THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (San Francisco, California)
PRESS BRIEFING BY ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE JONATHAN SALLET
The Exploratorium San Francisco, California
11:00 A.M. PDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning, everybody. I want to take just a few seconds to -- a lot of you are asking me some questions and I've got a noted expert here so we can get some answers for you. Let me just say at the outset of putting this event in some context of what we've been doing this week, the President, aside from the political chores that he's been pursuing this week, clearly is talking this week about the obligations the generations of Americans have to one another.
The early part of this week he was focused very much on the commitments we've made to elderly Americans through programs like Medicare to protect them from indigency and old age. But today, he really turned his attention to the coming generation and what they need to be a part of a high-wage, high-growth economy in the 21st century. And you'll see the President over and over again in the coming months returning to the theme of what does it take to give America the hottest economy in the world as we think about the reality of global competition in the 21st century.
Certainly, a major piece of that is education because the correlation between higher education and higher wages is beyond dispute. In study after study, you see the connection directly. And as the President suggested today, high technology is a very central element of that higher education that American young people need as they think about the realities of earning a living in the workplace of the future.
So in that broad context, what the President is doing today in laying out this major initiative that he will be returning to over and over again in coming weeks is talking about the central connection between education, higher-wage growth, higher incomes for the American people, as we think about the economy of the 21st century. And that economy of the 21st century will be a recurring theme in the President's public remarks in coming weeks.
That said, generally, let me specifically turn it to Jonathan Sallet, who is the Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce and Director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning. He's been working very closely with folks from OMB, from the Vice President's Office, from other White House efforts, to pull together the critical mass around the private sector initiative that you saw today.
Really, what we are so excited about here today is that the private sector, which has long had an interest in seeing how they could help California schools, have really come together now in a very specific way and set some goals that they believe are achievable not only this year, but on into 2000, as the President just suggested. And we believe this will be a model for the national policy initiative that the President will unveil in coming weeks in really taking what we've been able to achieve here in California and moving it up to a national level.
So with that, Jonathan, let me turn it over to you and any questions that any of you have.
MR. SALLET: I'd be happy to take any questions. Yes, sir.
Q When will this technology initiative be announced exactly?
MR. SALLET: We don't have a precise date. As the President emphasized in his remarks today, what he has done today and what he will continue to do is to talk with and open a dialogue with all of the interested parties -- business and parents and teachers and the students themselves. We'll be working along to be able to bring together the kind of consensus that's necessary to really make effective a national vision.
Q When the initiative is announced, how will it differ from what was announced today?
MR. SALLET: I think you can expect that the initiative will not only encompass the four goals that the President outlined in his statement, but it will talk in detail about how they can be achieved; about what the role of the federal government, the private sector, local governments, parents and teachers are. And it will, I expect, have more detail about when we can expect the different kinds of activities to be achieved.
Q How big is the task ahead in terms of putting all the classrooms in? Do you have a percentage of how many classrooms currently are --
MR. SALLET: Yes. The President announced today that by the end of this school year all of the K through 12 schools in California will have access to the Internet. Right now, only about three percent of the classrooms in America have access to the Internet. A larger percentage of schools do, but in many schools the Internet access is not made available to students. And what we're doing today is announcing a cooperative effort that will really bring the benefits of technology including the Internet to students.
Q Are we talking public schools here, or private schools as well?
MR. SALLET: We're talking all K through 12 schools in California.
Q I mean, the national project, not California.
MR. SALLET: I think the President has outlined a vision for education, generally. I think, obviously, different sectors will be worked with in different ways. But I think the vision focuses on the children, on the students, and the need to have them be prepared for the next century's economy.
Q Are you saying there's no distinction -- you haven't answered the question. Is he talking about public schools or is he talking about all schools? I mean, which schools are going to be --
MR. SALLET: The President in his statement today, the specific statement about California deals with private and public schools. Because the plan hasn't been formulated, it's difficult to know precisely how each category will be dealt with in the national plan. But the President made clear his commitment to all of the K through 12 students of America.
Q Whether they're public or private?
MR. SALLET: Yes.
Q What's the approximate cost of accomplishing the specific goals announced today?
MR. SALLET: It's very difficult for us to give an approximation. We believe it's in the millions of dollars. It's difficult because so much of this will be accomplished through volunteer effort, and therefore, although the value will be in millions, the cost may be lower because businesses are working through volunteer efforts with local communities. That may make the cost less than the value in that sense. We will be looking to the companies themselves to give us a sense, as they achieve these goals, to give us a sense of the cost and value.
Q Any federal money involved at all?
MR. SALLET: This is a private effort that was announced by the President today, led by the President in cooperation with the private sector.
Q When you say voluntary effort, that means not only are they donating the hardware and software, but some of the training, the getting it up and running would be done by community volunteers as well?
MR. SALLET: Well, for example, some of the announcement that was made today included Internet access and free services -- America Online for a year -- to participating schools. That would be in addition to volunteer efforts.
Q Does that mean nothing -- from the federal government at all?
MR. SALLET: The initiatives that the President announced today are private sector initiatives done in cooperation with the President and, obviously, with local government.
Now, let me emphasize that the federal role in technology is very important, although the federal government contributes a relatively small percentage -- some people think about six percent of the total K through 12 dollars for public schools in America. By some estimates, the federal government contributes somewhere between 25 percent and a third of the funds that are used by local schools for technology. And the President made specific reference to the fact that he hoped to announce soon the awards of the Technology Learning Channel Challenge Grants which is an effort that includes federal funds, working with local communities to bring this technology into life.
Q Would the national plan involve private sector -- of hardware as well?
MR. SALLET: I would expect that the national plan would look to contributions from all participants, including the federal government.
Q But I'm confused on how much in public dollars will be used for the initiative.
MR. SALLET: The specific goals in California that the President announced today are being paid for out of private resources.
Q What about the larger initiative?
MR. SALLET: The larger initiative, as I've said, we expect will include both federal and private resources because, as I've said, the federal government has a very special role that it is now playing in providing funding that's used by local school districts through different programs, for example, including Title I in the Education Department, funds that are used by local schools to help purchase and use technology.
Q Why isn't this a more proper function for the state government to perform? Why should the federal government come in here and unveil an arrangement for servicing California schools?
MR. SALLET: Well, we heard today in our meeting, in the President's and the Vice President's meetings with CEOs from the private sector is that there is a need here for a national vision to respond to a national challenge, a national challenge about whether our students and our children will be prepared for the next century.
The federal government has an important role to play as catalyst, and it will have other roles to play. But it must play those roles with state and local governments and with local communities because the leadership set by the President must be implemented through the vision and the hard work and the dedication of communities across America.
Q Does this program have the blessings of the state authorities?
MR. SALLET: The program today includes a program specifically that was begun earlier with the state government. That's the Pac-Bell initiative that the President mentioned.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me just -- I think I know what you're driving at, Mark. Let me just say one thing. The White House certainly credits the efforts of Governor Wilson to address this question. The President mentioned that Pac-Bell has been involved in providing digital, high-speed telephone wiring to schools in California and that's a specific initiative that was launched in partnership between the state and that company. And part of today's initiative is building on that and accelerating.
What we have heard from some of the officials we've dealt with is, while there's been a lot of discussion here in California -- California faces a very difficult funding crisis because of the state's fiscal situation. And, more important, there needed to be what many of the private sector leaders described as "critical mass." There really needed to be something that would pull these companies together and really light a fire to get actual work done. And that was the opportunity that the White House saw some time ago when we began working on the announcement that was made today.
But we do make it clear, we certainly credit the efforts of Governor Wilson. I don't know whether -- we've not had direct consultations with the Governor's office on today's announcement. We have been in contact with California state officials, including the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Q How do you spell Sallet?
MR. MCCURRY: Jonathan B. Sallet. S-a-l-l-e-t. Says it right here on his card. And his official title, again, is he's the Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce, and he's also the Director of Commerce's Office of Policy and Strategic Planning.
Q I may have missed something in the beginning, but when did you say that the President would come up with this initiative?
MR. MCCURRY: We expect it will be later this fall.
Q Mike, I also may have missed something in the beginning. But we heard -- to that -- and electricity and accessibility to -- and I was just wondering if there were -- comparisons to putting a man on the moon and connecting children to the Internet by the year 2000?
MR. MCCURRY: That is the type of broad vision that many of the leaders today called for. And that's the type of vision I'd think you would imagine the President would address as he unveils formally a national strategy for doing some of the things that we committed to do here in California today. In other words, that's the news we're going to try to make later in the fall.
One other item for you. Several of you all have asked about the President's views on both the continuing resolution and on the Medicare "plan" -- and I put quotations around plan -- that was unveiled by the Speaker today. We are having Leon Panetta address that in a little session he's having with the wires back in Washington. We expect to have the transcript on that probably before departure here. If not here, we'll have it later on in the day in Los Angeles.
Anything else before we all bolt?
Q Both those topics --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is he's going to address both those topics.
Q Mike, has the President spoken to Holbrooke lately?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not. He's had good conversations with Tony Lake, who's talked to Ambassador Holbrooke. I expect the President will have a debrief from Assistant Secretary Holbrooke on Monday. Probably Monday afternoon. They are still working on the details of that.
Q Any idea how long the President slept last night?
MR. MCCURRY: How the President --
Q How long the President slept last night?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he got a good snooze on Air Force One, as did several of us. And then he didn't have any early morning activities. He's making do on the adrenaline that comes from this non-campaign week. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:20 A.M. PDT