TRANSCRIPT OF REMARKS BY AGRICULTURE SECRETARY MIKE JOHANNS, INTERIOR SECRETARY DIRK KEMPTHORNE, OMB DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF MANAGEMENT CLAY JOHNSON, AND U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CIVIL WORKS STEVEN STOCKTON, DURING THE LAUNCH OF A NEW, ONE-STOP, INTERAGENCY WEBSITE FOR MAKING RESERVATIONS ON FEDERAL RECREATION LANDS
WASHINGTON, D.C.-MARCH 28, 2007
USDA DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS TERRI TEUBER: Our principals will be happy to answer questions following the formal remarks. If you could hold questions till then, that would be great.
With that, it's my pleasure to introduce our first speaker - actually, our first two speakers have quite a bit in common. They were both former mayors and former governors, and work hard to coordinate with states to bring that same commitment to coordination to the federal government, and that's why we're all here today. So with that:
Dirk Kempthorne was confirmed as the 49th Secretary of the Department of the Interior in May of last year, and he has already earned a reputation for having a "walk-around" style of management, is how his folks describe it, and has certainly traveled the country to get input from the American people. And I will now turn it over to Secretary Kempthorne.
INTERIOR SECRETARY DIRK KEMPTHORNE: Thank you very much. And Secretary Johanns, thank you for the courtesy. And it's a pleasure to be here in your area of responsibility.
To all of you, it's a delight to be with you. I'm proud to join with the Secretary, with Clay, and with Steve to make a very important announcement today. We're proud to announce the launching of Recreation.gov, America's one-stop opportunity for campground reservations, tour tickets, back-country recreation permits, trip planning for virtually all federal recreation sites.
This is significant. And, if you think about it, Americans love to recreate, they love to enjoy their parks, their forests, their reservoirs, their public lands, their wildlife refuges, their back-country wilderness areas. Americans should not have to stop to think about which web site they need to go to, in order to make a reservation. This way they will not have to. It truly is significant. At Recreation.gov, Americans can find, plan, and reserve their place under the stars on one Internet web site or with a single phone call. They can enjoy their America for a seamless network of recreation sites, regardless of which federal agency offers that recreational opportunity.
The Department of the Interior is the lead agency for Recreation.gov. In 2001 President Bush unveiled the president's management agenda, which included electronic government and, therefore, expanding e-government as the president's goal of utilizing technology to improve how the federal government serves our fellow citizens, businesses, agencies, and the like. As part of the e-government initiative, the Office of Management and Budget tasked the Department of the Interior to take the lead agency role. But I want to acknowledge Deputy Director Clay Johnson and the role which he played, the leadership role, at OMB on this project.
While we may have taken the lead role, I will tell you that the outcome that we celebrate today is the result of an absolutely successful partnership, and everyone pulled together. I'd like to thank my agency partners who are here with me today. Secretary Johanns and Deputy Director of Civil Works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Steven Stockton.
Though I'm proud to be here today to join in the cutting of the virtual ribbon for Recreation.gov, I'd be remiss if I did not recognize the hard work and dedication of four Interior bureaus who are partners in this initiative as well. The Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and, of course, the National Park Service. I would add, too, there's two people - Jane Moore and Rick DeLappe of the National Park Service -- that really did a great deal of effort for us.
But we're not done with this wonderful effort. We'll continue to work with our partners to add more recreation opportunities to Recreation.gov and to make certain the site becomes more robust in terms of services to the citizens that we are serving. So don't just visit Recreation.gov once; continue to come back often. You'll help us improve this wonderful site. "America the beautiful:" that's what it's about. And now we have a greater opportunity for us to access America the beautiful, so enjoy this new opportunity. I know that you will.
It's my pleasure now to introduce the Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns. And as has been noted, Mike and I have a long and very positive history together. This is one of my good friends. When the President asked him to head up the Department of Agriculture, I knew that we had someone who brought tremendous expertise. But I also know that, from many conversations with Secretary Johanns, of his love for agricultural issues. Now he's demonstrated that in a wonderful leadership role. So my friend, my former fellow mayor, my former fellow governor, and the current secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns.
AGRICULTURE SECRETARY MIKE JOHANNS: Well, thank you, Secretary Kempthorne - Dirk -- and Steve and Clay, welcome to the USDA. We're very happy to have you here. Thank you all for being here today.
Now that you're kind of familiar with the purpose of what we're doing with Recreation.gov, what I'd like to do is walk you through some slides and show you some of the really clever features on this site. And I have to tell you, after looking at it this morning, the thing that occurred to me is that I wanted to get on this site and spend a couple of hours just surfing it, because it has so many possibilities.
Well, where do you start? You start with what we have there on the board. You can access this site at www.Recreation.gov, and that's what you're going to see when you punch that in. Here you'll find featured recreation areas and can sign in to access your personal account and your previous reservations that you might have made. What makes Recreation.gov so functional, though, is the ability to search on so many criteria that are available, allowing you to either explore new locations or to search for a very specific recreation area.
So let's take a "for example," if we might. Let's say that Secretary Kempthorne wanted to take a break from the Beltway here and spend some time relaxing in his home state of Idaho, which I know he likes to do -- but never has time to do it. But let's say he were going to do that. He could easily find a campground that meets his very exacting standards. With the "Reserve your place under the stars" search function on the left side of the screen, all he would need to do is select "Idaho" from the drop-down state menu and click "Search." And this is what would come up. It's a list of campgrounds in alphabetical order. If he wanted to only see campsites with boating facilities, if he wanted to narrow his search, he could select that option in the same search box in the upper left. Clicking on the site will take you to a detailed description of the campground that lists amenities and then other information, and so you have that that pops up.
Now, this would be Riley Creek Recreation Area. Does that ring a bell? Yup. And this is exactly what you would see when you punch that in. I think anybody would want to spend a weekend there. It looks great. I would also mention that they have jet skiing and hot showers. (Laughter.) So - that's kind of my idea of roughing it, so -- (Off mike comment.) (Laughter.) Yeah, we are. (Laughs.) Take the hot water away and we get grouchy really fast, right? Now, all you have to do is click "Book now" to choose your dates and then make a reservation, so there you have that. Now, once you select "Book these dates," you'll be taken to a page where you can enter more details about your order and then to your shopping cart, where you can literally pay for the reservation on line. And that's what you see with the shopping cart.
Now, of course, it's not easy to get away to Idaho in the jobs we are doing, so let's say that Dirk and I want to stay closer to home. If we return to the home page, we can see if there are any local areas, any areas around here where we might just go out for a few hours and do some hiking, some scenic hiking. We'll click on "Hiking" under "Find recreation activities." There you go. This time we'll choose Virginia as our preferred state, and we should get - yup, we get a list of hiking trails. Now, scrolling through this, we'll find a place called "Meadowood" in Fairfax County, and Meadowood, as you can see, offers hiking, horseback riding, and a whole host of other activities. You'll see that there are driving directions showing just how to get to the trails, so it even goes a step further.
Those are just a few of the search options that are available on this site. There are numerous ways to customize your search so you can just find the perfect getaway. You can search for old Forest Service lookouts that have been converted into overnight lodges, or you could look for campgrounds with cabins and horseback riding. With around 60,000 campsites available for reservations in this system, you're sure to find one that should be just right for you.
You can also click on "Tours" at the top of the screen and skip the lines at - and skip the lines at popular attractions by reserving your tickets in advance. So literally you can get your tickets and walk around the lines.
Recreation.gov brings the great outdoors literally to your fingertips. The wealth of America's vast public lands is consolidated now into an easily searchable database. The bottom line is that you can spend less time researching your next adventure and more time experiencing it.
Now I would like to introduce somebody who has really provided huge leadership in this area, and this fits exactly with what he likes to do, and that's make government more efficient and more accessible to the people. The person of course I'm talking about is our OMB Deputy Director of Management, Clay Johnson. His vision has been central to implementing the President's e-gov initiative, and he's really been the driving force in creating a user-friendly, online site where citizens can access the government resources that are available. We appreciate his leadership in this endeavor. Please help me welcome Clay Johnson.
OMB DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF MANAGEMENT CLAY JOHNSON: Secretary Johanns, Secretary Kempthorne, thank you very much.
I wish I knew where all that leadership was experienced. What I did was I hired Karen Evans -- (laughter) - who hired Tim Young, and off - I just let them go and said, "Let me know if I can help you," and here we are.
The President had charged all of us, and every civil servant in the federal government wants to come here to make a difference, to leave the federal government better than they found it. When I first went to OMB in the winter of '03, I asked, "What are the really big things that we're working on in the management world?" And I was told, "One of the biggest things we're working on is e-government." And I said, "What is e-government?" And they said, "Well, we have all these different agencies and they don't talk to each other, they don't work with each other." So if you're a citizen and you want information or if you want access to services, you - it's just almost impossible to get it. And we're going to fix that. E-government is a way to fix that. I said, "Well, give me the best example," and they said, "The best example is this web site." That was four years ago.
The biggest obstacles we faced then were not technological, they weren't legal -- although there were some legal issues that had to be worked through. They were human. We weren't used to doing things on a government-wide basis. We weren't used to having the Ag Department and the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department come together and say "I'm going to become a little bit less territorial, a little bit less focused on my way of doing things," and looking at the best way of doing things for the good of the citizenry and for the good of the federal government. And they did, and they have persevered under the leadership of Steve and the two secretaries and their predecessors to get us where we are today.
I'm so excited, because Karen and I and the other people I work with at OMB, about every other month, are involved in the launch of something like this where it involved multiple agencies coming together to develop a government-wide solution. And if I remember, the first couple of times we met over at some auditorium over at George Washington or the Commerce Department or something, and people from different departments were there, and they were sort of nervous about being with each other, and the idea of doing something in collaboration with another agency, collaboratively, was a little foreign to them. And now, we just - this is what we do. This is the way the federal government is working. It's become not a secondhand kind of way of doing things just yet, but it is the way we do things.
Everybody understands the benefit of this, understands how much better everybody, every individual agency is when they work together to accomplish something really grand and fantastic like this. But it took leadership from the agencies to make it all happen, with a little help from OMB - a little help and a little funding from OMB. Not a lot of funding - don't get carried away. (Laughter.) A little help and a little funding to make this happen, and we're delighted to do it. And as I tell agencies when they achieve some milestone -- there were multiple agencies working together to achieve some milestone -- is they - we - have forever changed the way the federal government works. No one's going to come along and say, you know, "We really don't care about providing high levels of service to our citizens. That's a foreign idea. Let's go back to the old way of doing it." We're not going to do that, because we've achieved new, higher levels of service, public-sector levels of service here, that we're only going to build on. So it's a really, really exciting time and I'm delighted and honored to be - to be a part of it.
Let me now introduce Steve Stockton, who's the Deputy of Civil Works at the Army Corps of Engineers.
U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CIVIL WORKS STEVEN STOCKTON: Boy, we're ahead of schedule and under budget - that's the kind of project I like to be involved with.
Secretary Kempthorne, Secretary Johanns, and Deputy Director Johnson, ladies and gentleman, thanks. What a great day to be here today. You have to love these opportunities when we can get together and celebrate some good news, because we all know there isn't enough good news to go around these days. And today the Corps would like to join all of you to celebrate the kick-off of Recreation.gov. This efficient, simple tool that the public can use to learn about public recreation opportunities and plan their own visits to our parks.
I'd just like to have a few comments about - to share with you a little about what Recreation.gov means to the Corps of Engineers. It's the home of the National Recreation Reservation System. About 10 years ago, after a lot of planning, the Forest Service and the Corps launched the National Recreation Reservation Service, and it was no small undertaking then. Because of the dedicated efforts of many employees -- and their hard work - we created this accessible and streamlined service, Recreation.gov. When the National Reservation Service first opened business in October, 1998, the agencies only expected about 12 percent of all reservations would be made over the Internet. Today that percentage has grown to more than 60 percent, and it's expected to continue growing.
For the Corps of Engineers today, 75 percent of all recreation reservation fees are processed through the National Reservation Service. This is extremely significant, given that the Corps recreation areas receive 368 million annual visits - visits annually, the largest of any federal agency. This translates into a huge savings for the Corps. It reduces fee collection costs, fee processing costs, technology costs to operate a reservations system. As the key element of the new Recreation.gov, the reservation system has succeeded well beyond our expectations. The web site is truly an incredible resource for the Corps visitors. Our lakes and parks provide very diverse recreation opportunities, including boating, fishing, camping, nature trails, swimming, and marinas. A virtual tour of the parks will help visitors find and enjoy the special amenities our parks provide.
We're very proud of the Corps' contribution to this project and the opportunities to work closely with our sister agencies. We look forward to establishing additional one-stop federal services to better serve our customers: the American public.
I want to take a quick moment to thank two Corps employees on our team, without whom this would not have been possible. Lynne Beeson, who serves as the interagency project manager, and Greg Webb, the Corps program manager and contracting officer/technical representative on the project. On behalf of the entire Army Corps of Engineers, I want to thank you. To the Department of the Interior for their leadership and the development of this great service, and to the other agency partners for making Recreation.gov a reality.
Thank you, and Essayons.
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Now, I think we'd be happy to take any questions that you might have. And if we have technical-type questions, we have a room full of technical experts that can answer those too. That would not be me.
Questions? Anyone? Yes?
QUESTION: Can you tell me a little bit about like how long it took to develop, the cost, and how many people you anticipate using it each year?
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Who can do that? Dirk, can you? (Response off mike.)
Okay, come on up.
TIM YOUNG: Excuse me. I just had knee surgery - it's not tied to working at OMB. (Laughter.) Promise.
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Are you sure?
MR. YOUNG: I'll tell you the truth later.
Actually, the development of this site -- one would think it took four years because we started this process a long time ago, but actual development of the site - the front end and the back end -- took less than a year. We have - if you want, we can give you details associated with the cost. All that's public information at this point -- but between the collaboration of the gentlemen here, and a lot of people in the very back of the room, we accomplished this in less than one year. Okay?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. YOUNG : I'm sorry?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. YOUNG: Yes, all the metrics associated with current utilization and projected utilization are on our web site at www.egov.gov. But someone earlier referenced current utilization for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Okay?
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Anything else? Any other questions?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Maybe when we're done here I'd be happy to take that, sir. (Response off mike.) Yeah. (Laughter.)
Okay, I think - I don't see any other hands up, so, any other questions? Okay. One more, here.
QUESTION: Can you tell me the exact date that it went live? And also, while you mentioned at the very beginning that there might be some other opportunities to make it more robust or offer other types of options on it. I was wondering if you could - (off mike).
KAREN EVANS: It's - actually, the Recreation.gov web site's actually been live for several years now. The soft launch of this - this is a re-launch, so think of this as the second version, you know? Version one, two, three. So this is the second version of it, and we did a soft launch, which meant we didn't do the roll-out. It's been operational now for over a month, this particular set of functionalities. But we wanted to make sure everything worked okay, rolled it out, put it in production, all those other good things, so it's been live for over a month.
SECRETARY KEMPTHORNE: To get back to the pragmatic. Mike Tollefson, who is the superintendent at Yosemite Park. Yosemite is one of the very highly sought-after recreational locations. With this soft launch, he has been very pleased with it, and it is going extremely well. So there's very positive feedback. It's interesting, too, I think the Corps of Engineers really rivals the National Park Service in the number of locations. So once again, here's an opportunity that as you go through this, just as Secretary Johanns went through a particular state. And if you find that, during that window of opportunity, that you have a vacation but what you were seeking is not available, my goodness. You're already on line. You can now shop, and you'll find something. And this is what's going to allow us to have so many more paths. And I think then that just that -- the synergy of that, as the word of mouth from camper to camper. "How did you happen to find this particular site?" "Well, I went on line." And so I think that a whole community of people that love the outdoors are going to really find this helpful, but they will convey the message that, "Well, if you haven't used it yet, be sure to do so."
SECRETARY JOHANNS: Okay. Let me just wrap up and say to my colleagues here again, thank you for being here. We're excited about what we're doing. Thanks, everybody.