Remarks to Department of Transportation Employees in the Senior Executive Service

January 12, 1982

Secretary Lewis. Good morning. Mr. President, we're delighted to have you with us today to meet with our Department managers. And as you know, in the Department of Transportation we have an executive mobility program wherein we interchange jobs within the Department. Therefore, I'm doubly delighted you're here today so you can learn firsthand about our Department in case you'd like to change jobs with me. [Laughter]

Seriously, we're grateful for your interest in our programs and our people. And I was very deeply impressed by something Dan Rostenkowski said on the platform with me in Chicago about a year ago. In speaking of the President, he said, ``It's refreshing for a change to have a man in the White House who actually does in office what he said he was going to do when running for that office.''

It is for me a great privilege to have the opportunity to serve in government and even a greater honor to serve in this administration, because to serve under President Reagan is to serve under the best. It is my pleasure and my honor to present to you the President of the United States.

Mr. President, welcome to the Department of Transportation.

The President. Thank you all very much. And, Drew, thank you very much.

I want to tell you that I'm very proud -- people like Drew, men and women who have come here to serve in government, I'm proud of all of you. And I said many times during the campaign that I wanted people who didn't want a job in government and who would actually have to step down from their own achievements in the private sector in order to take a government position. But when I look at some of these men like Drew, I didn't mean they should jump off the bridge. [Laughter] And some of them really did that.

Incidentally, I want to congratulate all of you. The combined Federal contribution campaign that has just been concluded under Secretary Mac Baldrige's chairmanship has exceeded all records of the past and has gone $1\1/4\ million over the goal that had been set for this year, and the Department of Transportation increased its giving over any previous effort by 14 percent. So, my thanks and congratulations.

You are committed to a better government, or you wouldn't be a member of the Senior Executive Service. As this nation's top managers, you've dedicated your careers to forging a better Federal Government. Government is only as good as the people who make it work one day at a time. No one appreciates that more than I, the importance of the career executive managers who actually execute the policies of this government on a day-to-day basis and keep the multitude of programs running -- and I will say, running within whatever budget they are allocated. [Laughter] Seems to be somewhat of a target in these times.

Career Federal executives should fairly be compensated for the work they do, and that's why we actively supported the increase in executive salaries and the removal of the pay cap. That's also why we've maintained the integrity of the executive bonus system, so there can be a meaningful way of rewarding those who make exemplary contributions in the management of our programs.

This Department's SES program has stimulated thought and creativity that led to major program advances this year. Through this executive forum, problems are thrashed out and new management concepts are born. The executive mobility program, which interchanges managers among all the various elements of the Department, gives you a diversity of experience and knowledge you need to manage an enterprise as broad in scope as this one.

And, if I could just relate a personal experience to you, back in California when I was serving the government there as Governor of California -- in, believe it or not, this particular department, the department of transportation -- that started it. And then it spread to other departments. We asked people who had been 20 years and longer in various positions in government, suddenly shifted them to another position and rotated them around. And at first there was something of rebellion. Someone said, ``I don't know -- I've been doing this for 20 years,'' and so forth. What happened was amazing, not only for them -- suddenly there was a new interest in coming to work, there was a whole new challenge for them -- but also for the benefit of government, someone coming in who hadn't been looking at the same problems for 20 years, suddenly saw things, asked questions, said, ``Well, wait a minute. Wouldn't it be better if we did this or that?'' And there was a stimulant to the whole government from this switching around.

Now, with the transfer of the Maritime Administration to this Department, you have responsibility for managing all the phases of the transportation sector, which gives you even more opportunity to exert the creativity you're developing in this SES program.

As I said before, I'm proud that you're on our team. You helped seek out ways to reduce the Department budget, you looked for waste that could be cut, searched for less expensive and more efficient ways to execute the programs, and you found them.

Some of you in the FAA, along with the flight service specialists, technicians, are in the forefront in designing a new system for the Nation's air traffic control. In so doing, you're helping us keep our commitment to upgrade the system and employ the latest technology in keeping the airways safe. Others among you have exerted your leadership in the auto industry studies, which have paved the way for [the] ongoing regulatory reform program, reform which will help a vital national industry to function and compete again in the free market system.

You know, good tax policy is one in which, as much as possible, the tax that funds a service is levied on those who benefit from the service. Your leadership in developing the transportation user-fee concept will more equitably distribute the cost of transportation among those who actually benefit. The qualities that you've demonstrated in your work at Transportation are the universal requirements for outstanding service in any public endeavor. You can't ever have good programs without good people to deliver them.

The theme of our administration is a new beginning, a national renewal that will make America great again; and for that, we need a spirit of renewal and excellence in all of government. Thanks to you and thousands of other dedicated public servants, we've made an important beginning. We've cut waste, eliminated redtape, and provided better services to the American taxpayers, which is why we're all here.

I don't know about you, but I think this is an exciting time in our nation's history, a time of both change and reaffirmation. And each of you and your colleagues throughout the Federal Government are on the frontline day-in and day-out, translating policy goals into accomplished realities. The times call out for excellence, and groups like yours are providing it.

During my 8 years that I mentioned before in the government of California, we were able to create a more efficient, responsive, and economic State government, and still deliver, and in many cases improve, the full range of necessary services to the people of California. We couldn't have made any of that happen if we hadn't been able to recruit, retain, and motivate a dedicated cadre of State government employees -- skilled professionals at every rung of the ladder. Many of them were a little nervous at first when I took office there in Sacramento. After all, for 25 years they'd been seeing me ride off into the sunset with ``The End'' superimposed on my back. [Laughter] They had some right to have doubts or questions about what might happen from there on.

Well, as it turned out, if I may say so, I had one advantage. I hadn't learned all the things that you can't do and, as it turned out, in going ahead in my innocent inexperience, discovered that some of them can be done if you give them a chance. More and more, dedicated State employees came up with ideas that led to greater efficiency and better management. California -- which, if it were a nation, would be the seventh ranking economic power on Earth -- went up from near bankruptcy to surpluses, which were returned to the taxpayers. Its bonds achieved a triple-A rating from Moody's, and its department of transportation, with no increase in the number of employees, absorbed a 60-percent increase in workload over the 8 years.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we do anything -- [laughter] -- just mentioning it. But, I believe that the vast majority of Federal workers are every bit as committed to rooting out waste and fraud and inefficiency as the taxpayers they serve. I believe they want to do the best possible job they can. This administration is dedicated to helping them, helping you, achieve this goal.

Old abuses and errors must be redressed. The mistakes of the past have already cost us far too much in economic stagnation and crippling taxes and inflation. But together, we can turn things around and make today's Federal Government a model for the generation that will come after us. Together -- and that's the only way, together -- we can make it happen. So, I'm counting on you, and so are the American people. And thank you all very much for what you're doing.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:37 a.m. at the Department of Transportation.