Remarks to Office of Management and Budget Staff

 

September 28, 1988

 

The President. Before I begin my remarks, I have an announcement to make. I have accepted the resignation of Jim Miller as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, effective October 15th. Deputy OMB Director Joe Wright will take his place.

 

Now, it goes without saying that I'm sorry to see Jim go. He's made an outstanding contribution to our administration and our nation these last 8 years. He was part of the team that showed up for work on our first day in office. He started at OMB, where he was our first Administrator for Information and Regulatory Affairs and the Executive Director of Vice President Bush's Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief. He then spent 4 years as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, returning to OMB in October 1985 as Director. In each post, he served with distinction. In his first stint at OMB and as the head of the FTC, he played a leading role in removing the shackles of excessive regulation from our economy. I believe that a great deal of the credit for our recovery goes to that effort. Since becoming Director of OMB, he has been at the center of our battle to bring the deficit down. And it says something that it's been coming down almost from the day he took over.

 

Jim, what can I say to an old comrade-in-arms and to your lovely wife, Demaris, but thank you, Godspeed, and God bless you. By the way, Jim will become a distinguished fellow at the Center for the Study of Public Choice at George Mason University, a distinguished fellow with the Citizens for a Sound Economy, and chairman of an advisory board to Washington Economic Research Consultants. He calls this taking a break. [Laughter]

 

It will be hard to fill Jim's shoes, but if there's a man to do it, it's Joe Wright. And Joe is also what the Navy calls a plank holder. He's been here from the very first day and has been Deputy Director of OMB since 1982. Joe has headed our management improvement programs, which are among the least heralded but, for my money, most important accomplishments of our administration. He has also chaired the board that oversees our inspectors general and their employees. If there's any man who can say that he has saved the American people billions of dollars in our campaign against waste, fraud, and abuse in the Government, it's Joe Wright. And, like Jim, Joe has also been up to his neck in our budget negotiations with Congress. Joe, you're already aboard, so I won't say, welcome aboard, but I will say it'll be great to know that your sure and steady hand is on the tiller at OMB.

 

Now, for those of you who don't work here, let me say, welcome to the White House complex. White House complex -- that's because nothing in Washington is ever simple. But as all of us here know, particularly Jim and Joe, there is nothing in this city of puzzles that is more complex, more obscure, more of a puzzle than the budget process.

 

And the budget process is why we're here today. You are the ones who are changing this never-ending government game of Dungeons and Dragons -- and changing it for good. You are showing those who thought they had a monopoly on Washington wisdom and who said that the budget process was an impossible scrabble and who said that anyone who tried to reform it would do it only at his or her own risk -- you are showing them they didn't have a clue. And that's why, in my book, you should go to the head of the class. With your help, we are overcoming, at last, 40 years of government, and particularly congressional, indecision, mismanagement, and delay. The history here is astounding. I doubt that there's 1 American in 10,000 who knows how bad things had become or how hard and long we in our administration and our friends in Congress have fought to fix them.

 

But let me say that I've never lost faith that we would win in the end, although I know some did, and I can understand that. After all, there have seemed at times to be so few of us -- and so many of those who had an interest in things as they were -- well, that sometimes it's reminded me of a scene from an old western. The marshal and his deputy are about to ride into a wild town that they're supposed to clean up. And the marshal turns to the deputy and says: ``This place is filled with 2,000 of the worst thieves, gunslingers, and desperadoes in the West. It's you and me against them all, and I'd say the odds are just about even.'' [Laughter]

 

But think for a minute of the record of the last 40 years. Since 1948 not once have all of the Government's appropriations bills been passed by Congress, forwarded to the President, and approved by the start of the fiscal year. Only once were all 13 appropriations bills even out of Congress when the fiscal year began, and that was 10 years ago. Some departments have been running with stopgap funding for years. Treasury, for example, has had only one appropriations bill in the last 8 years. For the rest of the time, it was funded entirely through continuing resolutions, a practice which, among other things, can disrupt major contracts and undermine the critical business of the Government.

 

From the day I was sworn in as President until today, I should have received a total of 91 appropriations bills for signature or veto. Congress has sent me only 37, and only 9 were here by the start of the fiscal year. In fact, until a few weeks ago, it had been a long time since I'd seen any appropriation bills at all, anytime in the year -- not since December 12, 1985, to be exact. Ah, for the good old days. [Laughter]

 

Last January when I delivered my State of the Union Address to Congress, I noted how the entire rickety system had collapsed at the beginning of that fiscal year. We'd had 4 continuing resolutions lasting 41 days the first time, 36 days the second, 2 days the third, and 3 days the last time. And then along came the continuing resolution that contained all the Government's appropriations7E 7E in 7E 7Eone7E 7E gigantic7E 7E mountain7E 7E of7E 7E a bill. It was 1,057 pages long, weighed 14 pounds, and was 2 months late. Even Congress didn't know what was in it. They sent it to us so late that we had only a few hours -- not days, hours -- to sign, or shut down the Government. Now, I know I don't have to remind many of you of that fiasco, because you were among the 300 people on our staff at OMB who had to read it. You have my sympathy. [Laughter]

 

There was, of course, a lot in that bill I didn't like. But I decided to sign it because to do otherwise, it would have closed down the Government. But as I told Congress in January -- right after I just about crushed my finger dropping that paper monster on the podium -- [laughter] -- I wasn't fooling when I did that. [Laughter] It had been underneath. It was sore for 3 days. [Laughter] Well, I told them the next time they sent me a bill like that I won't sign it.

 

And the warning's been taken to heart. Already Congress has passed and I have signed six appropriations bills: Energy and water, HUD, Labor and HHS, Treasury and Postal Service, Interior, and military construction. I also expect to receive three other bills shortly: Transportation; foreign operations; and Commerce, Justice, and State. And that will leave just three bills with which we have problems. Congress and our administration are working together to iron out the differences and finish the Nation's business when it should be finished. I've said many times that I want to receive all the remaining appropriations bills, ones that I can sign, by this Friday. On our end of Pennsylvania Avenue, we're pulling out all the stops to see that this happens.

 

And when I sign the last of these bills, I expect that my thoughts will turn to a special American. Forty-one years ago, just before the Government started down the path of never getting its business quite done, a man came to Washington who was destined to become one of our great Senators. Today, on the eve of his retirement, he is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and second ranking majority member of the Armed Services Committee. He has been a supporter of our drive to restore America's strength. He's working with us as we fight to restore the integrity of the budget process. And that's exactly what the issue is: integrity -- making sure all the cards on how the Government is spending the American people's money are on the table for the American people to see.

 

Well, John Stennis is a man of integrity, and he is a patriot. He knows how much it means to our nation's future to get the budget process back on schedule. I'm dedicating our drive to finish the budget process on time this year to Senator Stennis. And I hope every Member of the Senate, as well as the House, will think of their votes on timely appropriations bills as a way to salute Senator Stennis and to thank him for 41 years of service to our beloved land.

 

And to each of you, let me also say thank you. You are the unsung heroes of this momentous change in how Federal business is conducted. Without you, it wouldn't be happening. Because of you, our nation will be stronger in the years to come.

 

I thank you, and God bless you all.

 

Director Miller. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for those nice things you said about me. You can't imagine the importance of your support and confidence in me over the last several years in boosting my morale. I certainly look forward to working with new colleagues: Jim Buchanan, Bob Tollison and Richard Fink, David Kaplan, Mark Crain, and Betty Tillman. But when we talked this morning, I indicated to you this OMB staff is something very, very special in Washington. It is the cream of the crop, and I have been mightily privileged to be associated with them. They work without waver. They work endless hours. They work with enormous loyalty to the Presidency, and they have served you well.

 

Mr. President, in choosing Joe Wright as my successor, you could not have chosen more wisely. Joe is a loyal, knowledgeable, indefatigable leader, and I am sure that he will provide the best leadership for OMB in the coming months. And I assure you, moreover, Mr. President, of a smooth transition. The transition will be as smooth as a muddy, shallow lake in the calm day in Georgia or in Virginia, either one. [Laughter] You won't miss me, Mr. President, it will be so smooth.

 

Finally, Mr. President, thank you for the challenge and the opportunity to have served you these past years. Eight years ago, before your election, I signed on to the Reagan-Bush team, and I have cherished every second of that opportunity. It's been the most rewarding of my career. I would not take anything for it. I feel about my experience working for you, Mr. President -- and I've drawn this analogy before -- it reminds me of when I received my Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and unlike Joe Biden, I really am the first in my family to have received a college education. [Laughter] And when I received my Ph.D., my mama came up to me and threw her arms around me and said: ``Jimmy, this is something no one can ever take away from you.'' And I feel that about my experience working for you. Thank you, Mr. President.

 

Deputy Director Wright. Well, Jim, let me start out by saying that's not true. We'll miss you a great deal -- a great deal. In your 1978 campaign, Mr. President, you stated: ``I pledge to you to restore to the Federal Government the capacity to do the people's work without dominating their lives. I pledge to you a government that will not only work well but wisely.'' That was at the 1980 convention, and you cannot imagine the impact that had on a great number of us that decided: Now, that is the administration that we want to be in. That is the person that we want to come in and work for and follow.

 

I had the pleasure of spending my first year in your administration under Secretary Mac Baldrige. He was truly a terrific person and a good Cabinet officer. But I had no idea what a wonderful challenge it would be until I joined OMB 6 years ago -- in following your policies because at that time we were losing $1 billion to $1\1/2\ billion a week to the deficit as a result of the recession that you inherited from your predecessor. But the bank that I was in before -- if that would have happened, you would have devalued the portfolio of the predecessor and then started fresh. But we couldn't do that, so we started working with diligence to get that deficit down.

 

As a result of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill, the balanced budget agreement, and, Mr. President, your slogan of just say no to tax increases, by golly, we were able to go ahead and make the most significant reduction in the deficit that's happened. And we're still working on it, and we will win on that deficit. It will come down. During the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings and balanced budget agreements, Jim Miller was right out there in front the entire time. Mr. President, he served you well, with distinction and with results.

 

But while also doing that, I had the excitement of being your point man, for example, on the welfare reform bill that was just passed. And I think it's absolutely amazing that we could get meaningful work requirements as part of the reform of our welfare system. And we couldn't have done it without you. It's a tremendous achievement. Also on the housing bills, the highway bills -- and to also have the true privilege of following your guidance on the Reform '88 management improvement program -- as when you said we did not come in here, Joe, to just make changes; we came in here to make fundamental changes in the way the Government operates.

 

You asked for a cash management system on a $2 trillion cash flow. It's in place. You asked for a credit management system on a $1 trillion portfolio. It's in place. And the largest Federal governmentwide financial accounting and control system is going in place right now, Mr. President. It's an important time right now, preparing your last budget and hopefully George Bush's first, working with the National Economic Commission as they come in with their recommendations. I am honored that you selected me for this task, truly honored.

 

But I've got to say that I've got the most competent group of professional work force and workhorses in front of you that you've got in the entire Federal Government -- the professional staff of the Office of Management and Budget. And with that, we will put together a package that you will be very proud of. And it will be the start of the final 3 years of Gramm-Rudman to get the deficit down to balance.

 

My wife, Ellen, and I -- this is my wife, Ellen; say hi -- [laughter] -- are very pleased to join your Cabinet family. And Jim, I've been riding shotgun for you for 2 years. Okay, you've been guiding the horses. I'll move on over, and I hope I do you proud. I drive the horses straight. Thank you very much.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:04 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.