With Staff Blending, 'Reinvention' Goals, Gore Uses His Office to Look Toward 2000
By Ann Devroy and Stephen Barr
At a July 31 meeting, Vice President Gore told 32 top federal agency aides he was designating their agencies "Reinvention Impact Centers." Over the next three years, he said, they were expected to beef up Gore's signature initiative, reinventing government.
Five days later Gore gave another group the same message: He needed solid evidence to make the case in the campaign year 2000 that he has met his promise to make government not only smaller but better.
At the meetings were the heads of the Veterans Affairs Department, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration and Postal Service as well as State Department officials in charge of visas and Education Department officials overseeing student loans. Also on hand were representatives of the Customs Service, National Park Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Although the 2000 election is more than three years away, Gore is beginning the presidential campaign now, taking advantage of the prominent role President Clinton has given him in both policy and personnel.
Like reinventing government, running a presidential race from the vice presidential suite is tricky, and there are few historical guides. In comparable circumstances in recent years, George Bush and Richard M. Nixon ran for the top job while vice president. (Hubert H. Humphrey sought the job only after President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run in 1968.)
Both Bush and Nixon ran without the active help of their presidents. Bush got a late and tepid endorsement from President Ronald Reagan, who did not want to take sides in a party fight.
Bush also got his loyalists into some key slots in the administration James A. Baker III as White House chief of staff was the most important but Bush's team was tiny, and it was not Reagan's team.
Gore has a far more prominent role in both policy and personnel than did Bush and is being given almost carte blanche by Clinton to build a Gore 2000 political team that could form the basis of a Gore White House operation were he elected.
Rich Bond, political director for Bush when he was vice president, said that although some Bush people, such as Baker, had very important places in the Reagan administration, on balance Bush loyalists were concentrated in the Commerce Department, which was dubbed "Bush Gardens."
The secretaryship and all key posts, as well as dozens of mid-level political jobs at Commerce, were Bush's to fill.
But virtually all the key White House jobs were reserved for Reagan loyalists.
In contrast, at the Clinton White House not only is the president committed publicly to Gore despite rumblings from other Democratic hopefuls but Gore aides also fill jobs at all levels.
Bruce Reed, Clinton's chief domestic political adviser, came from Gore's Senate operation. Thurgood Marshall Jr., who was Gore's chief of staff, is White House Cabinet secretary. Another Gore loyalist, Fred DuVal, who had been deputy chief of protocol at the State Department, heads intergovernmental affairs at the White House.
Karen Skelton, formerly Gore's political director, is deputy White House political director. Skelton's move allowed Gore to accomplish two goals: putting his own person in a key White House political job and clearing the way for him to name a political director who is African American, Maurice L. Daniel.
Kathleen A. McGinty, who heads the Council on Environmental Quality, is another Gore loyalist. Environmental Protection Agency head Carol M. Browner had been in Gore's Senate operation. Gore has two placements in the personnel department. One of his speechwriters became a Clinton speechwriter. A deputy in the White House political office ran the Clinton-Gore 1996 campaign operation in New Hampshire.
Ron Klain, Gore's chief of staff, said the vice president is not running a 2000 campaign. Instead, he said, Gore's focus is helping make Clinton successful in 1997 and making the presidential and vice presidential staffs run smoothly.
A great advantage of the staff blending is that bickering between presidential and vice presidential staffs a phenomenon common in previous administrations is reduced if not eliminated, Klain said. "When staffs are knitted together as those two have been, it's hard to know who is the 'us' and who is the 'them' in an argument," he said.
Wayne Berman, who worked for former vice president Walter F. Mondale, said that although the president's apparent desire to have Gore succeed him is a major factor in the staff blending, the more important factor may be the level of comfort between the two men: "Clinton believes his interests are Gore's interests and Gore's interests are his interests."
That's not to say Gore's efforts have always been politically seamless. His staff has a reputation for what one Clinton aide called "competence holes," pointing to an amateurish and embarrassing trip to China this year when Gore aides gave conflicting reports about whether the vice president had raised human rights issues with Chinese leaders and to Gore's appearance at a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple in California last year that has become a focus of the campaign finance inquiries.
But extraordinarily early in a presidential cycle, Gore is moving to use his advantages. He told the representatives of the federal agencies that the meetings with them were the "most important" he would hold this term, said Bob Stone, director of Gore's National Performance Review, the task force charged with "reinventing government."
Gore asked the groups to commit to goals that would lead to improvements in their services. Virtually all the agencies offered pledges of things they were already doing or planned to do in coming months.
Stone said the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA agreed to work together to reduce commercial aviation accident rates, aircraft emissions and noise levels.
The National Weather Service promised to double the average lead time for warning of severe weather events and improve the pinpointing of hurricane landfalls by 30 percent.
The Postal Service pledged to increase the on-time delivery rate for overnight first-class mail to 93 percent, while the Food and Drug Administration agreed to reduce the review time for important new medical devices by 30 percent.
Gore said he wanted to hear back from the 32 agencies within six months.
Stone called the meetings a continuation of Gore's effort to build on his reinvention accomplishments. Other administration officials said many of the goals would be difficult to measure by 2000 but would allow Gore to argue that he has provided strong management leadership and can be trusted to cut government the right way, not in a way that would harm ordinary Americans.
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