Thursday, April 1, 1999

9:27 a.m.


(9:27 a.m.)

VOICES: Good morning.


I am very pleased to be joined today by the Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, and the Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher. The Departments of Justice, Education and Health and Human Services have worked together in an unprecedented partnership to develop a new and, I think, wonderful and exciting safe schools and healthy students initiative. Through the initiative, the three Departments will providing funding and technical advice to communities to help implement comprehensive, community-wide strategies which create safe and drug-free schools and promote healthy, positive futures for our children.

The funding and assistance will help our State and local officials develop strategies to promote healthy childhood development and address the problems of school violence and drugs in the school. I know of no other time that three cabinet agencies have come together to offer a consolidated grant program like this. We are pooling resources, both dollars and expertise, so that applicants can go through a single streamlined application process. I do not like the idea of people having to go from one department to another, when we are trying to focus on a comprehensive effort.

And up to 50 applicants will receive support from the three agencies for up to three years. This support will help students, schools and communities receive enhanced comprehensive services in the area of education, mental health, social services, law enforcement, and juvenile justice resources. In the law enforcement arena specifically, communities will receive support for activities such as school resource officers and their work that is so vital in relating the community to the schools.

Communities are coming together across the Nation to provide services for children. They have learned that no one group can address the problem by themselves. Schools need police officers to work with them to ensure school safety. Children need health to grow in a strong, positive way.

The schools must rely on the community to provide resources. So, as I talk with mayors, with county commissioners, the communities that are working are the communities that have come together. Now, these three Departments have come together. And we will work with communities to try to do everything we can to get dollars to the communities, technical assistance to the communities, in ways that will ensure safe schools and healthy children.

I would now like to call on my wonderful friend and colleague, Dick Riley.

SECRETARY RILEY: Thank you so much, Janet. It is a pleasure to be here with the Attorney General and the Surgeon General. I am the only one here that is not a "General."


SECRETARY RILEY: I guess I am more of a sergeant.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I'm just an adjutant.

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, that's good.

It is a pleasure to be here. And it is a very important purpose of us coming together. We do not see enough of that across agency lines.

I am very pleased that this school year has been a quieter school year than last year. Last year, as you know, we had those tragic instances in schools that really focused the Nation on school violence. We have done a lot of things over the year. As the Attorney General pointed out, communities have been working together, schools, mental health folks, Justice, all across the country. And I think that things seem to be working better this year. You stay concerned about that all the time.

The Attorney General and I, for example, went to T.C. Williams High School and had a conversation with high school students most of the morning, a very in-depth, interesting conversation after these occurrences. We created an early warning guide that went out to all the schools; 100,000 have been distributed, and we are in a second printing now. I think that has probably been helpful. We certainly have had a positive response from it.

The White House Conversation on School Violence was very widely attended, and press coverage was extensive. Project Serve came out of that discussion, where we have a program of some $12 million identified to help areas that are in a violence problem, to have mental health services and other things to help with it.

This particular grant competition is really a comprehensive effort for a community-wide way of looking at violence and drug abuse. And I will tell you, an education that works well, it is situations where all the pieces fit together. I do not care if you are looking at high standards or whatever measure. I visit a lot of schools a year -- 60-70. And I will tell you, those schools that are doing well have wonderful partnerships within the community -- with business, with colleges and universities, with community groups, with mental health and others, with law enforcement.

I was at a very interesting school over in Long Island a couple of days ago. They had a Comet Program in the middle school and a Star Program in high school. These are at-risk kids that have special attention counseling and small classrooms and after-school programs. And they have had some 2,000 kids go through this program in Hempstead, New York. And all of them have finished high school. These were very much at-risk children. Ninety-eight percent have gone to college.

So, it is amazing when you have everybody working together what you can do. So, it is a real pleasure for me to join my colleagues today for the establishment of this multi-agency, comprehensive community-wide effort, to show how, when you work together, how much you can do.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Thank you very much, Dick.

And now, Dr. Satcher.

DR. SATCHER: Good morning.

First, let me say that I am personally delighted to be able to be here with Attorney General Reno and Secretary Riley.

I also want to say that Secretary Donna Shalala would have liked very much to be here. This is one of her priority areas of interest -- the health and safety of children. And the idea of being able to work together with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education is something that is very exciting to her. So, we are very pleased to be able to share in this very important interdepartmental, or interagency, endeavor.

We have been celebrating the bicentennial of the Public Health Service. We were founded in 1798. There are some lessons that stand out in our history. And I think this project represents some of those key lessons.

One, there is no better investment that we can make than to invest in our children -- the most vulnerable, in many ways, among us. And this project represents that kind of investment.

Another lesson is, in public health, we invest best when we invest in prevention. And the focus here on the prevention of violence, the prevention of unsafe environments as it relates to children, is a very important focus, whether we are talking about preventing mental health problems or the early identification of problems, or intervening early in order to prevent violence and unsafe environments. This effort is a major effort in that direction.

A third lesson which I think we have only recently learned in public health is the importance of partnerships. And in this case, at the Federal level, this interagency partnership among Justice and Education and the Department Health and Human Services in the interest of children is a very critical effort.

It will allow communities to come together. It will allow schools and churches and police and Justice and others in the local community to come together in the interest of children -- in the interest of their education, in the interest of their safety, in the interest of their healthy development.

And the final lesson, I think, that is reflected here is that, in all of our endeavors in public health, we need to use the most rigorous science and scientific approaches. We are using the public health approach here in dealing with the very important problem of children -- proven approaches, in terms of comprehensive, integrated community strategies, working in the interest of children.

In addition, this project is one in which we are investing in evaluation -- evaluative research. So, we should also learn, for the future, strategies that will help us to better serve children and to better create safe, positive environments for education, development and violence prevention.

For all of those reasons, we are delighted to be a part of this effort.

I do want to recognize our colleagues in SAMSA especially. I believe Mike English is here, who has played a major role in working with colleagues in Education and Justice in putting together this project. And we are very enthusiastic about working with you in this endeavor.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, $300 million -- are you ready for questions now?


QUESTION: $300 million, of course, is a lot of money, but it is not a lot of money when you consider the problem that you are approaching. The General mentioned evaluative research. I presume that there is going to be some kind of monitoring of these programs to judge their effectiveness and to see whether this should be spread nationwide.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Here is the theory that I think we have all operated under. Oftentimes, a community understands its needs and resources better than we do from a long distance in Washington. In many instances, the community has resources -- a private, not-for-profit group, a representative of the faith community -- somebody is filling a piece of it. But they need one clear program. They cannot put together a truancy program. They may need funding for a conflict resolution program or a mental health program for a child who obviously is beginning to act out in school.

This grant will enable them to say, Look, here is our overall plan, and here is the piece we need to really make it work, for example. That is one way we could approach it. What is so important is trying to figure out what works and what does not work. And so evaluation is critical to the Department of Justice, as well as to my colleagues.

But you have got to be careful. Because sometimes a program works just fine, but it will not work fine in isolation. So that is the reason the integrated approach, the comprehensive approach, by the communities and by these three Departments, I think, is so critical.

SECRETARY RILEY: Let me add to that. OERI, in my Department, the Office of Education Research and Improvement, is charged with our part of the evaluation. And then the other Departments will internally be. As the Attorney General said, what's out there working in the community is what is important. And we are evaluating that from all three directions. So it is being carefully evaluated.

QUESTION: Secretary Riley, to what do you attribute the fact that this school year has been so much quieter than last year? Is it just luck?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I think the attention that we discussed earlier, that people in the schools and parents and teachers and principals, superintendents, community leaders, all working together, really has made somewhat of a difference. You are always reluctant to say that things are very different, because you don't know what is going to happen next and you stay in constant concern about that.

But I do think that there is more attention to being concerned about the possibility of things happening that are very hard to predict. And the early warning signs was very careful to point out to people not to identify children as a bad, dangerous child -- and the mental health people were very much involved in the early warning signs -- but to look for things that you could provide health and support early to really help children who are trouble and disturbed, and maybe get them to professional service and so forth.

But the first thing is to have a plan. And of course we highly recommended every school -- of course, with the leadership of the principal -- to develop a plan. And that then causes attention to this problem and what to do to prevent it and what to do in case something happens. So, I do think there is more attention to it, and I think that is making a difference.

QUESTION: And do you think that is in all the schools now?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, in one way or another, it is in practically all of the schools, I would say. Again, this program, as was pointed out, is not going to be in all communities. But it will be in 50. Now, that is a pretty good start. And then we can use that information to expand into other communities if the evaluation shows that it is working.

QUESTION: Are you all advocating that the police should be in all school properties?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: No. I think communities understand better than we do where police should be. And it involves the citizens, the schools, the community, the police themselves, and how you can strategically place a police officer to serve both law enforcement purposes, but to develop trust on the part of the young people -- to work with them, to become mentors, to make a difference.

Sometimes, to ensure the safety of the school, the police officer may be more appropriately placed within the community. Because I think a number of schools will tell you that their problems arise from people trespassing onto the school property -- older students or others -- who don't belong there. So it really depends on the school, the community and those involved, and how we develop a comprehensive plan.

QUESTION: Was this program discussed specifically in response to the school shootings last year? Would you be doing it if it weren't for Springfield, et cetera?

SECRETARY RILEY: The Attorney General has been talking with me about this concept for a number of months. And I do think, when we --


SECRETARY RILEY: At least six years. I wasn't going to say that, but that is true. And we have been working together, and with HHS, closely related with what we do, and with Justice, of course, in this area, and with Drug Enforcement. So, it was a growing idea. When these incidents occurred, certainly I think it added emphasis to let's come together and look at a community-wide approach, comprehensive approach, and then it has come about. So, yes, I think it did impact it, but it was something we were working on, pondering about.

DR. SATCHER: Can I just add one thing?

I think the trend toward interagency cooperation in the interest of the health of children is one that is really growing among these three Departments. Because there are a lot of other examples that we are thinking about and working on. But the common concern is what can we do to improve the health and education and safety of children.

QUESTION: If this has been the kind of program Ms. Reno has been interested in since she became Attorney General, I was wondering why is this kind of thing such a high priority for you?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Because, as I said rather uneloquently, no one group can do it by themselves. Police chiefs and police officers on the line tell me, I cannot arrest and prosecute and put people in jail and solve the problem; we've got to do more in terms of prevention. Schools tell me that they cannot teach their children unless they feel that children are safe. The community cannot address its problems unless the school is functioning correctly.

We are all in this together. We need the medical community to address the mental health issues that precipitate some of the violence that we see. We need to work with drug abuse experts to figure out how we can detect at the earliest moment drug abuse on the part of a youngster, and do something about it that's effective.

As I have said long before, it is not just people coming together in a comprehensive manner, but it is providing comprehensive services over time. We are beginning to talk about zero to 3 and how we can work together in a more comprehensive effort to ensure that children have a healthy start in life. Because the doctors have convinced me, long ago -- and Dr. Satcher has been just wonderful in this regard -- that unless we make an early investment in children, we are going to see the results in health problems, in discipline problems, in criminal justice problems down the road.

So, I think raising children is the most difficult job I know. It takes hard work, intelligence, a lot of luck, and dedication. But it is one of the most rewarding. But you just don't provide a child education. You provide the child health care, education, supervision, guidance, discipline, limits, and love. And if you can get all of those together, you can make a difference.

There are too many children that don't have the opportunity to have that happen. And communities have got to come together to support families, who are probably the best care-givers of all.

SECRETARY RILEY: I just wanted to say the Attorney General, of course, is the chief law enforcement officer in this country. And she is a tough law enforcement officer. And I am so proud of the fact that she, as strong as she is in law enforcement, is very sensitive to the problems of children, the causes of crime. And I have always observed that in her leadership. You can be tough on law enforcement and still be caring about people and what causes difficulties.

We had together the top security officers in the country from the largest school districts in the country for about a two- or three-day conference when some of these incidents were occurring. And the interesting thing to me is these were law enforcement people, and I mean in big areas -- Chicago and Miami and L.A. and New York -- whatever. Their ultimate point was, if you want to prevent these problems in schools, have smaller schools, have smaller classrooms, where the teacher gets to know the child and where the children know each other and where they can become connected with their life in the school.

So, you can be tough on law enforcement and still be caring about prevention and people.

QUESTION: Is Federal law enforcement in a position to do the kind of things you want to do -- I mean Federal law enforcement as opposed to State and local?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Again, what we have tried to do is to develop a partnership with State and local communities, recognizing that Washington does not have all the answers, that Washington and Federal law enforcement don't have all the answers. You have heard me many times at this table say the Feds used to come to town and tell us what to do -- not even asking, What is your problem?

There are communities across this Nation that are doing extraordinary things in law enforcement and in a whole range of areas. Federal law enforcement, in the form of the Department of Justice, has a number of different opportunities. We have an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that has been an institution that has made a significant difference.

From our perspective, we can do a lot, in working with local communities, in the COPS program. And that is what -- a major portion of this grant will rely on that effort. It is looking at the pieces of each Department and saying, instead of a grant here and a grant there, how can we get monies to communities in the wisest, most comprehensive, most effective manner possible, without having to ask communities to go, hat in hand, to one department, and then another, but to do it in a comprehensive way that makes sense.

And some of it can provide enforcement. It is not just all prevention. It is enforcement, in terms of a crime problem in a school, police can work with others to identify the gang that is causing the problem. And it may be that we need to relate to Federal intelligence on just what this gang is and what they are doing. If we have the comprehensive partnership in place, we are going to be able to do it far more effectively.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, may I change the subject. On the question of whether police have stop orders for "driving while black." The Justice Department has established what they call the Bias Traffic Stops Racial Profiling Working Group to study this issue and develop recommendations. But the COPS office seems to think that they cannot release the names of the people who have been appointed to this task force. Is this group a secret? And if not, can you direct them to --

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Let me check and see what the issue is. And I will ask Myron to get back to you. I am not aware of the problem.

QUESTION: And kind of on the substance of that, do you support legislation that would require police to gather statistics about the race of everybody that they pull in order to see whether there is a problem here?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: We are exploring just what would be involved in that effort. And I, as a matter of fact, received information on it yesterday. I want to pursue it and see just what can be done. Because I think there are so many policemen who are doing a good, fine job. They are not profiling. They are doing an excellent job. And what we have got to do is show what is actually being done as opposed to what people may think is being done. And the more we can be open and straightforward about our efforts, the more confidence people will have in the process.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, back to safe schools for just a minute. As a practical matter, is there a limit to the size of the community that can that apply for this, or is it virtually open to any community?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: It is open to a variety of communities, both urban and rural. Because one of the things that has been important to me is for all of us to remember that crime or school dropouts or some of these tragedies that we see can happen in small towns. I have been to Jonesboro, Arkansas. It is a lovely area. It is not a big metropolis.

This type of tragedy happens everywhere. And we have got to show people what can work in big communities, medium-sized communities or more rural communities.

SECRETARY RILEY: Let me add. The general scheme of the plan is for grants to be $3 million, generally, for urban areas, $2 million for suburban, and $1 million for rural, just as a result of the number of children involved. And they would be three-year grants. Of course, that depends on the funding every year. And it also depends on programs that are working, as we follow them.

So, you are talking about, say, for an urban area, a very significant interagency involvement -- some $9 million -- over a three-year period. It is quite significant.

DR. SATCHER: I think what I saw as important and impressive was that as long as communities could commit to certain things, in terms of school safety or a certain kind of partnership among different community organizations -- mental health services and preventive intervention, the appropriate policies and commitment to this. That was what was important in terms of the applicants, in terms of what they had to be able to demonstrate that they could bring to the table.

QUESTION: I come from a community of 2,500 people. And we all live in a community of many millions of people. Both these communities can apply for the grants?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Both, as I understand it, can apply for the grants. And what is important, again, is that it may be -- I do not know, I've got to find out about your 2,500-person community, but it may be --

SECRETARY RILEY: The school district applies for the grant.

DR. SATCHER: The school district.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: And so it may be larger. But I do not want any part of America to be left out. Because it is a problem throughout the country, whether -- and in some instances, yes, you need more money for larger metropolitan areas. But the lack of services in the smaller, more rural, community oftentimes creates challenges for service delivers that don't exist in larger communities. Where do you find -- I bet you don't have a mental health professional, or at least not more than one, in the community of 2,500. How do you deal with that? How do you provide the counseling?

These are the issues that we want to address through this grant system.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, have you recently met with Ken Starr to discuss your impending investigation of his office?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I do not comment.

QUESTION: Changing the subject. I wanted to know why has been denied the extradition that had been asked by Argentina of two former employees of IBM on a major corruption scandal in Argentina, and if the judge might come here and interrogate these people, and what's going on with that?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Let me ask Myron to see just what the latest information is and what information we can provide to you. And he will follow up with you right afterwards.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, you repeatedly said that you would like to be as open with the news media as possible. Why then is DOJ considering a proposal that would restrict access to the number of officials within the building that would talk to reporters?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I was not aware that we were doing that.

QUESTION: I'm talking about Mr. Litt's proposal.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I wasn't aware that we were suggesting restricting access to who reporters could talk to. I have heard of various proposals, but I haven't considered any like that. We have tried -- what we are trying to figure out is how do we be as open as possible, while at the same time preventing leaks that are violations of disciplinary rules and the way to litigate, how we can prevent leaks of other information that may involve a criminal violation.

And that is one of the great balances that we have -- how do we do our job the right way, while at the same time being as open as possible?

QUESTION: So you do not have a proposal in front of you to restrict the number of Justice officials who can talk to reporters?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not -- if Mr. Litt's does that, I was not aware of it. I have not looked at Mr. Litt's proposal in some time. But I'm just thinking of the catalog of proposals that I have had in my mind. And I have not thought of restricting access to people in the Department. So, maybe, in answer to your question, there are others who are considering his proposal. In terms of the inventory of ideas that I have in my mind to promote openness, as well as to --

QUESTION: Well, can you give us assurances, then, that proposal will not be adopted?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I haven't seen the proposal, so I do not know. What exactly does it say?

QUESTION: My understanding is that it says that the number -- the people within the Department would be restricted who could talk to reporters -- to a certain level of high officials.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: There may be, in terms of Department positions that would be restricted. But I cannot imagine saying to somebody: You cannot talk to a reporter. I wouldn't be able to stop and say "good morning" to you all. Or, actually, you all are never there in the morning -- I couldn't stop and say "good evening" to you all.


ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I will be happy to check that out so that I am as straightforward as I can be. I did not recall it, or I may have -- I just have got to check the language and make sure, but I have not been considering it as one of the proposals that I would support.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, in the last year, has there been an increase in the number of leak investigations? Do you keep track of the numbers that --

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not looked at the numbers lately. I will ask Myron to give you whatever is public information.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, what started out as a punitive mission by NATO in the Balkans has turned into what seems to be a much more serious conflict. Have you had any conversations or any meetings with Director Freeh to talk about security or to talk about the types of things that we should be doing domestically while our armed forces are engaged overseas?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not talked directly to Director Freeh about it. I have talked with representatives of the FBI.

QUESTION: Can you give us any guidance as to which areas you are looking at?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Just as I have always said, I do not focus on what we are doing, because I do not think that contributes to security. But we are taking all appropriate precautions.

QUESTION: Secretary Riley, what kind of help can school superintendents get in designing the prevention programs? They may resort to suspensions and expulsions now, and maybe prevention is not high on their list. How do they design a program that's going to be funded by your program?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, the early warning signs clearly lays out how they should go about dealing with prevention and handling of violence in the schools. And it has served as a very good model for that. Again, it involves a lot of people other than people in my Department.

This particular program, of course, will be a competitive grants program, and would just be available in approximately 50 communities or school districts. So, it is not like something that would be available everywhere. But, as was pointed out by the Attorney General, things that work well in a community -- and if this turns out to work well, then of course it could be something that would be very easily replicated as a joint effort between the three agencies.

QUESTION: Piggy-backing on that, looking forward to the ESEA, would there be any interest in having proposals that would maybe require schools to coordinate their efforts?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, we are now in the final stages of getting our ESEA reauthorization out. And we are working on all of the different aspects of that. I do not think that there is any language thus far that deals with that specifically, requiring that, in terms of authorization. Of course you don't need authorization; we have it here.

Those titles that are under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, though, we are going to try to make sure they are well-coordinated within themselves, serving the purpose of getting standards into the classroom from the State level, down into the classroom, helping with early childhood development -- those things that we think would pertain to quality teachers, with a special emphasis on professional development of teachers. Those are some of the main issues that we are talking about in ESEA.

QUESTION: Attorney General, the McDade-Murtha vision, which is aimed at what its authors deem to be prosecutorial abuse of discretion is due to take effect I think in less than three weeks. The Department has been supportive of a measure sponsored by Senator Hatch, which would correct what are deemed to be some undue burdens which McDade-Murtha places on Federal prosecutors. What is your assessment of the likelihood that the Hatch provision will pass in time to correct McDade-Murtha? And do you have a fall-back position if Hatch does not succeed?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: What we have tried to do is to prepare if the law goes into effect on April the 19th. But we want to work with Senator Hatch and others to try to develop legislation that does not abolish the McDade amendment, but that addresses the concerns that everyone who supported the amendment expressed -- that lawyers in the Department of Justice should be subject to the ethical rules of the States where they practice or where they are appearing, but, at the same time, that there be some certainty in what rule applies.

Because it is very difficult for a prosecutor who is conducting a telemarketing investigation involving 40 States to know just what rule may apply. And we don't think that they should have to pick and choose at their peril. There should be some certainty.

We want to make sure that important Federal practices and procedures, such as lawyers, such as prosecutors advising police officers who may be making contact with represented parties, that we do this in an orderly, appropriate manner. It is far better, for the effectiveness of the investigation and to ensure that the steps taken are legal are correct, that the prosecutor be able to work with the investigator in that situation.

What we are trying to do is, as our main position and fall-back position, is craft something that everybody can appreciate and that will not interfere with the duty of a Federal prosecutor to enforce Federal law according to Federal standards and procedures.

VOICE: Last question.

QUESTION: Just to follow up. When you say you are trying to craft something that would meet those specifications, am I to understand that is what Senator Hatch has proposed and is in the process of revision?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: We are working with Senator Hatch. His legislation provides a very helpful step forward. We just want for people to understand that compliance with ethical standards is one of the most important things that we seek in the Department of Justice. We hold our prosecutors to the highest ethical standards, and I am very proud of the job that they do.

We want to make sure that they are subjected to appropriate disciplinary rules in the States where they practice. But we need to have certainty in what rules will apply, and we need to make sure that Federal law is not contravened by State action.

QUESTION: On the independent counsel law, what is the status of the report that Mr. Gekas' committee had requested of Mr. Holder?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: My understanding is that it is due on April the 9th, and we will meet that date.

QUESTION: Have you seen a draft copy of the report?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I've seen a draft.

QUESTION: Can you just give us an indication of what the proposals will be?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I think it better that we submit it to Congress first, as we promised.

VOICE: Thank you very much.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: And I will follow up and check on that, because I may have misread it. But that at least had not entered my head.

(Whereupon, at 10:08 a.m., the press conference concluded.)