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Bibb Addresses FACA Training Conference

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
David L. Bibb
Deputy Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
2008 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA)
Training Conference
Washington, DC
December 11, 2007


Thank you, Bob.  Before I get started, I’d like to recognize former CIA Director and former FBI Director Judge William H. Webster.  Judge Webster, it’s an honor to have you with us today.  Please know that it has been our privilege and pleasure to help build and upgrade FBI offices around the nation. I had the honor of participating in the dedication ceremony at the new Tampa Field Office last year. Several more projects are in the works, including a new Field Office in Houston scheduled for completion in March.

Good morning, everyone.  It’s nice to see so many of you here for this first day of the FACA Training Conference.  You’re fortunate to be here at a time when downtown DC comes to life with holiday decorations and holiday spirit.  So, seasons greetings to all!

We’re here today to share advisory committee experiences, accomplishments, challenges, and lessons learned.  Most of all, we’re here today to share our ideas with one another and take a few thoughts back to our agencies that will help in managing successful and productive advisory committees.

It’s been said that, “our age will be known as the age of committees.”  True enough. Despite the negative connotation, committees are very useful.  For example, medical drug and device approvals are based on the recommendations of a federal panel as are improvements to consumer safety, wireless communications, and airline and airport security.

The federal government has long recognized the important role of the public in developing effective policies.  That’s why Congress in 1972 passed the Federal Advisory Committee Act --- to create an orderly procedure through which federal agencies could seek advice and recommendations on federal activities from citizens and experts.

Advisory committees are a way of ensuring public and expert involvement and advice in federal decision-making. It’s a win - win for the government and the public. The government benefits by getting input from private citizens who are specially qualified by education and experience in a particular field.  Citizens benefit by having an opportunity to actively participate in the federal government’s decision-making process.

It’s also a way to ensure that the various advisory committees over the years continue to:

  • Provide advice that is relevant, objective, and open to the public;
  • Act promptly to complete their work; and
  • Comply with reasonable costs controls and recordkeeping requirements.

FACA established a formal process for creating, operating, overseering, and terminating advisory committees.  To manage this process, the Committee Management Secretariat was created and is responsible for regulating the activities of the 1,000 advisory committees (that span 50 executive agencies) and reporting these activities to the President and Congress.

GSA since 1977 has been responsible for implementing FACA by monitoring the activities of advisory committees governmentwide.  GSA provides federal agencies with best practices, FACA guidance, and the appropriate training in what to do. 

GSA’s responsibilities have included:

  • Conducting annual reviews of advisory committee accomplishments;
  • Establishing performance measures for committees;
  • Responding to inquiries from agencies on establishing new committees or the renewal of existing groups;
  • Maintaining a shared management system, which includes a FACA database, on the Internet from which advisory committee information may be obtained;
  • And conducting formal federal employee training on FACA.

GSA has trained more than 6,000 federal employees in FACA in the last 20 years. And that has resulted in improved management and accountability of FACA and federal advisory committees.

Advisory committees are used by federal agencies to address issues that reflect the complex mandates undertaken by the government.  For example, during fiscal 2006, over 65,000 committee members served on 1,000 committees and provided advice and recommendations on such matters as the safety of the nation’s blood supply, steps needed to address the management of natural resources and the country’s national defense strategies.

Advisory committees have played an important role in shaping programs and policies of the federal government.  That has been the case from the earliest days of the republic to today, when we have advisory committees that deal with issues such as national and homeland security, healthcare, foreign aid, and the fight against AIDS.  For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, have standing committees that provide advice and recommendations in such areas as physician services, proposed medical coverage, beneficiary education, and management. 

Advisory committees are frequently a useful and beneficial means of furnishing expert advice, ideas, and diverse opinions to the federal government.  President George Washington himself sought the advice of an advisory committee during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 (essentially an early tax revolt).  President Theodore Roosevelt used the recommendations of a commission to establish the national park system.  Even today, most of these parks and monuments have federally –sponsored local FACA Committees to advise on environmental and park management issues.

The contributions made by advisory committees over the years, both before and after FACA, have been impressive and diverse.  Here are a few examples:

  • Most recently, the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors (Walter Reed – 2007), provided independent advice and recommendations on the care provided to wounded servicemen and women from the time they left the battlefield through their return to civilian life. Key recommendations included: 
    • Creating a patient-centered recovery plan for every seriously injured service member that provides the right care and support at the right time in the right place.
    • Completely restructuring the disability and compensation systems.
    • Aggressively preventing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
    • Strengthening family support programs such as extending the family and medical leave act for up to six months for spouses and parents of seriously injured.
    • Rapidly transferring patient information between DoD and VA.
    • And strongly supporting Walter Reed by recruiting and retaining first-rate professionals through 2011.
  • The Three Mile Island accident of 1979 was the most significant mishap in the history of the American commercial nuclear power generating industry.  It resulted, however, in no deaths or injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby Harrisburg, Pennsylvania community. In the end, the reactor was brought under control.  The investigatory commission ordered by President Carter was a model for its balance between technical experts and local stakeholders, and provided advice significant to the corrective action taken to prevent similar disasters in the future.
  • The National Council on the Arts is legally mandated to advise the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts with respect to applications for financial assistance, and with respect to policies, programs and procedures of the endowment.  Since recommendations for funding and rejection must be reviewed by the council at one of its annual meetings, its actions have a profound effect on the agency’s operations.

These are just three of the hundreds of federal programs FACA advice assists and supports.

FACA federal committee professionals face many challenges.  For example, federal employees assigned to FACA management duties most often must do so collaterally along with their regular jobs.  In addition, they must also learn and follow the administrative and regulatory requirements of FACA. 

The shared management system is used by federal agencies to continuously manage advisory committees governmentwide.  Congress uses the database part of the system to perform oversight of related executive branch programs.  The public, the media and others use the database to stay abreast of important developments resulting from advisory committee activities.

I’ve been asked how my experience as Vice Chair with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, also known as the U.S. Access Board, has influenced my thinking on Federal Advisory Committees.  First, the Access Board develops accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities that GSA has adopted as a standard for our client agencies. The access board is unique in that it’s not an advisory committee but an actual federal agency with permanent staff.  The board itself is one of the 50 “FACA agencies,” since it currently charters three FACA Committees.  However, there are some key similarities between the agency board and an advisory committee in that:

  • Both are composed of experts who bring to the table excellent ideas that come about from collaboration between private citizens and federal representatives.
  • Carefully selected members bring a passion to the subject whether it’s education, child care or social security, just to name a few.
  • There is generally such a wide range of expertise among the members that good ideas are constantly being advanced.

When you get back to your agencies, please continue to encourage them to follow proper FACA management procedures regarding their federal advisory committees.  Successful operations tend to lead to good decisions, which in turn leads to a higher-performing government.

I hope that in the next day and a half, you take advantage of the opportunities this conference offers.  Attend the plenary and breakout sessions, soak in what the speakers have to offer on policy and operational aspects of FACA, and network with other FACA professionals from across the federal government.

Remember, what you do is important work. 

Most of all, what you do is an invaluable public service. Thank you.