Vice President Al Gore highlighted one of Orange County’s corporate success stories Tuesday as he told workers at an AST Research plant here that he hopes the federal government can operate a bit more like the computer manufacturing company.
Touting his own plan to reinvent government, the vice president described the federal bureaucracy as a place where creativity is stifled, employees are uninspired and over-regulation has strangled efficiency.
The vice president chose the high-tech company as a contrast. Irvine-based AST, named with the initials of its three founders, was started in a garage in 1981 and is now the nation’s fourth-largest personal computer maker.
In a round-table discussion with workers Tuesday, Gore heard stories about the unique conditions in the computer industry, where technology is rapidly evolving and the global marketplace is highly competitive. As a result, workers told Gore, AST has to be innovative and emphasizes risk-taking.
“People are encouraged to be bold and try something new,” Gore said, summarizing the comments from workers. “That is the kind of approach that we are trying to bring into the federal government.”
Earlier this month, Gore and President Clinton unveiled their plan to overhaul the federal government in hopes of making its agencies more efficient, more customer-friendly and less costly. The plan to reinvent government, as the White House calls it, would cut more than 252,000 federal jobs and generate a projected savings of more than $100 billion over the next five years.
Most of the savings would come from personnel cuts, agency consolidations and rewriting the rules under which government operates.
Gore was wrapping up a three-day tour of California on Tuesday that reflected the list of major issues facing the White House. In Los Angeles on Monday, he campaigned for the President’s proposed health care package.
In his visit to Orange County, Gore also talked briefly by telephone with an elementary school class about the environment, and he attended a closed-door luncheon in Laguna Beach for Democratic contributors.
Gore’s stop at AST was prompted by Roger Johnson, the former head of Western Digital Inc. in Irvine who now serves in the Clinton Administration as chief of the General Services Agency. Johnson joined Gore on the tour Tuesday.
Safi Qureshey, chief executive of AST, is a prominent Republican contributor in Orange County. But he said politics should not play a role in efforts to improve the federal government.
“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue but what’s right for the country,” he said. “The vice president is looking for examples of how business has reinvented itself so that government can reinvent itself.”
At AST, Gore focused on the company’s decentralized structure for decision-making, in which ideas are solicited from employees on the assembly line through the corporate offices.
“Empowerment is not a buzzword at AST,” Ashwin Venkatarangan, an information systems worker, told Gore. “The key word is to be bold and go ahead.”
Gore said he hopes the federal government can also create a structure in which agencies would adopt general guidelines and goals and leave employees free to determine the best methods.
“Instead of having all of these detailed rules and regulations and all of the red tape and bureaucracy, we are trying to get each organizational component within the federal government to have a clearly articulated mission,” Gore said. “Each employee . . . is then empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organization consistent with the values that all share.”
Before meeting with workers, Gore toured an assembly line at the computer company where robotic machines stamp out circuit boards and employees work on tiny components with magnifying glasses.
He told the workers that AST computers are used throughout the White House and that he has one on his desk.
Gore looked incredulous when he was told by one worker that the computer industry changes so fast that AST products have a “life cycle” of just nine months. “As soon as we introduce a product, we have to start working on a replacement,” Qureshey told the vice president.
“So for you, reinvention is a constant process,” Gore observed.