we create a government that works better, costs less, and cares as much in a balanced budget environment.
Your role as reinvention labs is absolutely critical as we move forward. You are on the front lines. You are learning the most valuable lesson and passing on the answers to everyone else. You deal directly with customers and taxpayers, providing assistance and carrying out critical governmental responsibilities.
We started the reinvention lab concept for several reasons. First, because we wanted to create an environment where Federal workers and their partners had the freedom to experiment, to find out what works best for them in their unique circumstances. And yes, we plead guilty to not micro-managing what all of the reinvention labs are doing in their individual circumstances.
Second, we wanted to use the labs as a way to showcase those places where courageous innovators were doing things differently and achieving better results for it. I say "courageous" because I know that more than a few of you have run afoul of -- well, let's say less innovative supervisors, in Washington and elsewhere, who didn't fully understand or fully appreciate or even like what you were doing. The reality is that for many it's always easier to avoid change than to create change.
By highlighting these bright spots, we hope not only to show Americans that their government can work but also encourage other Federal employees to meet the standards that you are setting. And when you achieve better results through innovative procedures, we want to spread them around throughout government. If the Defense Logistics Agency and Texas Instruments in Dallas can find ways to cut out hundreds of pages of procurement requirements and get the government a better product more cheaply, then everybody in government should find out about it and see if it will work for them, too. Exporting success is a key to our efforts.
As are all of you, I'm very proud of these success stories. In fact, I was so proud that I wrote a book full of stories about people like you changing the face of our government. It's all right here in this book called Common Sense Government by Vice President Al Gore. I don't get any of the royalties from this; they all go to establish cash awards for Federal employees who perform at an excellent level in providing service to the public. And if you look through this book, you will probably find yourself or someone sitting near you mentioned. On Page 5, you'll find Bob Molono of the Defense Logistics Agency who got fed up with 700 pages of regulations on how to bake chocolate chip cookies for the military and got rid of them. There were also regulations on how to test the cookies. We came up with an alternative procedure there. You can guess what it is, yes -- we tasted them --
AUDIENCE: [Laughter.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: -- didn't need any regulation.
Look on Page 59 and read about Rodney Martin, who redesigned SBA's loan application process, cutting 78 pages down to one page and cutting 90 days of waiting time down to three days of waiting time.
Neil Jacobs of INS, who worked with companies to help find legal employees, rather than just punish them for hiring illegal aliens, is on Page 69 of this book.
The story of how Lynn Gordon and Dan Cadman slashed waiting lines and improved enforcement at Miami International Airport is on Page 85. The waiting lines have been reduced so much there now that people are going through so rapidly, their new complaint is they have to wait too long for their baggage, and so the airlines are getting their employees together to reinvent the baggage handling system so they can be good enough for government work.
On Page 132, you can read about how Lester Edelman and the Corps of Engineers found ways to resolve disputes and achieve results rather than spend time in court, litigating.
Well, it's all here, and from my description, you would think that no one in America would want to be without this book in his or her personal collection. But, alas, unlike some other Washington potboilers, this book did not climb to the top of the best seller list. But, like any good reinventor, I am not deterred, so we are issuing a new edition of this book, which I have here today --
AUDIENCE: [Laughter, followed by applause.]
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: It -- I smell a best seller coming on with this new edition of the book.
In addition to selling more books, we have some serious work ahead of us. Much of that work falls on your shoulders. As front line reinventors, you have the job of finding new, better and less costly ways to serve the American people. Over the next two days, I want you to explore the best ways to do this. Share your ideas, and challenge each other to come up with new ones. If you're running into brick walls, help each other find ways of getting over, around or under them. And if you cannot, on Wednesday I want you to tell Elaine Kamarck, Bob Stone, and other NPR staff folks here where we need to punch holes in those walls so you can go right through them.
For my part, I will repeat something that I told you back in December 1993. Be bold. Ask yourselves, your colleagues, and your supervisors, "Why not?" And don't take as answer the old phrase "because we've always done it that way," especially if that answer stands in the way of improving how you serve the taxpayer.
We are thrilled every day as we get new ideas coming in from Federal employees. Just the other day, Bob was telling me about how the Navy has reinvented their procurement of telephones for ships, and the cost has come down to something like a tiny fraction of the old cost, because they were buying telephones that would still -- were made to specifications so that they would still work if the ship sunk and was refloated. I'm not kidding. I'm sure this crowd knows that I'm not kidding. You've seen plenty of examples of that. Now they're just buying 'em off the shelf and they work great.
Anyway, for our part, we've got a lot of work, too. We're going to take what we learn from you and apply it throughout the government.
A few weeks ago, I proposed six initiatives to make this government work better in a balanced budget environment. Many of those steps build on what you have done, and others will help you do even more. Before I close, I want to briefly outline those steps for you.
First, we're going to take what we've learned from your success in working with the private sector and make partnerships with industry the rule, not the exception, of our regulatory philosophy.
Second, we're proposing to create what we call "performance-based organizations" which will be freed from red-tape personnel, procurement, and budget restrictions to provide services more efficiently. And if you have suggestions for a candidate to become a performance-based organization, please let us know. Some of the most talented, creative, hard-driving, successful managers that I have ever encountered anywhere come from the Civil Service. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, they're good people trapped in a bad system. So we're going to free them up to manage much more like their counterparts in the private sector, giving them the accountability, incentive, and flexibility to get the job done.
To help the Federal work force prepare for the challenges of this new environment, we are sending to Congress new legislation that will vastly expand the demonstration authority in Civil Service law to allow large numbers of government agencies to design personnel systems suited to their mission. It has bipartisan support. I anticipate that it will pass and you will be hearing a lot more about it.
We're also proposing to create single points of contact for communities in their dealings with the Federal government and to turn away from the traditional "do what we want and we'll give you some money approach" of Federal grant programs and move in a new direction by asking Congress to turn grant programs into performance partnerships.
And, taking a cue from your work, we're going to focus this government on an old-fashioned notion called "customer service." For the first time ever, over 200 agencies have now set customer service standards, and we're asking the public to hold them accountable for meeting those standards.
Together, these steps will transform the Federal government so it can serve the American people and live within its means.
Now in a moment, we're going to hear from some of the people who have helped write the book on reinvention, and then we'll open up the discussion for you. But in closing, let me say that the 225, and still counting, reinvention labs are changing the face of our government. You are our beacon, charting the course to a government that works better and costs less.
And so, on behalf of President Clinton and the American people, I would like to thank each and every one of you for all you have done and for all that you are going to do. Congratulations. Let's keep busy and make this work. Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: [Extended applause.]

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site