Remarks at a White House Meeting With Members of the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control in the Federal Government

February 25, 1985

Well, as you know, we have our share of meetings and visitors in this room, but believe me, there's no group that I'd rather see coming my way than all of you; no subject more dear to my heart than the one to which you've so generously dedicated your time and talent during the past few years.

I hope you'll let me reminisce here for a moment. I remember back during the campaign of 1980, I used to bring up the subject of waste, fraud, and abuse in the National Government and even mentioned the idea of a commission such as yours. Out there on the campaign trail, it was an issue that really hit home. But somehow back here in Washington, it didn't play as well. To the permanent establishment, waste and fraud are a little bit like the issue of higher taxes. It was all okay for politicians to talk about it now and then, but it was never really considered proper to go out and talk about it as if you meant it. And come to think of it, we did do something about higher taxes, also.

And then, just when the Washington establishment was getting over the shock from that one, we came up with this little number called the Grace commission. And that put some of them right back in intensive care. [Laughter]

The impact that you've had in this city is testimony to your own dedication and to that of your leadership. Now, right here somebody suggested that I mention that when I asked Peter Grace to take on the responsibility of running this commission, I had no idea the kind of energetic, but healthy, troublemaking I was contracting for. [Laughter]

I'm sure they must have been kidding. I mean, anybody who knows Peter Grace for more than 5 minutes knows that he is not a man who -- let me see how I can phrase this -- he's not a man who dislikes taking things to their logical conclusion. [Laughter] And that's exactly what Peter and all of you have done. With dedication and selflessness, you've succeeded where others failed. You provided clear, concise, and practical recommendations to enormously complicated problems. And instead of stopping there, you went out to build a groundswell of support for the Grace commission recommendations throughout this country.

Recently, I know you've participated in the House Budget Committee hearings held at various points around the country. You must have been quite a disappointment to some of them in those commissions. They didn't go out there to hear the kind of things you were saying.

And now, Peter Grace and Jack Anderson [Nationally syndicated newspaper columnist] -- and if that isn't an unusual, but high octane team -- [laughter] -- you've created a group called Citizens Against Waste. It's a group that will be a focus for citizens action, a truly bipartisan organization whose only loyalty is to the one special interest group that we should all support, because we all belong to it -- the 77 million United States taxpayers who, with their work, patriotism, and, may I say, immense patience, finance the Federal Government.

I think this kind of grassroots, educational program will, like the Grace commission itself, focus on the abuse of taxpayer dollars and hold elected and appointed officials accountable. In doing this, Citizens Against Waste will not just help reduce our national deficit, without increasing taxes, but spark a much needed increase in citizen involvement in the workings of government and a long-overdue renewal of confidence in our democratic system.

But in addition to congratulating and thanking you today for this and other efforts, I also want to give you a progress report on where we stand with the Grace commission recommendations. The statistics are impressive. Already 1,148 of your recommendations are being implemented or have been proposed for implementation. And the dollar savings are impressive: $112 billion over 3 years in prior budgets and $56 billion proposed in the budget that I have just sent to the Hill. And I'm proud to say that we discussed these fine results in our first-ever management report to the Congress that we sent to the Hill last week.

We've come a long way together, this far. That's a record to be proud of, but something else needs to be said here. Some people have the odd idea that it's fine while you're a political candidate or during the first year or so in office to talk about waste and fraud. You may remember, in my first speech to the Congress, I called waste and fraud an unrelenting national scandal. But they warned that after a certain period of time, the political danger tends to grow. After all, if the headlines about government boondoggles like $400 hammers or millions in benefits to the ineligible recipients start appearing on your watch, the public might just decide to start blaming you.

Well, look, let's be realistic. In the 15 years before my administration came to Washington, Federal expenditures increased 400 percent. Now, thanks to you and others like you, we've worked hard on this problem for 4 years, and we've made progress in reducing the growth in spending. But we know no problem of this size could ever have been solved in one year or one term of office.

And no matter what some of the political pros might say, I think the public knows this. And I think they know we're trying and succeeding. And I think they're smart enough to understand that all those stories about waste and fraud are a direct result of a fight that we're proud to say we started in the first place.

So, let's forget political angles. Let's just trust the uncommon wisdom of the common people. I'm not worried about political angles anymore. I haven't got a political future anymore. [Laughter]

But keep up your good work. Bring on the headlines about waste and fraud. The Grace commission has led the way, and now it's everybody's fight.

Beyond this, the impact of your work is incalculable. Even if nothing else gets done -- and I can assure you a lot more is going to get done -- you have permanently changed the mood of the country. From frustration and despair over a spendthrift, irresponsible bureaucracy, the public now knows some hope and optimism that government can at last be made lean, cost-effective, and responsive to the people. That's why they're behind the Grace commission's work, and that's why they're behind our plan for deficit reduction.

Another project I know you'll be out there helping us fight for -- I speak for myself when I say I owe you all a personal debt of thanks, but I also speak for the Nation and for many future generations of Americans when I say that, in making government more responsive to the wishes of the people, you have reached back to make contact with the very principle of government that began this nation: the belief that government is here to serve the people and not the other way around.

In doing this, you're helping to restore faith in the democratic process and make our cherished way of life more secure. And for that, I thank you and salute you, as do all your fellow Americans.

God bless you all, and thank you for what you've done and the tools that you have given us that are going to rewrite an awful lot of economic textbooks in the next few years; some have been rewritten already. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.