THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY BRUCE REED, DIRECTOR OF DOMESTIC POLICY COUNCIL
The Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. TOIV: Let me introduce Bruce Reed, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor. He will talk about the service summit coming up this weekend. We also have Steve Silverman here. Steve is the Deputy Cabinet Secretary and he's been coordinating the administration's involvement in the summit. And so Steve will also be available here.
MR. REED: All right. I'm just the warmup act. As you know, the President will be spending Sunday and Monday in Philadelphia as part of the President's Summit on America's Future, which was announced here at the White House in the East Room the week of the Inaugural in January. And I'll run through the schedule in a minute, but we see this as a great opportunity to focus the nation's attention on the importance of service as well as the many challenges that our children face.
The President has a long interest in service. National service was a signature issue in his first campaign in 1992. AmeriCorps is one of his proudest achievements from his first term. It has helped give more than 50,000 young Americans the chance to earn their way through college in return for giving something back to their community. He has talked about service in both of his Inaugural addresses; he sees it as an important part of his legacy. And this summit in Philadelphia is an ideal non-partisan chance to enlist every American in this cause.
The summit starts off Sunday morning. We'll be leaving here very early. And the President, General Powell, President Bush, President Carter and Mayor Rendell will start off with a kickoff event at a high school stadium in Germantown. And then the major event of Sunday is thousands of volunteers, as well as the President and Mrs. Clinton, the Vice President and Mrs. Gore cleaning up a section of an eight-mile stretch of Germantown and wiping out graffiti in that neighborhood. Later in the day, I think the President will attend a church service, and then there's a gala on service in the evening that the President and General Powell and President Bush will all take part in, at which the President will give out 10 Presidential Service awards, which is an annual event that he's been doing since he got here, to a number of volunteer and service organizations from around the country.
The following morning there's the main plenary session from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., at which all the Presidents will speak, and the President is the final keynote speaker of the morning. And then they will all sign a declaration of commitment, committing themselves to follow up on the work of the summit. The President will go to a lunch with a number of CEOs whose corporations have made major commitments to the summit, and then he'll go an do an AmeriCorps event at a school in Philadelphia, and talk with students who are AmeriCorps volunteers who are involved in literacy tutoring.
And then I believe he may also take part in some of the breakout sessions that are going on that afternoon.
The summit is attracting over 2,000 people from around the country -- 30 governors, 140 communities -- each state and each community is bringing a delegation, as well as a number of corporations and non-profits that are making commitments and taking part, and there will be breakout sessions Monday afternoon where all of these communities develop their own plan for how to make the summit -- how to put into action the commitments that have been made as a follow-up to the summit.
And then the President returns late Monday afternoon. Mrs. Clinton will stay over and she speaks on Tuesday morning.
So, with that, why don't I open it up to questions.
Q Is there any specific goal for the summit, any signing of a certain amount of volunteers, something specific that you'll get out of it?
MR. REED: Barry points out that the church service is not actually on the schedule yet, it's just a possibility.
Well, we have a couple goals from the summit. One is that we think this is the best opportunity we've ever had to capture the nation's attention on the importance of service. So we hope that every American who's out there watching and listening will take this message to heart.
Second, the federal government is going to be bringing a number of its own commitments to the table. We've been working with all the agencies to put forward our own plans. A number of agencies are going to adopt schools as a result of this. A number of agencies are going to dramatically increase their commitment to mentoring. So there's some concrete actions that the federal government and federal employees will take. And then I think the President also sees as a chance to highlight the success of AmeriCorps and to talk about what AmeriCorps volunteers are doing around the country.
Q Should the government be in the business of requiring Americans to volunteer?
MR. REED: Well, I think that we believe that it's very important for the nation's leaders to challenge all Americans to join in solving our country's problems. As the President has said, the era of big government is over, but the era of big challenges is not. Government can do a lot to address the challenges that our children face, but we won't get there unless every citizen also does their part as well.
Q The question is, should the government be in a position of requiring Americans to volunteer. For instance, the state of Maryland requires high school students to volunteer to get a high school diploma -- some of them haven't done it. There is some suggestion from the Democratic Leadership Council that if any student gets federal assistance, college aid, that they should be required to do community service. Should the federal -- should the government be in the position of requiring Americans to volunteer?
MR. REED: Well, the President has been very supportive of what Maryland is doing. And he believes that service requirements for high school students are a very good idea, that every school should make service part of its basic ethic. We have not supported the DLC idea. And AmeriCorps is an example of voluntary service, but --
Q Does the President not support or oppose the DLC's suggestion that federal student loans be tied to service? Does he reject that?
MR. REED: I think the -- there was a big debate long ago -- the first debate on national service in the early '90s before the President was elected engaged this whole issue of compulsory service, and Congress was unable to reach agreement on it. We came back with our own proposal in the '92 campaign. And that's all that the President has supported.
Q So the President opposes mandatory public service in exchange for federal student loans?
MR. REED: I think that -- as I said, he's never come out for that. I mean, I haven't asked him that specific question. But that's not the principle of -- it's related to the principle of AmeriCorps, but it goes much further than that.
Q Bruce, are you all planning to support any greater either tax incentives or other incentives to get people to volunteer or make financial contributions -- charitable contributions?
MR. REED: I think we don't have any plans right now to support any additional tax incentives.
Q But Bruce, some of the experts say that it's easy to get people to come out and do these one-day, quick hit things like cleaning up graffiti in Germantown, but that it's very difficult to get people to stay in for the long haul -- the treachery, sometimes danger of volunteer work. What is this besides a photo op? How are you going to get people to overcome what has been a problem throughout the years in terms of volunteering?
MR. REED: Well, I think you raise a very good point. For us, service is a full-time, year-round deal. And one of the most important aspects of this summit is that not only is there going to be a three-day meeting in Philadelphia, but General Powell has set up a non-profit organization that is going to hold everyone accountable for the commitments they bring to Philadelphia so that we make sure that some real good comes of this.
And I think that we've put forward a number of ideas, including AmeriCorps and our literacy program, America Reads, which are devoted to full-time service, because what AmeriCorps volunteers do, among other things, is help organize other volunteers. Some people aren't able to volunteer all the time, but from the standpoint of a young person who needs a mentor or a young person who needs tutoring, it's very important that they have a stable presence in their lives. And all the studies that have shown how effective mentoring can be highlight the need for at least one person who's there all the time.
So both our America Reads proposal, which would put forward money for 30,000 volunteer coordinators to organize an army of one million volunteer tutors, and AmeriCorps, which helps to leverage thousands and thousands of other volunteers, take your concern to heart.
Q Well, that -- I mean, the only thing they say is that very intensive training is needed to make volunteering effective. Is there going to be any new money or are we just -- where does the money come from to buy that training?
MR. REED: AmeriCorps has money. We're seeking funding increases for AmeriCorps. America Reads is a $2.75 billion proposal to help hire and train volunteer coordinators. And I think that we've learned a lot about mentoring in recent years, and many of the corporations and non-profits that are making commitments in Philadelphia now recognize that one of the most important things they can do is train people to do this right.
Q Do you know what the overall budget is for putting on this summit? And is it --
MR. REED: Budget, is that what you said?
Q -- the budget for putting it on. And is it all paid for by corporate contributions, separate fundraising? Can you talk about that?
MR. REED: Yes, the President is a co-chair of the summit, but the actual operation is handled by a non-profit. There are a number -- Steve just handed me a list of summit sponsors. We weren't involved in arranging either these sponsors or -- I don't know what the budget is. I'm sure that if you could get through to the summit press office, they could give you an answer. But the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is one; the Ewing Kauffman Foundation is another; the Kellogg Foundation is another; the Packard Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trust are all -- is that it for the sponsors, or are those the major ones?
MR. SILVERMAN: There are a number of large sort of corporate sponsors -- Novartis, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, NYNEX, Allstate. That's sort of a --
Q Can we just get a copy of that?
MR. TOIV: Is that just the press release?
MR. SILVERMAN: I think so, yes. So I'll get it out to Barry.
Q How much discussion or attention do you expect to be paid in Philadelphia to the idea of mandatory community service? Mandatory volunteerism is an oxymoron.
MR. REED: Well, I think the President intends to talk about the importance of high school service. And I don't know how much attention the debate over mandatory service will get. I mean, you guys are the first ones to bring it up. I think that there will be a broad umbrella of organizations there that will be looking to expand their efforts. And we don't see this as a choice between volunteerism and government, we think we need both. We think that many of our problems aren't part-time, they're full-time, and that's why it's important to have full-time service like AmeriCorps. And there are lots of problems that volunteers can't solve where government is necessary.
Q With so many companies -- I think I saw a statistic in one report saying 80 percent of them now have volunteer programs -- with so many companies going into this, is there a danger of companies putting too much undue pressure on employees to do this kind of volunteer work?
MR. REED: I think -- my impression is that most Americans want to volunteer, most Americans want to give something back, and the main constraints they have are finding the time to do it or hooking up with the opportunity to do it. And so companies that give their employees the time to go volunteer, or companies that organize volunteer efforts so that a worker doesn't have to thumb through the phone book to find someplace to go volunteer will be welcomed by most Americans.
Q Well, are you concerned about companies possibly making promotions or even keeping jobs contingent on doing a certain amount of work? Some companies are asking for a certain number of hours at work already.
MR. REED: I don't think that's likely to happen. I think some companies have offered employees the chance to take paid time off to go volunteer, but I really don't think that either workers are going to feel coerced or that workers are going to be troubled by this whole thing. As I said, the volunteer spirit goes to the heart of what America has always been about, and I think most people want the chance.
Q How do you get around the problem you have now where you have elderly people with a lot of expertise, people out of the military who could go in, work in the schools and help the children and run into a brick wall because the teacher unions see that as a threat to their jobs?
MR. REED: Well, I think that one of the reasons we're putting forward this America Reads legislation is that right now the schools aren't organized to handle an influx of volunteers. And most teachers would welcome the help, but they don't want to be in the business of having to train individual tutors or keep track of their whereabouts, especially if the tutors are -- the volunteers are going to show up one day and then not show up the next. So that's why we think it's very important to have coordinators who will be reliable and will handle the work of training and organizing the volunteers.
Thanks. See you in Philadelphia. Thanks.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:06 P.M. EDT