a seminar sponsored by

The Federal Communicators Network and the Senior Fellows Program of the Council for Excellence in Government


The National Institutes of Health Natcher Conference Center
Bethesda, Maryland
December 8, 1999

Remarks by


Senior Policy Advisor to Vice President Gore and Director, National Partnership for Reinventing Government

What would your reaction be if I said to you, "I think the government is performing better today than it has in many years?"

Many of you would probably agree with that statement. There's no shortage of evidence.

Look at the country today: a balanced budget for the first time in 30 years; record employment; the smallest federal workforce since President Kennedy; a soaring stock market; falling crime rates; a lower level of workplace injuries; reduced welfare rolls. The list could go on.

But if I asked that same question to the average person on the street, I would likely get a far different reaction. The facts tell a compelling story. But people still don't see our achievements and prosperity as having anything to do with government.

Our partner in sponsoring this conference -- the Council for Excellence in Government -- recently released its third opinion poll on public attitudes toward government. Large majorities of Americans say they don't feel close to or connected to government. They think of it as THE government not THEIR government.

The disconnected majority of 64% is more than double the number who say they feel connected to government.

Today's conference is about connecting the public with THEIR government.

One of our problems is that we've not always done such a good job of telling our stories in meaningful ways that interest the press and the public. We know that the more we personalize our work, the more interesting it becomes.

Whether we can personalize it or not, we can still talk about it in ways that make it relevant to people's lives by providing information they can use.

And NPR has a powerful new tool for doing that. You've probably been sitting there wondering what this is on the screen behind me. Some of you might recognize astronaut Eileen Collins -- one of our nation's premier federal employees. She's the first woman to pilot, and then command, a NASA Space Shuttle. And she is the cover story of the inaugural issue of our online "e-zine," REGO

It's one of the ways we're putting a human face on reinventing government -- REGO for short. It uses the broadcast power of the Internet to show how reinvention has significantly improved the lives of ordinary Americans.

For reinvention to become a permanent part of the landscape -- and for Americans to reconnect with their government -- people have to experience their government differently and come away with a favorable impression. REGO is an excellent way for people to relate to some of the good things agencies do every day -- from educating school kids about food poisoning to helping people protect their homes and their families during tornadoes and hurricanes.

I'd like to share a few of those stories with you so you can see what I'm talking about.

"Safe Rooms: Getting Communities Ready Before Disaster Strikes" tells the story of Beth Bartlett of Del City, Oklahoma. Last spring, a "safe room" built in her home saved her life, as well as her mother's and the lives of their four pets. Their neighborhood was completely destroyed, and a neighbor was killed, during a tornado that struck there. But they survived thanks, in part, to work the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is doing.

Through "Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities," FEMA is reinventing the way America handles disasters. The strategy is to help communities help themselves before a disaster strikes.

One of the most valuable actions citizens can take to minimize damage from a tornado is to build "Tornado Safe Rooms." The safe room that saved Beth Bartlett and her family is a cast-in-place concrete room that normally serves as a roomy closet.

Another REGO piece -- "NASA Helps Kids Discover Their Planet" -- features Mikie Walker, a seven-year-old boy in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Mikie has porphryia, a genetic disorder that causes extreme and potentially dangerous sunlight sensitivity. Exposure to sunlight can result in chronic skin inflammation, blistering, inflammation of nerves, abdominal pain, and other disturbances. For Mikie and other children with serious light- sensitivity disorders, even a 40-watt light bulb can be dangerous. Playing outside is unthinkable -- at least it was until recently.

Now, thanks to expanded partnerships among the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), industry, and non-profit organizations, advanced space technology is being applied to meeting the needs of earth-bound customers, especially the children.

In 1998, Mikie became the first American child to own a modified, pint-sized "space suit" that protects him from the sun's ultraviolet rays and other light sources.

One of my favorite titles in REGO is "Bad Air Days." It's a story that focuses on a new EPA service providing current information about ozone levels in areas all over the country. It includes real-time, accurate, and easy-to-understand information, including:

Maps showing current and forecasted air pollution levels in selected cities and states
Recommended health precautions based upon the most recent scientific information
General explanations of the health effects related to air pollution

This evolving Internet site provides information about ozone. It eventually will cover all 50 states and offer tips for protecting your health and reducing ground-level ozone air pollution. A great example of using information technology to give customers what they need, when they need it.

"Fight 'BAC'" is a REGO story that combines practical information with a real world example of how that information can be used to make a real difference.

In 1997, industry, government, and consumer groups formed the Partnership for Food Safety Education to inform the public about safe food handling to help reduce food-borne illness. The partnership produced educational materials targeted to all segments of the population, including an on-line food safety quiz and new publications.

But, one element of the new education campaign promised to be most effective: "Fight Bac," the educational program aimed at school-age children, focusing on how children themselves, and their families, can "Fight Bacteria" to stay healthy.

The Food and Drug Administration's Nashville District Office responded quickly to the education challenge and introduced several programs to promote the new food safety initiatives. Ms. Josephine Franklin, a first grade teacher at the Westwood Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee, was introduced to "Fight BAC" in June 1998.

She whole-heartedly embraced the campaign and developed a "Fight BAC" unit of study to use in her class during the 1998-1999 school year. The students wrote their own stories, developed a PowerPoint presentation on food safety, and even wrote a rap song while they learned first-hand about safe food handling and preparation, as well as science-related careers.

Knowing the impact children can have on their parents and siblings, she urged her students to take this food safety messages home to other family members. And, it worked -- one student even went home and told her parents not to eat raw cookie dough because of Salmonella.

So that's just a sampling of the REGO stories. This is how we as communicators need to be showcasing our work. We plan to have three more issues during the next year and will probably be asking you to submit your stories for possible inclusion. I hope you'll look use it and the approach it takes as a "reconnecting tool."

At NPR, we've just gone through several months of self-examination and strategizing about how we want to organize our work over the next year. One of the outcomes we are working toward is that by January 2001, we want to ensure that reinvention continues by enrolling a critical mass of people who are committed to always improving government. We want to enroll you in that effort.

Communications will be a key component of realizing this outcome and that's where we need your help. This is where we can all work together to communicate what we're doing to the public and make a real difference.

Enroll -- join us -- take what you see and hear today and use it to make reinvention a permanent part of what we do every day. Use it to tell your stories - to put a human face on your agencies and on the whole government.

You know that what you see on "It's Your Money" and "The Fleecing of America" is the exception rather than the rule. If you commit to doing these things - adopting these strategies - we can go a long way toward increasing trust and connectedness by changing the face of government forever.

Let's promise ourselves that the next time CEG does an opinion poll on people's attitudes toward government -- THEIR government -- the results will be different.

Media Seminar

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