100 on Administration Task Force Tackle Violence
To help develop comprehensive strategies for reducing crime and violence, the Clinton Administration has assigned more than 100 representatives of at least 10 federal agencies to the task.
Preliminary reports by subgroups of the Interagency Working Group on Violence are due this week, and a final report to the White House Domestic Policy Council and the President could be completed as soon as January, officials said last week.
"The President is clearly very concerned about the growth of violence,'' said Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine M. Kunin, one of three co-chairmen of the working group, referring to recent speeches by Mr. Clinton.
The group's work, she said, offers a "chance to take an in-depth look at the question--how we might respond differently than usual.''
The other leaders of the group, which began meeting in early October, are Deputy Attorney General Philip B. Heymann and Peter B. Edelman, a counselor to Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala.
"We're essentially doing a lot of staff work, serving up options and suggestions,'' Mr. Edelman said.
"What is special about this [group] is the fact that we're taking a collegial approach,'' Ms. Kunin said, noting that "education is rarely at the table when violence and crime ... are discussed.''
The working group is functioning in two ways, according to those involved--as an internal policy advisory group and as a study group investigating how the federal government can help state and local agencies and how they can help themselves.
"We're ... looking at ways for communities to deal with the problems of violence they face in school and in the street,'' Ms. Kunin said, "but also how we as a federal government can work more effectively together to support community strategies to cut some of the red tape.''
"We want to be able to be of as much practical assistance without the usual turf battles,'' she added.
Mr. Heymann said he hoped the working group could produce information "that can be used by cities and states and D.A.'s and educators on what's known about what helps to prevent violence or to deal with violence--what worked and what hasn't worked in different places, and what programs of the federal government are out there to be used by different sectors of states and local government.''
Mr. Heymann attributed the group's genesis to a meeting Attorney General Janet Reno had with several Cabinet members last summer.
During the summer, Ms. Kunin said, "we saw the emergence of the crime issues as a major concern among the public.''
In July, the Administration held a related conference on youth violence, chaired by Ms. Kunin and Mr. Heymann, that brought together 300 participants from all over the country and featured appearances by three Cabinet secretaries and the "drug czar.'' (See Education Week, Aug. 4, 1993.)
The working group is divided into 10 subgroups. Their topics include youth development, juvenile justice, schools, family, firearms, and the media.
The subgroups are chaired by officials from the Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor departments. Aides from other agencies are also involved, including representatives from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Agriculture Department, and the Federal Communications Commission.
'Realities of Life'
"In education, we became increasingly aware of the fact the school-reform movement could not move forward without paying attention to the social condition or the real-life situation in which schools function today,'' Ms. Kunin said.
"Violence is one of those realities of life,'' she said.
Ms. Kunin declined to comment on what conclusions the working group had arrived at, other than to say, "Certainly some form of prevention strategy will come out of this group.''
While Mr. Edelman also said it was too early to say what the group's recommendations would be, he outlined what he said are some of the "fundamental'' issues it will address, including:
- Ways to make law enforcement more effective.
- Development of partnerships among agencies at the local level.
- Creating more after-school activities--recreational as well as academic--for children.
- Keeping schools open for longer hours and offering a variety of social services through them.
- Connecting people to the labor market more effectively.
"Our working groups are not the be-all and the end-all of what this Administration is doing about violence,'' Mr. Edelman said. "Everything we've done from day one,'' he explained, "that builds families and communities ... is about violence.''
"A lot of what needs to happen is in local-level [or] national leadership,'' rather than contained in "programs or statutes,'' he added.
However, he said, some of the "prevention funds'' included in the Senate's $22 billion crime bill, such as those for drug treatment or boot camps, "are very, very important'' and relevant to the Administration's effort to curb violence.
Ms. Kunin also said that the Administration might attempt to incorporate some of the group's recommendations into the pending crime legislation.