THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary
| For Immediate Release
| February 5, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: The second announcement is the President has
named Ben Johnson as Assistant to the President and Director of the White House
Office on the President's Initiative for One America. This is a new office the
President has created following up on the work of the Initiative on Race.
Many of you know Ben from his current position as the Deputy
Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison.
He's been in that office since 1993. Before joining the administration, Ben
served in a number of positions in the government of the District of Columbia,
including Administrator of Housing and Environmental Administration and
Administrator of Business Regulation. And he also served in the Carter White
House as Director of Consumer Programs.
Q -- two weeks this permanent office on race is going to open
up here at the White House. Is this a response to many critics who have said
that the race initiative lost its luster at the very beginning, and that's why
the President wants to have this office, or is it a response to the
recommendations from this Race Advisory Board?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, it's most definitely the latter. It's a
response to -- the Race Advisory Board made some recommendations late last
year; the President and his staff have taken a long, hard look at the best way
to build on the Advisory Board and the initiative to date and made the decision
that, particularly with the talents of someone like Ben Johnson here at the
White House, the best way to move forward was to develop this new office so
that this kind of work can continue both for the next two years and for years
Q -- Do you see a lot of meetings and presidential town hall
meetings now, since they were kind of put to the wayside last year?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Ben is going to take the
opportunity to figure out how he's going to set up the office and to move
forward. I think he'll be involved both with issues of trying to continue to
raise dialogue and also, in working throughout the White House and throughout
the government, on how we can continue to keep a high priority on the issues
the President laid out in the initiative.
Q -- Joe, can you tell us, on a new race office, the Advisory
Board had recommended there be a permanent commission to deal with racial
issues. Why did the White House decide the office route instead of --
MR. LOCKHART: I think what the Advisory Board suggested -- it's
my understanding -- is an outside council. And I think the President's view
from the beginning -- because there were also some calls and an internal debate
at the beginning whether the President's Advisory Board would be an outside
council that reported back or something that was more closely connected to the
White House. And the President's view from the beginning is that this is an
issue that's important to him and he wants the White House and he wants to be
personally involved. So he thought it was a better route to take to keep it
within the White House.
And I think also we are able to take advantage of the unique
talents of Ben Johnson because he is here at the White House, and that was also
important in making this decision.
Q -- Does it have anything to do with the fact that the
Advisory Board was considered unwieldy or the public nature of the Advisory
Board was considered unwieldy?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think quite to the contrary, the Advisory
Board -- the President had a choice when he set up the Advisory Board which was
to either go without an outside body that made independent recommendations, or
appoint an Advisory Board that he would personally work with. He made the
decision to try to keep it here, to work more closely with them. And that
decision is perpetuated, I think, in the decision to set up this office.