Lockhart Press Briefing Excerpts, February 5, 1999


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
February 5, 1999


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 beyond.

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.

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Lockhart Press Briefing Excerpts, February 5, 1999

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