Remarks on Receiving the Final Report of the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control in the Federal Government

January 16, 1984

You know, I can't resist -- I'm accused, and certainly some elements accuse me of too much of telling anecdotes and so forth. But I think it'd be appropriate before I say anything else, that one of my favorite stories about government had to do with an employee who sat at a desk. And papers came to his desk; he read them and determined where they were to go and initialed them and sent them on. And one day a classified document came there. But it came to him, so he read it, initialed it, and sent it on. Twenty-four hours later it came back to him with a note attached that said, ``You weren't supposed to see this. Erase your initials, and initial the erasure.'' [Laughter]

But, ladies and gentlemen, it isn't often that we gather here in the East Room to honor Washington lobbyists and publicly accept their recommendations. But with pride, interest, and gratitude, that's exactly what we're doing today.

This ceremony marks the formal acceptance of an extraordinary group of recommendations from an extraordinary group of lobbyists. You don't want more government; you want less. And you do not represent a small special interest group, but the largest of them all, 94 million American taxpayers.

Back in 1967, when I was Governor of California, I asked a group of highly motivated private sector executives to survey the State bureaucracy and to identify potential savings. They made about 2,000 recommendations, and we implemented the majority of them. Their work helped return fiscal integrity to a State that had been spending a million dollars a day more than it was taking in.

Now, some of you may also remember that throughout the campaign of 1980 I spoke of waste and fraud and mismanagement in government and what it was doing to the American taxpayer. In my first State of the Union message, I also referred to this problem as an unrelenting national scandal, one that must be fought at every level and in every agency of the Federal Government. To some, of course, the mere mention of this issue suggests only empty political rhetoric, mere words about a problem that in their view is either exaggerated or so ingrained in government that nothing will be done about it. But your work established once and for all how serious a problem waste, fraud, and mismanagement is and how much can be done to eliminate it.

The reports of the Grace commission are remarkable documents. They dare us to think the unthinkable, and they urge us to do the undoable. They show us the price tag future generations must face because of so much government excess in our time, and they make 2,478 recommendations from 36 task forces which could produce savings, as you've been told, of hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

The historic nature of these documents and the work of the commission should be obvious. The Grace commission has confronted the issues that so many government officials, academic experts, and professional consultants have ignored. The commission has pointed out that unless we face up now to the legacy that was left us by the years of tax and tax and spend and spend, we will be staring at even greater deficits and an impossible burden of taxes and spending.

This commission has given us a warning for the future. But you have also presented us with a program for action, a blueprint that can make government responsive to the needs of the less fortunate, while lifting the economic burden already carried by millions of Americans who are overtaxed and overregulated by government.

Now there are two tasks remaining. The first is to turn your recommendations into reality. You've given every member of this administration, every Member of the Congress, and every would-be President a chance to support your recommendations and show the American people that we do care how their money is spent. And with this support we can end the reckless, destructive abuse of hard-earned tax dollars, get control of runaway bureaucracy, and return this nation to fiscal integrity.

As all of you know by now, our Cabinet Council on Management and Administration will be studying your recommendations closely, and then we'll work with the departments and the Congress to implement them.

You know, I keep a sign on my desk that says, ``It CAN be done,'' and the ``can'' is spelled out in capital letters. For me, that's the bottom line of your report, and that is the spirit in which I receive it today. I pledge to you not just talk but aggressive action on your recommendations.

Our second task is also very important and very pleasant. And this occasion gives me a chance to thank you. I really am aware of the enormous personal sacrifices you made. Those of you serving on this task force were away from your work and family for weeks at a time. I can understand the moments of frustration that you have had, the reluctance or opposition you encountered inside and outside the bureaucracy, the doubts you yourselves may have had as to whether your work would ever really bear fruit. Well, I hope that when historians look back on our time, they will see your report as a turning point on the domestic front.

Throughout history -- Rome in ancient times, the French and Spanish empires in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Weimar Republic in this century -- many great nations toppled and fell in large part because their economic policies failed to anticipate how their populace was being overburdened with taxes, spending, and debt. I pray your work will be seen as a major event that kept America from going that route. It's a route that revived the belief -- or what you've done revived the belief that government is the servant of the people and not the other way around.

As so often happens with any great achievement, there's one person whose contributions stand out. His patience with bureaucracy, his insistence on bringing the best people into this enterprise, and his vision and drive for excellence made all this possible. Despite the fact that he is straightforward and outspoken, everybody still seems to like Peter Grace. [Laughter] Maybe because we all sense in Peter a man who is selfless and patriotic, a man who has with this commission's work left his nation a great legacy. I think he was just fed up with people ``robbing Peter to pay Paul.'' [Laughter]

Peter, I know you and the other members of this commission will be working with us in the future. But to you personally and to all of you here today, I want to thank you for the hard work and sacrifice. Every American owes you a debt of gratitude. Not all of them will get a chance to say thank you, but on their behalf I want to do that today, from the bottom of my heart, to thank you.

We'll take it from here, and we'll do our very utmost. So, thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:40 p.m. at a ceremony in the East Room at the White House. Prior to his remarks, he received a two-volume summary of the survey's findings from its Chairman, J. Peter Grace.