Jack S. Futterman Oral History
Part VII- Working for Bob Ball
Relationship to Bob Ball & Others
This might be a good place to explain the nature of the files of mine which you have in the Archives. I think of myself in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt's "anonymous assistants," as many people in his administration who worked behind the scenes were known. I did not seek out occasions to be known as the person who sponsored this thing or thought of this thing. I think I knew how to carry out the role of the very good staff person to my principal, and it didn't bother me that things that I created, imagined, and thought of or did a lot of work on, were not identified by having my name tied to them. It was the role of the Commissioner to do those things, to be out front. And it depended on how such an individual conceives his role in relationship to his staff.
I have to make this clear right now, that of all the people who I worked with in government, in my years of service, I consider Bob Ball the most able person that I had experience dealing with in governmental activities. It was a joy to work with him. We basically have the same values and we thought pretty much alike, and I'm not trying to identify myself as an equal to Bob, although on some matters, he was willing to defer to me. I know he regarded me as an unusually creative, imaginative person. And in private he would give me a pat on the back. Every good supervisor does that without restraint.
We had many, many close personal conversations at my desk about the problems Bob had to deal with in the work. I would be still working at night, and he would just be getting ready to go home to a late supper and get to bed so he could get up in the morning and go to Washington. And it was at those times when the two of us were together that we had a lot of fundamental "man to man" exchanges about how to deal with certain problems. I think it helped relax him at the end of the day to have an unplanned, spontaneous exchange on such matters.
I can remember times when he just was stumped. Like when McElvain, head of Hearings and Appeals, a long-time Government employee, retired. McElvain was really the rock on which Hearings and Appeals of Social Security was founded. And it happened at about that time, as I recollect, the backlogs were enormous, and by nature McElvain was a person trained in the law and he was concerned with individual petitions and not particularly equipped to deal with the volume that was developing in the Hearings and Appeals process. At the time he retired the backlogs were very large and Bob said, "I just don't know who to pick to replace McElvain." Well, with very little delay I said, "Charlie Erisman." He's not like McElvain, he wouldn't do that kind of a job, but he's the guy that you need right now. Charlie Erisman used to be called by his great friend, Roy Touchet, "Mr. Mechanic," and that was a word that we would use in praise.
Charlie was one of the most likeable guys we had. He was production-oriented primarily. And when I put him forward as my suggestion I based it on fact that he was production oriented, he had spent some time in the Division of Accounting Operations which was a production-type operation, he seemed to fit in very well there. I succeeded Charlie as the Chief of Fiscal Management in the Division of Management Planning and Services, so I knew quite a bit about him and we were good friends. He was a lawyer and an accountant. I couldn't testify to his competence in those areas. And Bob's reaction was, "Why didn't I think about that?"
Another and similar case that happened around the same time was Joe Fay retiring in the Division of Accounting Operations. He reigned over that organization from the very beginning. Joe Fay and the Division of Accounting Operations were equated with one another. Anyway, I rattled off three names for possible replacements for Joe Fay, the top one being Joe Carmody.
I knew Joe Carmody from the time I entered Social Security in November of 1936. I gave Ball a couple of reasons, I said, "first off, the universal reaction that people in the Equitable Building will have will be positive. The Equitable Building was where the non-record keeping crowd worked, the policy staffs, and the Bureau Director, and the finance people, etc. The opinion in non-DAO circles in Social Security was that Joe Fay and the record keeping people in the Candler Building were really like an independent fiefdom. That the people that worked in that organization did not first think of themselves Social Security employees, but as DAO employees. Some of them talked as if keeping the records was the end purpose of the Agency, and was unrelated to the rest of Social Security. And some of them acted in superior fashion. I'm not trying to say that all of them thought this way, but the heaviest populated group of employees were clericals, who saw their job as keeping records for its own sake almost. I knew Carmody, and Ball knew him very well, because Joe was then one of the main assistants to Hugh McKenna in the Division of Field Operations.
So, we both knew Joe very well. But Ball was just unable to think of anybody. And I said, "the reason I'm pushing Joe is first that's an insulated shop, they don't know how to relate to the rest of Social Security organization. They don't know how and they haven't been led to think of how their work fitted in. They have sort of been left alone to assume that they were self sufficient, that they didn't even know how to fit in and work together." Joe started out with Accounting Operations, under me, but he soon left, I forget whether he went out to the field and came back or whatever. But he was steeped in Hugh McKenna's able direction of the field organization and there were important things in the field. That was a gap that I thought could best be bridged by Joe Carmody, being the agent for welding the two together. There were other reasons I had. I think I said that Joe would get along together very well with Joe Fay, being very "Irish," and able, very able. Joe was an independent thinker. I won't want you to think that Joe always thought the way that I did. He never hesitated to argue with me before or since. So Bob said again, in effect, "Gee that's good. Why didn't I think of it."
I guess I ought to put a disclaimer in. I believe these little stories I'm telling. I am not distorting this to make me look better than somebody else. As I started out I had admiration for Bob, but also I was very realistic about it, unlike some others who were also his true admirers, but went too far. I did not. I did not find that he and I agreed on everything, I did not just think that--although we almost always were in complete agreement--that his ideas on some matters were necessarily superior to my own and he knew that. To his credit, Bob never discouraged me one bit. As a matter of fact, and this reflects on Bob Ball's character as well as my own, we had an understanding between us, how we arrived at that, oh I don't know, it was verbalized, after a period of time.
From David to Ball
Q: Now you were setting up the context for telling me the story about you going over to Ball, and Ball and Alvin having a conversation? So how did he react to you coming in and taking over a lot of the work?
Well, he "demanded" that I come to work for him.
I had left budget in July 1955 to be Alvin's Deputy. This was at the nadir of the existence of the Division of Program Analysis, which was then the name. Alvin was the Director of it. And I told you that when I arrived that division had gotten accustomed to working around the clock. They were walking zombies; they had no supporting staff worth a great deal. They had a few secretaries that were okay. And they had some analysts that were very, very average who could maybe carry out some of the low level work. They were not stupid, but for the people that worked there, you needed the brightest. And they were just not outstanding in that kind of thing. And they could do whatever they were instructed in detail to do. But the three people, besides Alvin, who were capable of giving that kind of instruction were spread so thin themselves, they couldn't even do all their own work, take care of the demands upon themselves. They were Henry Schumer and Neota Larson; I think Henry was Neota's assistant. Neota was an ex-social worker with a great deal of experience who, from the point of view of public policy, had a lot to give and do. But she was also sort of a roadblock in terms of innovation. Not that she wanted to be, she was a very nice person, and I enjoyed knowing her. And so they were two. Oh yeah, there was another one, Betty Sanders, who was sort of a general person, very bright, but not very disciplined, but very bright lady, younger than I was considerably, who knew a lot about programs, in all of its aspects. And she was sort of a generalist that Alvin would use directly to do his tasks. And Jim Marquis. Jim Marquis handled coverage and things like that. And Neota covered the other program aspects. There were other people, George Trafton in research, he was a very fine person. And so George Trafton was a sort of a resource, but not much in the daily workload; he was a person that spoke with measured tones and spoke very objectively of the evidence, as he read it. But he was not much of a participant in dealing with daily problems that came up, and they were coming up all the time.
Well you know that's the background from Alvin's part of it. On Bob's part of it, it coincided somewhat with the reaching of the nadir, the bottom of the developments for DPA and the exhaustion, personal exhaustion, of Bob Ball. This is in July of 1957.
Q: So in effect Bob Ball was kind of in the position in the summer of 1957 that Alvin David was in, in the summer of 1955? In the sense that his organization felt overwhelmed?
Bob Ball was a one-man tornado on his own, he could handle a tremendous number of things, but when he made contact and began the process, he needed to have support. There would be discussions and then in the process of the discussions they would ask for some materials and he needed backup. Alvin's staff was geared to provide all of that. So the difference between Alvin's situation and Bob's is similar in a sense, but there was a matter of personal exhaustion. Bob had spread himself so thin and had worked such long hours and all of that, this was before I became his Executive Officer, or whatever it was. So he wanted to get help for himself, personal help.
Now Ball and Jim Murray had a personal relationship, socially, going back to their Washington days. His idea was to get Jim Murray to do that job. Mind you I wasn't asking for this job, I wasn't competing. I didn't even know that there was a job. Jim Murray was, I think, at this time down in Atlanta and I think that he tried to get Jim Murray, and maybe Jim Murray came up for a week or so, but he said that he didn't want it. He was right, that was not Jim Murray's area of expertise--he's an operator, but not a technical person. Jim and I saw many things differently, but we had a fondness for each other, we were always good friends. Jim would like to end-run policies and stuff that got in the way of his actions. Anyway it was a good thing for Bob Ball that Jim Murray declined because I don't believe that kind of placement would have served either Ball or Murray well. When Murray bowed out, Ball then turned to me. He talked to Alvin, he didn't talk to me, he talked to Alvin. And Alvin said, "Oh yeah you can have him, but you're killing me." It was only two years before that Alvin got me and he was being liberated, and now he would be left on his own again. This took place in Bob Balls office, outside Bob Balls office, and I was there.
Q: Between Alvin David and Ball, you were there when they were discussing this?
Well that was his reaction first and then we had a meeting. Bob for the first time was talking to me about it, and I am sitting there, and Alvin is resisting the suggestion. I think it is inconsistent with Alvin's character, I think first that there wasn't any doubt in his mind that when Bob Ball asked for something Alvin would do it, even at the cost to himself. I think he wanted me to know--and maybe Bob also--he wanted to make a statement and make clear that Bob Ball was asking for his right arm and his left arm and he was saying this for me too, that he was reluctant to give me up. So he said that; and as a measure of how distraught Bob Ball was at that precise time, he let loose on Alvin in a way that I have never seen him do, before or since, in respect to anybody else. It is consistent with what I said to you about the nature of their relationship. Alvin was no doubt the closest to Ball, but because of their close relationship he understood that he sometimes would need to accept situations that his peers did not. So Ball responded harshly to Alvin, "I need him!" You know it was almost hysterical. And here I am, sitting there. He said words that conveyed how much he needed help, and that Alvin was standing in the way. Well, I had never heard either one of them talk this way. Alvin immediately backed off, not that he was afraid, Alvin had the heart of a tiger, although he had the civility of a lamb, but if it was a point that he was holding as a matter of principle, it wasn't easy to shake him. He was "steel-minded," but one of the most compassionate, unselfish people that I know.
So that was the situation then. Of course Alvin backed off and Bob Ball then took off. This was July 4th. I went to work on July 4th or July 5th. Bob Ball was up in New Hampshire for a whole month and here again I had this desk and stuff and things coming in there for Ball's action and absolutely no preparation to deal with them. He didn't give me any instructions. When I started work I did not see him. I would send him at the end of each week sort of a very brief listing of the matters that I had handled. And in a very summary way I indicated how I disposed of them. I never heard anything from him, but I got the idea that he was not completely at ease.
Q: That you were taking care of all that business while he was gone?
I think he wanted me to call him and discuss things, but that is not my style. Later on we came to an understanding, without it ever being a point of issue or discussion, between Bob Ball and myself. Unless I had specific instructions to the contrary, I would use my best judgement as to what was the proper thing to do and I would do it if I thought I could. I would distinguish between that and what was the thing that Bob Ball would do. I can't completely know what Bob Ball would do in each case. I knew very often, 95 percent of the time, what he would do, knowing what I knew about him and his values, and I think it was remarkable in that we had one, only one, disagreement where he would in effect not have the same viewpoint--and I created that situation. It had to do with Bob Ball's and Lou Zawatsky's desire to put Tom Smith, then head of the Union, to work in Employment Relations.
Q: We'll come back to that another time. Let me ask you one last question about that meeting. You told me what Alvin David's reaction was in this meeting, and you told me what Ball's reaction was.
He wanted me! Bob Ball has a lot of patience, at least outwardly, and a lot of control over what he says, and that is the only time I've ever seen him lose control.
Q: But tell me about the third guy in the meeting. What about Futterman? What was your reaction to all of that? You were being thrown right in the middle of this conflict. What were you thinking? What was your reaction?
I really didn't have much.
Q: So was Alvin in favor of you taking the job as Ball's deputy--as his Executive Officer?
If asked, he would have pushed for me, I think.
Q: But it doesn't sound like his personality was such that he would have pushed unless somebody really asked him.
No, no, he would not have pushed. Certainly, his personality was such that he would not want to make Bob Ball uncomfortable in any way. Unless, in the extreme case, where he thought that it was not only wrong, but it would be disastrous or something like that. Then he might overcome his reluctance to make Bob uncomfortable by telling him something that he didn't want to hear.
Alvin had a good sense of values when comparing whether to make Bob uncomfortable, and keeping him from doing something disastrous for himself and the program. There would be no question in Alvin's mind; he would do what he was convinced was the right thing. But that didn't happen very often. Bob Ball was too competent and smart. And, you know, it may be (and here, I'm completely speculating, only because we talked about it a little earlier) that more than once, Bob Ball had indicated that he was very happy where I was. Because I was very personally his assistant; not like a deputy.
Q: When you were his Executive Officer?
I was sort of an alter ego at a lower level. And he found that very, very useful. And at this point, that's where the Special File might shed a lot of light on that.
Q: Right. In fact, I've seen a lot of memos in that Special File--notes between you and Ball.
He was very allergic about certain issues. He would tell me many, many times, "You're not afraid to write about this."
Q: Yes, you put a lot of stuff down; notes to him.
Also in the memos themselves, they were not for publication. And I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, I still don't. But if I'm going to be a help to my principal, of whom I'm sort of an alter ego at a lower level, then he's got to know exactly what I'm thinking about, if I'm going to be as helpful as I might. I would assert one of my opinions, and I'm willing to argue about or talk about it or whatever. But at least, he has my true opinion and he doesn't have to dig for it.
Incidently, that's a characteristic, a principle, that I have followed all my working life. That's another part, we'll go into it if you find that interesting. But I'll just label it in a summary way, that it was the idea that an executive, or a high staff person, never reveals what's fully on his mind. I never believed that. I'll give you an example.
You're talking to a subordinate, and the subordinate has done a paper that you're not very happy about--you expected something better. Well, what's required then was to say: "Look, John, I know you can do better." And then talk about what's bad. That's my direct communication way. And I would expect that he was grown up enough not to have to have a lot of stroking before I can get to the point. My strong feeling has always been that if I had to go around Robin Hood's barn before I could get to my main message, I might leave the guy with the wrong impression. If I said, "You know, this is a pretty good paper. I like this, I like that, I like that, and incidentally, this little thing doesn't hit me just right," that's not conveying my message. I think a man should be grown up enough to take me on faith when I say, "You know, John, you can do better." That implies, not only implies, it states it. "You have done better than this, this is not one of your best efforts." Or, "This is not quite up to what I had hoped for." Again, I would not have given it to him if I did not expect that he could do better.
In the same way, if I'm dealing with my boss, and I want to really clearly convey the entirety of my message, I don't want to have to go around Robin Hood's barn to describe some of the reasons, because he might receive that erroneously; he might not get it if I say, "Oh, he's very good in this, very good in that, very bad in that, very good in this. But there's a little weakness here," he might think I'm endorsing the guy. When in fact, in that particular instance, I'm trying to point out not the good things, but the pertinent reasons why I think it would not work out.
Q: Now that's the way you worked with Bob Ball. Is that also the way you worked with Alvin David when you were his Deputy?
That's the way I worked with everybody.
Q: And that was comfortable for him, you established a comfortable working relationship?
For some reason, you would think that Alvin David would have been less comfortable. But he was happy. After I established myself with him, I did many, many things that he found distasteful. But he was extremely happy about it. He would chuckle about it.
Q: So that was your role then, as you saw it?
I wasn't the hatchet man for Alvin. I was not the hatchet man. But he saw in me some kind of strength that he didn't have. I feel immodest, always talking about what was in somebody else's mind, but I can only tell you what I think. I think Alvin saw in me a top-notch mind, particularly a creative mind. And the mind of a person of good basic values. I think he saw this in me that basically his values and mine were almost identical. In some areas, where I did not have the depth of experience that he did, I obviously didn't have the depth of support of those values that he did. But in evaluating me, and I'm guessing again about Alvin, I think he was saying, "for a guy who came up from this kind of experience, he is showing very unusual ability to be that sensitive to the ultimate values of what the program is all about."
Working With Bob Ball
Early on, when I became Bob Ball's Executive Assistant in the old Equitable Building, it was a very busy period. I had just been pulled up from Alvin's place by Bob Ball. He was so overwrought, he wasn't even there to greet me. I had all this stuff, all Bob Ball's business, it was coming to me. I had not one day's, not even one minute's, orientation on what to do. But I'm not intimidated by that kind of thing; I did what I thought clearly I ought to do, he ought to do.
Q: Now he was the Deputy Director of the Bureau at that time, but was really running the Bureau?
Q: Can you give me an example of an issue you dealt with at this time?
The beneficiary rolls were growing very fast in those days. Bartlett, the Director, he used to ride with me and so I had a lot of conversations with him, and he was believing it. He would say: "I don't like when the benefit rolls get more than a million. They get too big. They are not efficient." I used to argue with him. I said: "How can you say that? They are very closely related to DAO in terms of what they do. They have machines and they have a lot of clerical people. While Accounting Operations used the claims reviewers, they were only slightly different from the kind of claims review functions then done in the Payment Centers. They were a very similar operation. We argued that Accounting Operations is efficient because of its size and because it minimizes certain other operations or eliminates it with an operation that would be unnecessary if you divided the country up, because our population is not immovable. They move around, and they may live in San Francisco and want service in Boston, in terms of the Payment Centers. If you go to break it down that way and insist that their function be taken over by San Francisco, then you have to move the records, delete it from Boston, put them on their log with a possibility of mistakes. Secondly, you give up the legal definition you have of who handles what, and you would never know. You'd have to . . .
Q: You would have to check every place.
. . . every place to make sure where you are. A million in terms of mass production is not all that big a number to really tap the full potential of full-time crews working at certain jobs in Social Security. In Accounting Operations, they could keep the punchers employed practically all year round doing punching. But in a smaller operation, you might have to move them from one to another. That would not have been bad for other reasons, but in terms of the kind of efficiency you get. Of course, I recommended later on an idea which I called the Payment Center within a Payment Center, years later it got a lot larger, for the purpose of improving morale and also rearranging work in a way that's more meaningful for people using them as teams. So that you had a group of people handling certain series of steps without anybody really necessarily committed to just one part of a series of steps.
Q: That was sort of the beginning of the module idea?
Yes, that was it. There's a memorandum that I forwarded to Bob Ball when he once desperately said to me: "I'm going to talk to Hugh McKenna and I want to have a list of desirable things that he should be doing."
Q: This was after McKenna had taken over the responsibility for the Payment Centers, right?
I gave him a list of about 60 ideas, and some of the notes he scribbled on the side like: "You are the greatest." Have you ever come across that?
Q: No, but I know about it though because McKenna told me about the list of 60 or whatever it was.
He did not say that it came from me, did he?
Q: No, he did not say that it came from you.
Did he say that it came from Bob Ball?
Q: I think so.
Of course, this was a note to Bob, but he often wrote very complimentary notes on the margins when he returned them. That was my so-called Special File. Do you still have it?
Q: Oh yes, we have your special file, so we probably have all that. There's a lot of file there, Jack. I have not read all of it. It goes from the floor to the ceiling in my office in one whole bookcase.
I'll tell you, when Sid Leibovitz once read some of those things, he called me on the telephone. He had worked fairly close with me on a consulting job that I did for Cardwell. I brought him in just to help Bob Peddicord and me do some writing. You could send him to fetch things. He was also a bright guy. He knew a lot about Operations, so he knew I wrote that. They wrote the early drafts of things. But I wrote that report. It was not one of my best, but it was a terrible subject to write about. For free, there was that addendum about some very crude ideas about how to reorganize. They still stand by them, not necessarily all of them. One day he called. I can almost see him on the telephone with his eyes bugging out. He said: "I knew that you were involved in a lot, but I didn't even begin to know."
Q: Yes, I've already figured that out just from the memos that I've looked at. I've been amazed at how many different things you were involved in.
I was involved in everything that Bob was involved in because that was my job. I did not have any training for any of it. I think he was just lucky that's all.
Q: So do I. (Jack begins looking at some old documents in his files and commenting on them.)
This was in an area where only the Commissioner tread. It was at meetings where he alone represented the Bureau in dealing with an Under Secretary or a Deputy or the Secretary himself. So he was writing out guidance for me, although it was far from what normal situations would require to spell out. But it was far more detailed than normally took place because he had to tell me where he was at this meeting, what he had arrived at or at least his thinking and then point out sort of a general direction where he would like to go to work out whatever argument that was necessary.
Now I want to say this. This is unusually documented as you can see. Why was it documented? Well, it may have been due to the fact that our facilities included printing, and the group that handled that work, headed by Lew Dykes, was not as busy as they normally would be and I thought this was an especially good thing to have. So I asked them to print and bind it. I wasn't necessarily documenting it for the Historian, but as a reference. There's a lot of stuff there that I honestly did not personally do. I guided it I'm sure, to make sure that these very generalized directions from Bob Ball were carried out, which were unusual because I didn't often get even that much direction. Usually there would be a few words exchanged between Bob and myself. He would say: "Well, you know what to do, do it."
I see from what I just read today that there were several notes where he's telling me what happened at the meeting and giving me a feeling for where they are going. He did not have to spell it out because he knows that there's much that has already been discussed and that are commonly held views of himself and myself. He gives me only a bare minimum and leaves a maximum amount of discretion to me. At the end he reserves a little bit of time to review the end product carefully, because as I said, he had an enormous feeling that he did not want anything ever to go that would end up before his superiors, in this case the Secretary, unless he was aware and informed about it, so it was not something that he overlooked. He would want to know all the actions I took that I could testify to in respect to the Department, in respect to SSA's relationship to HEW, their efforts to reach out and take over, have more and more control. There would be a distinction in his mind between the things that the Departmental staff wanted, or the Secretary and Under Secretary, etc. If he had direct contacts with the Secretary, he did not worry too much about the Assistant Secretaries. But if the person he was normally dealing with was the Assistant Secretary, he would want to have full knowledge of everything that went before them, and have approved it in advance, because it was his message and his reply to something that the Secretary has asked one way or another for him to do. So he would be very careful about not only the content, but also the tone and everything else. So this is unusually documented because of his direct involvement and not the extent of his involvement.
Becoming Bob Ball's Executive Officer
And so I went to work as Administrative Assistant to Bob Ball, as his Deputy. Later on I was in the same job, operating the same way, when he went from Deputy under Christgau to Director, and I became his Executive Officer.
Bob Ball with my private counseling and encouragement over the years, and through his active membership in the American Public Welfare, made the decision to give up part of his empire as Commissioner of Welfare, and as Commissioner of Social Security. He was over both. Altmeyer had all that, and he had succeeded to that job. And I encouraged him, very much, because he used to say, "I'm spending ninety percent of my time before Robert C. Byrd," who was investigating welfare and all that. At that time Byrd was very anti-Negro. He was having a rough time defending Welfare and Social Security. His interest was Social Security, and indeed all his basic talent went in that direction. Although I'd have to say, before I quit this segment, that he was a fast learner.
There was no doubt at the earliest I was almost indispensable to him in terms of appearing before Congress, which he was a schooled master at. I was good at my field, preparing for, analyzing the work, and knowing how to deal with any facet. We had big briefing binders and all of that. It didn't take more than a couple of times when he leaned heavily on me. Although he never turned it over to me, and rightly so. He was Commissioner and he testified. But he would get a lot of people depending on the answers, etc. or just to make it clear that I and he, you know, were speaking. He never made it seem like I was a clerk. He always assumed responsibility, but I did a lot of the answers over the years. Increasingly over the years, he was by-passing me, he would get budget information directly from Millie, Millie Tyssowski, and I had no problem with that.
But what I started to say was that he turned out to be a good administrator, seeing in large administrative terms, how to mold an organization, how to arrange it, what its purpose was and so forth.
In our private conversations he would say, "What do you think?" He might not be knowledgeable of all the gyrations, but he didn't take second place to anybody in terms of his own thinking. But we never really stopped running, in my opinion, from the administrative level, and seeking it out. Indeed, as he brought matters of policy into substantive areas, he often sought my opinion, and I gave it to him. I often participated in critically reviewing some of the important documents that he wrote. When I say important, according to him everything that went from him to the Secretary, and he knew the Secretary was going to read it, or any other person in a similar position, a Congressman, a committee--was important. And if it was super-important he would also give Alvin or Arthur Hess, or Ida Merriam, or Bob Myers, or all of us, a chance to critique it. I often would edit it in draft. He would give copies out. Then the copies had to be collated and the various comments reviewed, and I sometimes found some strange marginal noting or editing or changing, sometimes when it was more difficult to describe the change than to make it I would just go ahead and change it.
Role of Regional Commissioners & Regional Directors
This bound volume says, "Strengthening the Role of the SSA Regional Commissioner." I gave you a little bit of the background of Fred Malik. He was Deputy Undersecretary of the DHEW. He was really sort of a hatchet man for the Republican party, and President Nixon's crew. He later went to the White House and worked from there in terms of trying to grab the strings of power. This was not in the first term of Nixon, I think, but the second. Fred Malik, he was very political. I told you that.
There was a report that I wrote which held them at bay, that had to do with whether we wanted to give authority, direct-line authority, to the people in the regions. So I think this is that report. It was almost wholly the product of my own effort, although I think I had some committee established--I've forgotten.
Here is a good table of contents giving a chronology of documents, statements by the President establishing common regional boundaries and locations for five agencies. Their idea was that different agencies had different regional lines. They wanted to establish easier control and, of course, some brilliant genius there figured that would be accomplished by making uniform regions. Well, that has benefits and non-benefits. My immediate reaction is that they came to the conclusion first and did not determine what the cost was. Although in a sense, you might say, they didn't plow ahead; they did give us a small window of opportunity to object.
Q: And you did?
And I did. It worked for Social Security because we kept on going pretty much the way we were operating. I found other ways to enhance--somewhat with window dressing, but not entirely--the strength of the Regional Commissioners so that if they backed off, at least made an exception, it would be a face-saving kind of a thing.
Q: So their idea was that the Regional Commissioners should be more or less independent of headquarters?
Well, it wasn't independence. When you follow the logic of it, if you give them line authority over the offices, then by that logic, you've taken away line authority from the Hugh McKennas, who were doing such a great job in bringing all the offices throughout the country under some measure of uniformity. Hugh McKenna would argue against others in the central office if they tended to want to make them identical. Hugh McKenna would be the one in the central office to say, "I don't know, they have their own unique problems." Only some people would have suggested that.
But the important thing is that if you changed it and gave it to the Regional Commissioners you'd find that however many regional commissioners there were, you'd have that many different programs. Because the Regional Commissioners had no policy staffs, no people who could step in on policy and all the other functions that were carefully manufactured back in central office, and argued out amongst the various components so that it would be fully coordinated.
They would also be subject to political pressures which they would not be able to withstand. Because a single Senator or a single important Congressman or politician in a State could bring to bear his power directly on those Regional Commissioners to try to get his peculiar views enacted or embraced by Social Security. Under the then going circumstances, and the circumstances today, he would have had to try to get it through central office. And that would have been much more difficult because there were other competing views in the country, as well as defenders of different points of view. Bob Ball used to talk about and preach uniformity. In my own talks, I'd talk about this program having to give people equal treatment, not identical treatment, but equal results. You didn't want to have a Payment Center in one part of the country paying benefits in such and such cases and the same case in Boston or New York not being paid. That's the inevitable result of a program where the authority is dispersed. The same kind of thing happens when you give programs to 50 individual States; you have to have a hell of a big coordinating process if you want uniformity.
Then there was a memorandum from the HEW field organization; another one from Fennerman, the Acting Secretary, and another one about the field relationship, and then another one from Frederick V. Malik, Deputy Undersecretary, "Agenda for Proposed Meeting with Deputy Undersecretary." This is all in 1969. "Advice of Significant Developments," from Robert C. Peddicord, my deputy.
Q: So this book is all of the memos and things that were exchanged on this issue?
I think everything is wrapped up here. I'm looking after you, Larry.
Q: I'm glad you are; this is very nice.
This is some of the ways they've used the President's directives to tie in to this. Then there is a memorandum from Robert M. Ball, Commissioner of Social Security, "Decentralization of Authority." So let's take a look at this. This is to the Undersecretary from Robert M. Ball. I'm cold on this.
Q: No problem.
We'll talk about this; I just want to refresh myself. "This memorandum is a follow up on a recent conversation, concerning the report of your committee on HEW Regional Organization. Upon reflection, I think I may not have emphasized one major point about Social Security's regional organization. In Social Security, the real issue is not whether responsibility should be decentralized through the field, but rather whether the line of decentralization should be direct to the Regional Representatives, as it is now, or whether line authority should descend through the Regional Commissioners." We decentralized through the Regional Representatives to the offices back home, but not to the people in the field, not to the people who are sort of related to the HEW Director. "For some years, a broad spectrum of delegations to act on a wide range of administrative and program matters has been made to SSA regional and field officials. To illustrate with just a few examples, the claims process is entirely decentralized in health insurance. Regional Representatives have the basic authority for day-to-day delegation oversight and coordination of all program activities, etc. In all three major program areas, the Regional Reps of the program bureaus have the authority to issue special or supplemental policies." But he looks back to the central office, which is already coordinated with the other offices here. "In the broader area of administration, the Regional Representatives have final selecting authority for employees up through GS-12, and within the ceiling and budgetary allotments may allocate staff." So the field doesn't have to look to central office to make moves; they have large delegations of administrative authority.
Q: So you're arguing that we've already decentralized authority?
Well yes. Obviously, in order to operate, we have had to make an optimum arrangement and tried to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is not practical to make choices about people we want to promote by having somebody back in central office do that for Texas and for Montana?
Q: It doesn't make sense.
It doesn't make sense. The thing is we want to have the policies that guide them to be uniform; we don't want one region doing something that's wholly inconsistent with what another regions are doing. They could have slightly different processes or ways of going about doing it. But in terms of who has the actual authority, who uses the actual authority, we want it as close to the scene as possible. Why control it at all? Well, we control it only above a certain grade. Where we ought to be getting the kind of grade that the central office ought to become aware of. At that time, grade 12 was that point at which when you went past that, you were into the regional and field management staff, and also the feeder staffs, people who were important to do the kind of work that was done in central office.
Q: So the Department wanted to decentralize more line authority, and you guys argued against that?
I think so, well I know so. I don't remember my report, there was a report--you have it. There was a discussion they wanted to have at Camp David with the Undersecretary. "The attached reports ought to be discussed at Camp David." (This is Malik.)
Q: Camp David - that's where they send quarreling nations, Jack. You and the Department had to go to Camp David?!
No, I didn't. See, this was strictly at the highest level. "Now forwarded for your review prior to that time." And the see below is Executive Assistant to the Secretary, the Assistant Secretary; the agency heads (Bob Ball); the General Counsel, and the Director of Civil Rights. Basically, stacked at the HEW level and the agency heads with the next level on. They were going to discuss the recommendations of the committee. Then there's a handbook for regional planning and evaluation of systems, describing the planning system to be implemented in each of the regions. Obviously, it was some very vital stuff for effecting our operations within DHEW. And it was kind of a fat report that Malik was sending out for them to study.
And then here is, to me (confidential informal); I'll read it. This is Bob Ball to me (confidential informal) note that I preserved for history; Bob didn't like to preserve these.
Q: I'm glad you did.
This is July 28, 1969 to Jack Futterman. "Subject: Discussion at Camp David. Two main topics discussed at Camp David were the recommendations for change in regional organization, not geographic but functional, the work planning and evaluation system to be installed in the regions; the recommendations of the personnel and manpower development review team and high priority and Congressional correspondence." See, they were reaching to pull together at the highest level. "I'm sending you a copy of a note that I sent for Shalbit on the last item. There were of course other topics discussed. But these are the main things of interest. I might say that I think, by and large, we came out quite well in all of this. Although there is a continuing theme of emphasis on Agency independence and identification and a push toward various programs and plans under the departmental basis, I believe that actions in this direction, as far as they affect Social Security, can be kept within reasonable and proper bounds. Obviously, not everything will be done as we would wish. And they found quite a bit of understanding and appreciation of our situation." I think that resulted from the prior stuff that we had summarized. "On the Personnel and Manpower Development Review Team report, it seemed to me that the career development changes are all in the direction that we would want, and I so indicated. Incidentally, in private conversations, John Cole was very complimentary of John Schwartz and his contributions."
Anyway, just to finish up this particular note, Ball was saying in this note to me, "that I would want to continue to look, for example, to the head of the Bureau of Health Insurance for the state of health or that aspect of the program--not to the 10 or 12 Regional Commissioners." That's something to be avoided. "There is no question that the push is in that direction." That direction meaning to give line authority to the Regional Commissioners where we don't want it to be. "There is no question that's where the pressure is and that line authority will be delegated to the Regional Commissioners of all other agencies." Which is what I was telling you because we have already established the uniqueness that we were a national program which had to be administered uniformly throughout the Nation, and we made that point in that earlier study. "I think we will need to strike a good balance."
That's the trick. When you defeat or frustrate a push on the part of higher-ups, and it's a complete route, you leave staff resentment and you leave the idea that those guys at Social Security just don't want to ever do anything-they resist all attempts to "join the team." So to mitigate that, to balance that, I always tried to see their point of view as completely as I could to understand it and to take the benefits they were seeking, what they wanted, and try to make it as feasible as possible for them to achieve those results, not necessarily doing it the way they initially suggested. That's the balance, to give in and not to resist the idea. What will get anybody's back up, mine included, is for a subordinate to tell you: "Don't tell us how to do it. Leave off. Don't bother us about how to do it. Tell us what you want." Well, sometimes that's okay and that's exactly the way it ought to be. There are other times you're really saying your concerns are not ours, and you're turning them off. So you're giving them reason to think that you just resist their ideas, don't want to cooperate, and you have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything. That's a bad reputation to get with any superior.
"I think you need to strike a good balance and make this a more important job in effect. In fact, maybe we can follow the model they have adopted for the Regional Directors and even the reasoning that leads them not to give the Regional Directors line authority. In any event, you will notice the series of Next Steps on page 26. I suppose our first reaction is to make clear what our understanding of Phase 2 really is and that we're proceeding with Phase 1 to evaluate the question of whether it makes sense to give the Regional Commissioners line authority. I think we need to put this in writing and make it formal in relation to these requested actions. I will, of course, be glad to talk over any of these matters with you after you have had a chance to look at the material. The other point is that I think we have a memorandum in the office that indicates some of these things are going to be discussed again in the staff meeting on August 5, but Betty has the memo and I just glanced at it."
I really haven't put it in the sequence of the reports. I don't know whether my report on the Regional Commissioners preceded this or not.
Q: Yes, we'll figure that out. This is really great how you documented this whole event so thoroughly and in such a well-organized way.
This shows also that I brought my staff into this, I'm sure. This note I'm writing is from 1970 to Bob Peddicord, my Deputy, and the subject is Summary and Analysis of Components' Comments on Regional Commissioner Implementation Plan - Your Note of July 24, 1970 with Binder Enclosed. "Bob, first let me say that your staff and you did a fine job in presenting a complicated and very detailed longish matter for my consideration. I was able to do in a couple of hours what otherwise could have taken all day. I appreciate the skillful effort. As an aside, I would like to suggest that we work out some way to export this example of good staff work to other divisions in OA." That's Office of Administration. He was at this time not my Deputy-I think. "As in the past, DSUP has done similar good work. DTCD (these are Divisions) has tried, but not quite achieved a desirable level. Of course, this product sets a standard for DAPP (Administrative Planning and something) at the time. I would certainly be happy to see it met consistently. To me in follow-through, my thoughts are to prepare a transmittal memo to the Commissioner included." Well, these are detailed instructions on how to follow through the Next Steps.
Q: So you basically ended up with your strategy which was to give some increased delegation to the Regional Commissioners as a way of giving them kind of a half of loaf like you were talking about, to be responsive.
We had to convince them that they were getting everything they wanted, not exactly in the way they had thought originally. In this particular case we had to say: "For Social Security it's reasonable for you to make an exception if you want to get the results you want."
This little table outlines all this. The kind of stuff, the details, which I didn't personally get into that part of it. I know you will love this because it's bound and everything.
Q: Oh yes, this is great stuff.
A change in the kind of organization SSA had would have been disastrous.
What I want to do on this is always try to give you the background of something. I know this was a significant study. It was significant because the Secretary's office was being very heavy-handed. There were some set views that, for one thing, the regions were improperly organized. They had, and I'm speaking now not in absolute terms, but generally speaking, a dominant view in the Secretary's office repeatedly would crop up that the career staff wasn't trustworthy. This was particularly strong with a guy like Fred Malik.
My perception was that they didn't trust the top career staff. I don't mean just at the top, but several layers down. Without aiming it at individuals personally, just as a general matter, they seemed to have general views that the career staff was a bunch of people that were, not all, but dominantly, made up of politically-oriented patronage-type people. And if it was that, it would be logical to put their own people in. Although I don't like the system either way.
Q: This was during the Nixon Administration?
Yes. But I have to tell you that Malik wound up in the White House in charge of personnel, selecting the people for placement in agencies and doing a lot of other hard work. He had a reputation, before he came in, as a sort of specialized business person who turned failing companies around by, among other things, greatly reducing staff.
Anyway, the impression I had, and it was a strong one, was that they didn't like the way the Regional Office was organized, and they were very strongly in favor of making Regional Directors actually in charge of each program and running each program under them. So Social Security would be carried out by 12 Regional Directors. And the Commissioner only could work through them. But he would not be able to work through them because the Directors would report to the Secretary. They were Regional Directors but they reported to the Secretary. So in effect this would reduce Social Security to a staff organization. That's what was talked about. I think they lost that battle, or at least they decided not to fight that.
Then they had the idea, I guess maybe not for political reasons, but for their own administrative biases, they thought, "well, the Commissioner, you call the guy a Regional Commissioner, he ought to have authority." But again, the same principle applies, you give them the kind of authority they had in mind, and you've got 12 different programs administered under 12 Commissioners. As I used to tell the Commissioner many times, "You've got 12 different commissioners. And they'd be more and more subject to political pressure in the regions," not just the dominant Federal political party, but local parties who had power. And you'd have all kinds of deviations in the law as it was applied regionally.
So that's where I was coming from. That neither idea was a way of operating a rational program like Social Security, which had the uniqueness about it that whether you filed a claim in Prescile, Maine or Houston, Texas, you should come out with the same result, it was one law. Up till this point, we have not had any reason to set up regional differences in benefits or anything else.
Q: Now you have to agree that the degree of independence we had out in the regions was anomalous, as you said, in some ways. I mean we in principle were under the Regional Directors, but we never behaved that way.
No, we were not.
Q: Okay. So we never were?
We never were, to my knowledge. There were some Regional Directors that were more assertive and would introduce themselves into a case, now and then, that it got into the papers, as he properly should. Because as the representative of the Secretary, he knew he should know no barriers in helping the Secretary. But not in his own right. So we're not asserting that the Secretary couldn't act in the region through them. They knew that there were certain things that were subject to that kind of pressure which they got into. If there was an emergency in the region, of course he would have to be involved. They usually had the Regional Commissioners pretty well under their thumb. No Regional Commissioner that I knew of, unless it was a new one, would not be able to talk with great authority. The Regional Commissioners could make life miserable for them up there. I know of no Regional Commissioner who didn't try to keep his Regional Director happy. No Regional Director that I know would ever try to announce a program policy or procedure or anything like that. He would talk to the Regional Commissioner and we'd get it through that way. Or some Regional Directors would call direct; not even go through the Commissioner. But they never were responsible, they were the public relations representative. We did not weaken them; I mean, HEW did not weaken them and say, "Oh well, they don't have responsibility." They could push an emergency button that would get action, because they were representatives of the Secretary. And if they thought there were something important, I have no doubt that they could have called any Commissioner and said, "We have a serious problem," and they would have gotten an immediate response. But they would not have said, "Well, I think that's a disgrace and we should change it immediately, and I'm going to announce the change." That never happened, I never knew of an occasion that it did.
But this idea about the Regional Directors became part of their notion of how to get more rational administration. And so they favored it. I think Fred Malik had issued some kind of a paper, in effect more than just saying, "Let us have your comments on it," in effect saying, "This is the way we propose to go. And we'll give you a chance to comment." My memory could be a little faulty on that.
So this was an important study. And it was pretty much a one-man job. Also I'm sure we didn't have the 100 percent support of the Regional Commissioners. But outwardly, I don't remember anyone objecting or arguing about this thing. They knew as a practical matter, they didn't know enough claims policy on their own; they didn't know enough about running the field organization on their own, or the Division of Operations on their own, to do anything, except to report; to be the eyes and ears of the Commissioner.
I wrote this to Bob Ball. This paper sets out finally, formally and in detail my argument. Here is a summary of my thinking on the subject, plus a recommendation on how we should proceed from there. "Basically, I think that for much the same reasons, there is a full line of authority for Regional Directors in the Department. The full line of authority for Regional Commissioners would not be the best arrangement for SSA. The full line of authority would diffuse the line of responsibility for what we are."
My argument with Bob Ball was, long before this, I gave him a very strong reaction when we named the Regional Commissioners the Regional Commissioners. I said, "Bob, there's always an attempt to build up people's egos, to write up and give them gaudy titles." The titles are important, not only for other people, because you get written up in the Government book and some Congressman looks you up and he says, Oh, you're the Regional Director, and he thinks you have more power and more authority than you do. But even more importantly, it misleads people over and beyond the organization as to what their authority is. And eventually, over time, the job description changes to conform to the title. And they never can be, and I used this example I can recollect, there never can be regional commissioners. "Let me ask you, Bob, how many of them do anything that you do? Do they attend Congressional sessions and argue about legislation? Do they defend the budget? Do they make policy? Do they do this, do they do that? No, they are your eyes and ears. And that's what you want them for." As long as we have a central office, you're not decentralizing the administration because of some very important points, one of which is uniformity of administration in Social Security. That overrides almost everything. Second, going along with that, it insulates people from local politicians to keep authority centralized, and so on. I wrote it.
Q: Yes, this is an important memo.
See, I've described it like this: "If we were to give full lines of authority to the Regional Commissioners, I would no longer be able to hold the Director of the Bureau of Health Insurance accountable for the overall administration of Medicare. I'll have to look to the Director plus 10 Regional Commissioners, each with his own emphasis, and so forth. Under such a manner, I don't think we should count on the degree of quickly responsive coherent overall administration. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the Regional Commissioners' effectiveness should be strengthened." I knew I wasn't going to win this one unless I gave something; I didn't give very much.
"We propose to do this by granting him a number of new delegations that would give the Regional Commissioners muscle they could apply in all SSA activities." And then I wanted to knock down some of the shibboleths too. "Giving full line authority to the Regional Commissioners should not be equated with getting more of the Government's business done locally, rather than in Washington, as the President and the Administration indicated." That was the broad thing.
A very large part of Social Security's business has always been done locally. From the beginning, we emphasized face-to-face service, our district offices, rather than dealing with a centralized bureaucracy. Early in the game, we shifted the decision on entitlement from headquarters to the six Payment Centers. In recent years, we have placed much responsibility at the local and regional levels. We've made some permanent determinations in claims at the district office level, even before I left
Q: So to come back to this departmental proposal, you guys fended it off, and they gave up on it. Is that what happened?
Yes. Let me read a little more of this so I remember a little more. "I get a feeling in this area, a lot of the demand on us is going to be to help other people as well. One problem is, of course, that they look across the Department (they the HEW at the top level) as if things were the same everywhere. But in discussion, it's clear that they understand the difference. I'm talking from a chart presentation, and not the report itself, which I have not seen. I'm forwarding to you the chart presentation, as it was distributed. I'm also sending you the handbook for the Regional Planning and Evaluation System, which is to be tested in Atlanta and New York, starting almost immediately. I believe that the key point here is that it is recognized that this is an adjunct to a more general planning system in agencies like ours, where such systems are in effect. What they have in mind is to select a quite limited number of Secretary objectives in the regions and then develop planning and evaluation systems related to those objectives. I have a feeling that 95 percent of our planning and work will go on relatively untouched. But of course, this isn't completely clear at this stage. Nor would I be inclined to press the point." There's always a threat though, that even though what we're doing may be 95 percent untouched, some of the empire builders below the Secretary and the Undersecretarys' level get the work; they want to take over command of things. And that 95 percent rapidly diminishes and gets changed; it depends on who is calling the shots sometimes.
Here's a task force report that I haven't read for a long time. "Here I need to interpret for you the special situation as far as Social Security is concerned. The first recommendation in the second page should really be interpreted to read transfer line authority to the Regional Commissioner, if so indicated by the study in the first phase, and to the extent so indicated. I have no problems with the other recommendations on SSA, though I don't believe some of the things that are said in the report are correct. As you know, we are proceeding to strengthen the role of the Regional Representative in health insurance, to give him considerable additional staff. As far as the Regional Commissioner is concerned, we have agreed to give him a staff to help in planning and evaluation, at the very least. I'm willing to study the line-authority idea. But off hand, I have made it very clear that in all probability, I would want to continue to look, for example, to the head of the Bureau of Health Insurance for full responsibility for carrying out the program throughout the country."
The Statement of Bureau Objectives
This is a statement of the Bureau objectives, and it is one of the early ones. It's signed by Victor Christgau. You can have it. I'll give you this. Do you have it?
Q: Well, I have some of these, but I don't know how far back they go.
Well, I'll tell you, they go back to about 1957. I told you that this did not start out to be. . .
Q: Yes, tell me about this again. I think we talked about this.
Yes, we did talk about it. I'll tell you about it. Bob Peddicord, who later became one of my deputies and retired on the same day that I retired from the Office of Administration--are you familiar with him?
Q: Not too much. I think you mentioned him before.
Yes. Bob Peddicord was an able person. Some of the things he was known for, I'll mention the least important, he was noted for a large family--he had about 10 kids. Amongst the people in the Equitable Building he and another fellow, who was later killed on the streets of Baltimore, were in a competition, or anyway we put them in competition. The other one, Hank something or other, had 12 kids.
Bob Peddicord was a very serious, quite religious man. After retirement he became one of the cardinal's chief volunteer helpers on a lot of administrative matters. He was a scholarly sort of person and very well read--he and Harry Probst, who was also very well read. Harry was my assistant, but lower ranking than Bob. Bob was Deputy. Harry was my Executive Officer in the Office of Administration. Harry Probst was known for his humor, his wit, and they were part of my office in the suite.
I'm going back now to many years before when we were all together. That was starting in 1965. Earlier I'd become the Executive Officer for Bob Ball, in 1957. One of the early assignments Bob Ball asked me specifically to do was sort of a throw-away assignment. He said that they're foundering, in effect, although he never used language like that. But these people were putting out these work plans. You've heard about those?
Well, we used to go through a whole big deal about it each year where every unit had to submit work plans. They were a lot of words with very little follow-through. This is my own personal view, but I would say the work plan process was a paper exercise. Like most paper exercises, it was not all that helpful. What made it important and good was that at some early point, before the plans were formulated, we had a process of getting informational input to the people who had to make the plans. We had what I think was a feature that was wiser than anybody thought of when it became part of the process. It was basically a meeting, not of selective staff, but all the staff above a certain grade.
At that meeting various officials would be involved, one of whom would be me, and this was when I was in Budget, going back that far. I would give the budget picture, what it looked like, what we did and what we accomplished, what it looked like in terms of money, in terms of staff, and I would make very helpful forecasts of it. Then others would get up and talk. Maybe Bartlett would get up and talk about policy and the outlook of policy. McKenna might make some little input about field operations, etc. I think Bob Ball did most of what I just said, not for budget, but for field operations and all that policy, etc. These fellows were there with Bob Ball. If Bob Ball does anything superbly, it was the things that he did at that meeting and in what we called regional meetings. Because he was a superb teacher, and that process, whatever it was named, really served as a way of bringing up everybody's level of knowledge from the mechanics to the reasons and to the purpose--elevated the whole discussion and the whole concept.
We had a widespread attendance, it was not selective, not the chief of this and the chief of that, but all the chiefs and the indians above a certain grade. It exposed them to things that they wouldn't get in their own offices, to an understanding and a perspective, and beginning to get the basic values that dominated the whole rather than the values of a lesser part of the organization which they might have been looking at it with tunnel vision.
So Bob Ball used to make the regional conferences not only highly educational, but in addition he instilled an understanding of the higher purposes. He elevated everybody and gave them motivation, and they enjoyed it. They rather looked forward to Bob's talks. Even to a greater extent in Baltimore everybody looked forward to that conference. Bob Ball's contribution was still far more than anybody else's. But there was also an interplay which would not often be there at the regional level. What comes to my mind is that there were dimensions that Bob would not be comfortable with personally--to try to give the details. Those of us who were able to pick up the level and relate the details to that brought it down even further to a meaningful point to the persons who attended. I think the grade level was 9 and above.
Q: These were preparations for the work plans?
Yes. Everybody was making inputs, background, you know.
Q: So everybody was there from grade 9 all the way up to Bob Ball and the Bureau Directors, right?
Yes, that's right.
I think if the work planning method, which is all a lot of paper, did only that, I think it basically did that, it would have been valuable. I don't want to overstate it, but I'm giving you my opinion, it would have been far, far more worthwhile than most other activities, and I think it distinguished us, if you think about it, and I have. Bob did it naturally, but I doubt whether he took the time ever to really think through how great its impact was. It was my job in the Office of Administration to evaluate that kind of thing. We never discussed it. Or maybe we did, because I sometimes have written on this. I don't think you can recover it, but I have written on this in justification of certain things.
I'm a rationalizer. I don't have any particularly outstanding intelligence. Any of us who are in this level of work need to have a certain basic amount. One hundred and twenty-five I.Q. will get you there. I think that's about what I've got, maybe 125, maybe 130. I know somewhere along the line I have an I.Q. mark. I had staff that I could swear had 150. They were down the line. There is not necessarily a positive correlation between the higher I.Q. and the higher accomplishment. After a certain point it's how hard you work and other qualities you have.
The thoughts that I had about that work planning method, and we're digressing and we'll get back to that, is that it was something that made the Social Security Administration different. It was consistent with other things which don't come to me right now. But I probably can sit down and point out the way in which we were different. I may point out one. Take a look at the attendance. The attendance was for everybody above a certain level. This was a more meaningful opportunity that took place than these photographic opportunities, I use the word photographic to mean more than photographic, where it's a formalized procedure that the head guy gets up and talks in a broad motivational way that people are not too over-motivated to hear--they've heard it before. It's in very broad terms. So I'm talking about what makes this contribute to our being unique. And I think that first it reveals a unique approach. Where it's not one of these "dress occasions." But it's a "the Commissioner gets down into the trenches and everybody is equal" occasion, where anybody could get up and say, "I have a point to make." Or "I have something to flesh out; a fact that at your level you would not know." It also gave individuals at the lowest level, or at the lower levels, an opportunity to hear directly from the top staff, rather than a distillation of what Commissioner Ball or what Jack Futterman or Hugh McKenna said. Get it direct. And it's amazing, you know, how distorted and incomplete that kind of message gets. It was a sort of a democratic, intellectually democratic, kind of thing. I think I may have told you that when I was Executive Officer to Bob Ball, I was not fully equal in rank around the conference table to some of the people.
Q: Like the Bureau Directors.
Bureau Directors, etc. But Mel Blumenthal said, "Meetings are no damn good unless you're there; nobody speaks up except you." I operated on the assumption, and this I'm relating to the meetings that I just talking about, I operated on the assumption that around that table, where you're holding a meeting of the top staff to find out, to discuss a matter, everybody is equal. Otherwise, don't make them participants; they're not there just to listen. Everybody is equal. Of course, you have to have sense, if you are a junior. But if you've got a thought, feel free to express it, and to argue about it. And that's what Blumenthal was referring to. "When you're not there, nobody raises anything."
And here I was Bob Ball's Executive Officer. Oftentimes, I can guarantee you, that if we had discussed it by ourselves, the two of us, it would have been the same way. Not that I was proving him wrong or anything like that, we would have worked out a redefinition, you know, an enrichment of both points of view or an enrichment of not necessarily two different points of view, but an enlargement, etc. So that kind of a feeling also had to be one of the things that this big meeting created; a feeling that they were meaningfully participating. They were meaningfully participating in the top policies; dealing with the top procedures, the top decisions that needed to be made. They were really partners.
And I go back to one of my favorite stories in dealing with motivation. One of my top stories is this: Two men were laying bricks. He went up to the first and he said to him, "What are you doing? May I ask what are you doing?" "Well obviously, I'm laying bricks." And he said, "thank you." And he went on to the other guy and he said to him, "What are you doing, may I ask?" And he said, "I'm building a cathedral." Now I used that to illustrate the point I'm making in respect to the participants at the meeting that we had in conjunction with work plans. This was a participation meeting at levels of people with fairly significant jobs, but not just confined to the top layers or the chiefs. But getting the staff and making them feel that they were doing something meaningful beyond the obvious things. So that they wouldn't describe it as "well, I fill out this form."
So the first thing on the work plans is that it was a magnificent occasion for the staff to hear a philosopher, and Bob Ball was a philosopher, talk about Social Security and to be motivated in the highest way by the place, the program that they worked for and to see their work in relationship to the total, and far more, to participate in it, to be a participant.
When I first started with Social Security in 1936, I was in the recordkeeping outfit. To the people outside that we dealt with, our landlord and the people to whom we became friendly, we talked like we were a part of a religion. That was because we identified with the Social Security program. I used to say that even the black laborers--I say black because that seemed to cover that category of workers for Social Security as laborers--were proud; they worked for Social Security. They didn't work for some outfit where they were hauling filing cabinets here and there. They were proud of the organization. They only had a very simplified notion of what Social Security stood for, but they had it. They knew Social Security was good; it was going to pay benefits to people who couldn't work any longer because of this or that.
So the work plan meeting was great because of exposure to Bob, the way he helped people understand things that they would not ever have understood. It helped them put things in place. It made them feel a part of the whole; it made them feel an important part of the whole and made them identify with what they were doing. So I think that accounts, in good part, for the loyalty, which was generally regarded as an outstanding, noticeable, characteristic of people at Social Security.
In addition, there were many other things; I could go on and probably talk for a couple of hours if I just tried to pick up each little facet, which I think made a subtle contribution to the quality of the organization and its operation. It reflected a high-mindedness; not a crass approach, not a cynical approach; it reflected ideals, the best ideals we had, you know about the poor and so forth and how we needed to put forth our best efforts as government surrogates. We were obligated to do this, willingly obligated.
It became an unspoken understanding between Bob Ball and myself in the period of July 1955 to July 1957. In July 1957, I first reported to him. And I served basically as his Executive officer straight through till 1965, when I became the Assistant Commissioner for Administration which, essentially, was an extension of that job, with more power and more staff to get things done. I didn't have to do so much through other people. So we knew that there were a lot of things in the process that did not, were not, most efficiently organized. That there were a lot of things that were taking time and effort. But those things were part of a larger process which, on the whole, we wanted to continue, work planning and such. There were some features in work planning, that without speaking about it, we recognized needed to be improved. And we both probably had some different ideas about what was good and what was bad about it. But I'm sure that if we had thoroughly talked about it, we would have come to an almost complete agreement on that.
He was the boss. So any time he decided, "Well, that's it," that was it. I didn't waste time trying to argue with him unless I thought it was important. And I always had a complete hearing and I think it always worked that way. And he understood that.
But this implicit understanding was that there was a lot of wasted motion, I think. And it was fuzzy. There was a lot of paper writing and very little follow-through. And after the creation, the decisions, such as they were, were made, there was little productive work that came out of it. It was the process of thinking what to write that was productive, as far as it went. But we also knew that in some divisions, some parts of the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance, the top people really did not participate. It was the job of some second or third-ranked person who did the work plans. And they scrambled to try to put something down that they thought would be acceptable. And maybe it got a cursory review. That's my opinion.
I never bothered Ball about this. After all, I was under that discipline too. I mean, I was part of a division, the Division of Administrative Planning, Management and Budget, I think that was the title of it, with Roy Touche. He was, as a matter of fact, probably a source of this wasted motion--he was big on plans, you know, talking about them.
So I had my own view of it at that level, before I worked with Bob directly. One of the things he tried to touch on was that the work plans should give some idea of goals. He was not successful at getting goals worked into the work plans, adequate goals. This was a time at which "management by objectives" became very fashionable. And I remember Marion Folsom--not Marion Folsom, but the guy now who is very old who used to be the head of Civil Service for a short while, he was the president of a couple of colleges.
Q: Are you talking about Fleming?
Arthur Fleming. He came out with a set of objectives.
Q: By the way, Fleming died last month.
Oh, did he? I'm sorry to hear it.
Q: Ninety-one. He was 91.
Well-meaning guy, he was well-known in many circles. I heard him at my temple. My rabbi, who was also active in civil rights activities, brought him in on some occasion. He was very infirm by then. I saw him less than a year ago. Wasn't he at one of the Bob Ball affairs?
Q: I don't think he was at the one that you and I were at.
I don't remember him there. But I remember him at some recent occasion. But anyway, he was the head of the DHEW. I think that during this process, when we were already engaged, I think it probably reflected Bob Ball's antenna. He had an antenna that alerted him to things that were fashionable. And he just didn't have the time, I guess, to get into this. He asked me to work on it, since it was not coming out of the individual divisions in the work-planning process, to see what I could do about objectives. And I have a preference, although it's not always revealed in the structure of other committees that I set up later on, for a working group, people who, other workers, what do you call them, the "worker bees," rather than the heads of organizations. Although as I said, in my last four or five years of service, I set up a number of committees that I presided over. But I was the work horse and there were certain people on my staff that were work horses.
Well, in this particular event, I was fairly new, I guess. I guess it was 1957, when I started, shortly after, maybe 1958. Ball asked me to work on it. Well, Bob Peddicord was the guy that was doing this work actually. I told him and Harry Probst who I thought could make a contribution. They were executive-officer types. Sherman Gunn was an executive officer for Bartlett. Herman Bye, who had been in my wake to some extent, was involved. He had worked for me in a number of places at Candler, in the Control Branch. When I came back after the war he became, I think, one of my deputies. He was on that group. So these were people who were producers on their own, who had a fairly wide knowledge. But what was happening was, we first pulled together objectives. And it was a list people thought of--I mean the participants thought of.
But I have a desire to know in what way the partitions were made of the subject, of any subject. I guess the mathematician part is that they have to be necessary and sufficient to cover the whole subject; side-angle-side proves that two triangles are congruent; leave off any part of that and you can't conclude very much. Just putting a list out, you can't conclude very much either. I mean, you may have expanded one thought to 10 items and another thought you've just left unexpanded. What have you got, the weight of 10 to 1 or something? No. You needed to be able to convey whatever you're trying to do in any kind of partitioning.
So I began to think quite differently about this. I let Bob do all the work of pulling together all the various ideas. And when we met, I went into it with him. And I said, "Now I've worked on this just to get some basic things clarified in my mind. I just think that we should not repeat what all the people who are expounding on management by objectives seem to be doing these days." Mr. Fleming's objectives were something like this: "The Children's Bureau is spending X million dollars for a certain program. Our objective for 1958, or whatever, should be to spend X plus $2,000,000." And the implied worthwhileness was not made clear, was not stated, was implicit. It was implied, as I said. And it really comes out as if your objective is to spend more money. That was one basic thing. You know to spend more money but you're not necessarily tying it to anything that gives you a chance to evaluate that this is worthwhile.
The second thought I had was it's not very meaningful to, or not as meaningful, by far, to write down objectives that are reachable. Now that is a philosophical point that somebody might want to argue with, but I don't think this is the place. Just take that as what I thought. I still think that we need to spell it out, and there is room for both approaches. But it's far better, far more important, for an organization like Social Security to spell out objectives that are not reachable; goals that we could have like a geometric line that never reaches its asymptote; it never reaches it. Our goals, we could strive always to do it, to get closer and closer but never quite reach it. We're human beings. We never could be perfect. So if we could set these goals down in a way, or classify them, in a way that can remain our goals year after year, then we have done something.
So what I then did was say, "Well, what are--this is myself working outside the group-- what are the ways you can group these things?" And if you took a list of 200 objectives obtained the way I had them, there's no way you could group them. I mean, it's so hard to think about how to be all-inclusive, because, in some cases, you're grabbing up a small part of something larger without describing what the something was. In a way, it's characteristic of my thinking. I don't always engage in an analysis or process which leads to the bottom line. I get a leap somewhere along the line, I get a leap of creation or imagination. And it occurred to me the way to do this classification was, and to be complete about it or at least sufficiently complete, was to classify the responsibilities in this way:
First, we have a responsibility to the public. And what's that responsibility? To safeguard and ensure the rights of the public under the program, to provide the full measure of service to which the public is entitled, and for economical administration. And now I'm talking about the wording contributed, I believe, by Bob Ball. The concept of "to the public etc." and the details which fill it out were from the group and myself. But the concept was that we should shift from achievable goals to meaningful permanent goals for the program. We have a responsibility to the public; we have a responsibility to the program. That's kind of a peculiar thing. So our responsibilities are to improve the program so that it will more completely achieve its purpose; that's the way we can improve our service and play its optimum role in providing economic security to the Nation's workers and their families.
Again, the felicity of the phrases, the sharpening up of the idea, was Ball's. He didn't do anything on this until we submitted the whole thing; till I submitted the whole thing to him. And he immediately didn't question it; he just said, "oh, this is good. And I'm going to work on it." And he worked on it that afternoon and the next morning, which was a lot of time for him to devote. And he came out with the final format.
Now, we had more responsibility than that; we were responsible to the public, yes, and to the program. But beyond that relatively narrow thing, we have a responsibility to the Government as a whole. We're part of the Government. We ought to contribute to people's respect for government. We need to make sure that we don't do anything that's adverse. On the other side, we need to make the Government work better. And that's tied in with a lot of things that we encourage that most organizations would not. We took on functions. Early on we said, in effect, "Social Security is a treasure of information about earnings and income." And early on, from the very beginning, we coded employer reports, identified employers with the employer ID number so that we had a unit that gave industrial and geographic codes so that we coded our data as we were processing it by employer, by industry, and geographic location. So after we received reports, data came out that was just a byproduct, but was very valuable. We had information of such accuracy and completeness that never existed before about income by industry, year after year.
Q: So you could support researchers and statisticians?
Yes. We gave them that data. We made that data, and we published it, people had it. Now this is just a byproduct. Now, if one looked narrowly at Social Security, you might not bother to do something like this. And I don't say we did it as a result of this statement of objectives, but this was my reading into the objective of a worthwhile feature that we were doing. You know, just sort of, because some statistician early on who probably had background in income, etc., said it would be great to have this, and he built it in. We were fortunate to have a guy like that. But then to take that as a model. And we did it, because when we started to pay benefits, we had a lot of data about the aged's income, and this and that. We had basically, when we had a group of aged on the rolls, we had a source of a universe of data that was better by far, more representative of the kind of group that needs to retire, the old, etc. We got all kinds of information that we made available. The things that we made available were under the conditions, of course, that it was accommodated under Regulation No. 1.
Q: The privacy regulation?
Yes, maintaining confidentiality of the records. We would make sure that the tests, or the research, met all our requirements. But we freely made those things available with the consent of the people involved. Or if it was not required to give their consent, because the data was not personal.
This was not one that would appear on that list. But in trying to break it down, after all, if we're going to have goals, to whom are we responsible? What goals are we responsible for? I saw this as one way of classifying it and being complete, at least, being complete in the terms of the summary statement. The individual objectives may not be complete, but it's an effort that we could make a contribution to. Is that clear?
Q: Yes, absolutely.
And so that's one of the ways we could serve the Government beyond Social Security. During these times, for instance, we didn't have any trouble, philosophically, offering, not just accepting, but offering, the Social Security offices to do certain kinds of work that wasn't a part of a narrow view of our goal. We used Social Security offices as a way of referring people to State offices, or whatever. So that was a function, not a narrowly interpreted, but a broadly interpreted, function of district offices being a part of the total government. Somebody who comes into a Social Security office is coming into an office that is a part of the Government of the United States. And the worst thing you can do is say, "We don't handle that; I can't tell you. I can't help you in any way." No we needed to be able to help them, at least give them a little bit of help. Not like going into the Vehicle Administration, and after standing in line for about 20 minutes, you find out that you're in the wrong line. I could go on in many, many ways on this thing.
And then lastly, to the employees of the Bureau. We have a responsibility to our staff to be a good employer.
Now, I submit to you that this kind of a framework is revolutionary in terms of writing objectives. Or it was in the 1950's. And that's the kind of thing I did with Bob. I don't have what I sent in or anything like that; I've lost a lot of the papers that I had. But that was the background on it. But he didn't do anything other than, I mean he did a lot in the end. He took the product; obviously, it hit him right on the nose; this was just the kind of thing he wanted. It was not what he was thinking. He was thinking more in the lines of the customer. We didn't have any discussion on that. But I know that was implicit in the whole thing. He saw this was much superior. And immediately, we had a few things, and he immediately liked it without reading the whole thing. He saw that it was good. He gave me some kind of a reaction like that and said, "I'd like to work on this." And he produced the statement which was quickly printed. Now I think at that time, he was Deputy.
Q: Right, to Christgau.
Right. He wrote the Christgau part.
Q: So basically, once Ball was happy with it, that was it; it was ready.
Yes. I mean, he was happy with it when he got it. But he put it into the "responsibility to the public," he not only used these words but also took and rounded out and amplified the explanation of each objective, which was the inspirational part that he added and his own great ability to describe, to convey, to motivate. I've always been very proud of this. I've done a lot of things that are similarly good. But this one very good example. You know, if I keep on talking to you, I will have a lot of things like that.
Q: That's fine. The other part of this whole subject is: How was this then used? You know, what did we do with it after we produced it? Did people look to it and use it as a source of inspiration and guidance? Did the Agency actually use this to do something with?
Well, I'll tell you. It was basically left to the individual. But what we did is that we issued it for all those people at those levels. And we talked about it in the meetings and various parts of the organization. Talking about parts of it, we were always aware that this was a part of this effort. It was expressed in language that was motivational and inspirational to the things they had been doing; I mean, clarifying the purpose, etc. I hardly ever worked on a project of my own, a writing job, you know, where I wanted to sharpen the relevance of something, without a statement of objectives right on my desk that I could refer to. Instead of paraphrasing, I would often use that and sometimes I would look at this, to see what I was missing; what I should be adding to round it out.
Q: Well, that's the impression I got is that the organization took this seriously and in some sense "managed" from this statement of objectives.
But not like the minister taking a section of the Bible. It was there. Everybody knows we're talking about the Bible; everybody has a general familiarity with the Bible, a statement of objectives. And occasionally, to make a point sharper, we would raise it; I mean, in our talk or in our conversations or to clarify a reaction to one way of doing it or another. One might, in those conversations, refer to the statement of objectives. So it was a document one wanted to be familiar with. But it was also a working tool. Some people used it a lot, and a lot of people a little, and some I guess read it and that was it. That's not to say that was a waste; it was not. You could learn something; you would get an insight that you never had, keep it with you, and you don't do any more, but it's now set you on a different course in seeing things.
So I would say, people who had responsibility for justifying things or to sell things, ideas, one way, or one of the better ways, to help do that is to prove that it was consistent with this kind of fully rounded description of the mind set, the approach that we had. And one did not argue with that; there wasn't much point that you could argue with. As I said, these in effect were ideals, not achievable. We couldn't be always perfect in dealing with our employees. We can't send everybody to college; you have to make choices. We couldn't always get the best kind of an atmosphere or surroundings. But we needed to do better.
Q: But that was our goal?
Our goals. And you see how much more effective that is. No sitting back; you just try to get better. The thing you needed to justify is: "Is it as good as it could have been?" Not that we met our goal, but "Couldn't you have done better, or could you have done better?" And we all could, on everything.
Q: One last point about it. And I take it that it also contributed to the organization's sense of mission.
Oh yeah; it defined it. It's really an exposition par excellence of the mission; that's what I used it for. I mean, I personally used it. I still have copies around; multiple copies. Now, this happens to be just one edition, there are other editions. And then there was an effort, after I left, to rewrite it; I think John Trout had something to do with it. It was an attempt to update it. Well, you don't have to update the Bible.
Q: You're right; it inspires me. I mean, I look at it today and say, "Yes, that's exactly what we're about." Forty years later I say that's what we're about.
Yes. And not that there are some other angles that one wants to make. The effort that John Trout was involved with, and it's not yesterday, so I can't recall it, but it was not a bad effort. I don't know that he did it, but he was involved in the effort. I think they did update some things that were of importance to near-term administration. But in terms of long-term administration, the four major classifications . . .
Q: Are still basic?
Again it's written, it's expressed, not in achievable terms. It's always "To achieve a balance between getting the best results with the money." Not something that depends on you getting unlimited funds so you can do so-and-so. But take whatever the given is and get the best balance out of it without spelling out it. The balance, I have to tell you, is ephemeral. It's all part of my thinking in this; the balance is ephemeral.
Futterman's Special File
Q: We were just talking about some of your old memos, and one of the things I noticed when I looked at your memos was how clear and concise they were--they're very readable. Much different than most bureaucratic writing.
Well, the material in my Special File reflects the kind of relationship that existed between Bob Ball and myself. Although that file, I think, has some things in it from earlier periods, but not many. And also from other periods after my close association with Bob Ball. That goes from 1955, that period that I was working there, goes from about 1956, or 1957 through 1972 when I retired. I was his Executive Officer and then I became the head of the Office of Administration. And those notes that I wrote him were for memoranda.
I frequently wrote hand-written notes, which were informal memoranda, or marginal notes and things like that, that were uninhibited, probably uninhibited is a little strong, but it was not too restrained. Because my idea was to communicate as clearly as I could, how I felt about something. And Ball, I knew, had an uneasiness about the memos in question. Every once in a while he would say something about, "Be careful." Something like that. But I never let people see it. The reason why John Trout is familiar with those things is he worked in my office as sort of an intern. And I took him under my wing for a while and then he worked for my immediate office, continuing that kind of planning. He of course was very responsive to the kind of suggestions and ideas I had.
I used to preach to people, who were anxious to make a career of Social Security, that no one worth his salt with Social Security should lack familiarity with the basic issues of Social Security policy. Preeminently, the locus for that was the Division of Program Analysis--particularly under the leadership of Alvin David. It just attracted and maintained people, and imbued in them, an understanding of the issues. Alvin David would be the last to say this was accurate, but it's true, he had a way of infecting people with understanding why the issues were issues. And, almost by osmosis, getting them involved, and things like that.
So I used to say that knowing the program, getting to know the program, was fundamental. Not that they had to be a policy person, or actually spend a great deal of time with it, but they had to be knowledgeable of it. And incidentally, simplification of the program tied in exactly with that.
Perhaps this all relates to an inadequacy of my own. I came up the line as a Statistical Clerk in 1936. I didn't think that I was coming to Social Security. But the point is that I was in this place called the Division of Accounting Operations and all I knew is that it kept records, and that's all I knew about Social Security. But I was a little more curious, although not all that much. There wasn't any place that you could go to get information. All I knew was that I was assigned to the 6th floor, or whatever. And we were given some material like a card that had a code on it, so that we code the individual's name, and that was our work. I became a good coder and so forth. So when I went up the line I didn't have that claims background, that I think is so indispensable--knowing the law as it is explained in the manual that you use. I just knew the law in its generalities. But later on, Bob Ball and others have said, that I did have a good knowledge of the program. Alvin had said that, not in terms in being able to take claims, but in terms of my understanding the program and my feel for the program--they gave me high place for that. I didn't get a reputation for it, but among those two men, I had a lot of respect for my judgment in those areas--although not in the technical aspects.
But the point that started me off was that John Trout came up through the district offices, and I think he was an intern, he was an intern when he first came to Baltimore, with a district office background, and I used to preach to him. And John Trout was one of the ones who took it seriously. He's back in administration now, but for a long time he was involved in the program, and he worked closely with Social Security, and he also worked in other parts of the Department for a while, and he did very well there.
Jack's Role as Ball's Executive Officer
I first started to work for Bob Ball in 1957. As a matter of fact I became an Executive Officer overnight. I took over running the sort of routine things, and some of the less than routine things. I took over without any instructions how to handle things. Ball went away to work on something, and unlike most staff people who I have experienced, I did not try to get him on the telephone to consult with him in advance. I knew what bad shape he was in, and it's not my style. If I thought that I didn't know how to handle something, I would consult. But nothing came up that I was lacking in competence in handling. The only thing that I would do was write him at the end of the week a quick memorandum of what I had done and send it away. And he never saw the necessity of calling me and telling me that I did something that he wouldn't have done or whatever. And now to get back to the point.
Q: Can you describe what was happening with Ball during this time?
Well, he was always working at the department level. Always working legislatively, at the behest of anything that any of his superiors wanted, or anything that a Congressman expressed a desire to know or to have done. He would do his utmost whether or not it was foolish request. He acted as the true public servant. He gave of the very best that he had. This was the period, I think it was 1957, that I reported. I think it was around July something, July 5th, or 4th, right over the weekend. And he had gone away and I reported on the 5th. We had no prior talk except, the day before the holiday he, I and Alvin got together.
The understanding that Bob and I reached years after, during our close working relationship, which started in 1957 when I took over as his Executive Assistant and then became Executive Officer, and my relationship as the Director of the Office of Administration, OA as it was then called, was extremely personal and close. And the fact that I was in a different position did not change his desire and actual use of me, when he thought that I could help he dragooned me, and I didn't need to be dragooned, I did things on time. Things that he had to do, I had to do it for him, without direct delegation, I had to do it on the basis of my own personal persuasiveness, and the facts. And there were people who were not used to taking direction from someone at my level. I think I was very sensitive to that. Joe Fay would be one, for example. But I always approached people like that, who deserved and earned consideration, to make sure that what I would offer in the way of resolution or decision was open to discussion if they wanted to discuss it.
Q: Who else did you treat in this way, like Joe Fay?
Hugh McKenna. You made some remark earlier on that you had read some memorandum that indicated some conflict of opinion between Hugh and myself. Over the years I've written a lot of memoranda.
I had said this earlier, it was an important understanding, that had significance elsewhere, is that in my mind what I should do when I was acting for Bob and he was not around, and I needed an agreement to be acted upon, then to handle it I would do what I thought was best. I would not try to think of how Bob would handle it. In the course of arriving at what is the best thing I probably would first ask myself, "What would Bob want done?" and then I would say, "Well is that the best solution?" And if it isn't, if he were here and he wanted to do that and he was consulting me, I would argue with him about it and tell him so. But he's not here and I have to do whatever I had to do, what I thought was the right thing. We were both firmly agreed on that and I didn't abuse it. Of course, sometimes it was something extra important and I thought that I would do it this way even though I surmised that he would handle it some other way if he were to do it. Whenever that would happen, and if there was some way for me to tap in, not necessarily directly, but consult with Alvin or somebody else who would know a little bit, have a little insight on that, I would do it. But those were very infrequent. I didn't hesitate, I wasn't primarily concerned with trying to worry out "What would he do?" I approached it on my own and analyzed it from the point of view was this consistent with everything that I knew, and I handled it. Well we thought so much alike that really that was never a problem. I don't recall ever having been reproached, even mildly, by Bob. I don't remember that ever happened. It might have happened, that might have been his reaction, rarely, but he certainly didn't pass it on to me. And that's consistent in relation to people that work for me. That's sort of second guessing, and there was none of that between us. I think this little side trip on my relationship with Bob may help you understand things.
Reassignment of Hugh McKenna
You asked about examples of this dependence of Bob on, yeah dependence is the word, upon my knowledge of the people and the organization, and in terms of administration. Because that was my background, I came up through, the so called, administrative ranks, and Bob's interest basically was with the field operations, as was Hugh McKenna's. I have to start off by saying that in 1965 Social Security was highly disadvantaged in terms of supergrade people. The reason was that whenever Civil Service allotted x number of supergrades to HEW, a large proportion of the supergrades would be grabbed at the top. There was no question that Assistant Secretaries and others etc., at least most Assistant Secretaries, deserved appropriate grades, if nothing more because of their status and rank in the organization. But there were a lot of staff people, Personnel, and Planning and what have you, who were supergrades and they couldn't compare with the people in our organization. We really had an outstanding staff. We had in the Social Security Administration, at that time, jurisdiction over Welfare and BOASI etc. And our share of the supergrades was disproportionate.
Now Bob also failed to produce on certain promises that he made to me, which were unsolicited on my part. He would periodically say, "well I can't give you this and this, I have to keep the troops happy, but you're in line to get this," and then sometimes it didn't happen.
In 1965, or thereabouts, Ball didn't have any trouble getting the Civil Service to make Joe Fay's job an 18, the top supergrade, or getting an 18 for Richard Branham's job in the BOASI, but he had a hell of a lot of trouble getting one for Hugh McKenna's job. In fact, they refused to classify McKenna's job at grade 18. And Hugh McKenna-- and this is personal conjecture, so it doesn't carry that much weight--Hugh McKenna I think was mortally wounded. I think he felt humiliated. Now I was not someone who Hugh McKenna would bare his breast to. The reason that I knew is I'm a good reader of character and the minds of people that I work with. Sensitive is the word, I guess. I knew that Hugh McKenna was hurt. Because he thought of himself as next in importance to the Bureau Director.
Q: He had Field Operations. He had a big job.
Yes he did. And that's what I am saying, that from my point of view, and from Bob Ball's point of view, we agreed that Hugh McKenna had major importance to the Organization. The field organization, was vital. Civil Service just betrayed its usual--I won't pound Civil Service for being dumb and all of that-they were not. But their classification specialists operated oftentimes as if their application of classification specifications was an exact science. The specs alone should never be trusted as a fair basis for judging job importance, without giving due weight to what the head of the organization really thinks. To come out with results that were exactly contrary as far as Bob Ball was concerned is to assign and adhere to a system of classification that greatly downgrades the judgments of Agency leaders. If he had gotten one 18 that he could have signed, he would have given it to Hugh McKenna. If he had two others, I'm not sure that the Bureau Old Age and Survivors Insurance would have been given one. BOASI was not unlike the operation that Joe Fay was running, but instead of just wage records it was post- entitlement actions and the like. In terms of the politics, or what maybe should be called human management, in view of the long service of Joe Fay, he might have given him a second 18. But Bob's tendency would be to look at the people who had been the greatest help to him. And I would have been in that group, and Alvin David would have been. McKenna didn't get it, he got a 17. He had to fight like hell to get me an 18. That was one of the things that I alluded to. Every once in a while he would say, "I'll get this for you." And then sometimes he would say, "Don't go I need you." I believed he was telling the truth so I stayed. It didn't bother me because money wasn't that important, I was getting tremendous satisfaction from the work as I always did right from the time I was a clerk.
Ball said, "I don't know who we could replace Branham with." By that time the Payment Centers were in very bad disarray. Branham was retiring, not too soon, he saw it, and he left. He had depended mostly on two fellows, John Dacy, who was a technical person, something like a 12 or 13 and George Smith who was a strong-minded person, and they both served well in their time. John Dacy was a great help in the days of the electro- mechanical machines, the punchcards. And he was obviously out of his depth in this emerging world of computers, and the result was an accumulating mess in the Payment Centers. And George Smith, who was the Supervisor for John Dacy, he was a person capable of keeping an existing organization running on an even keel, but when it came to adapting to things like the computers he was definitely out of his depth in that. And I think that he also did not have a production background so much as an accounting background.
I can remember I was in the Commissioners Office, it was in the new building, I remember it was in his office, and Ball said, "I just don't know who to put in that post." And very similar to the Carmody case, I forget which happened first, I think it was the Carmody case, but it was a different topic and I said, "Hugh McKenna." He said, "You think he would take it?" Because Hugh was identified with the field, he was proud of the field. As a matter of fact, I think in the back recesses of Hugh's mind when he was handling the field and all of that, that he entertained thoughts of being the Commissioner, with certain kinds of political developments. And I think he thought of himself, and there's nothing wrong with that, he thought of himself in those terms. Personally I had an idea that Bob Ball gave him extra special leeway and that they were both--that they each approached one another with due caution.
Q: So you recommend that he give that job to Hugh McKenna?
And Bob says, "he won't take it." And I said, "I think you're wrong." And I told Bob what I told you a little while ago, that I think Hugh McKenna was absolutely humiliated. Bob didn't have any idea, he knew McKenna was obviously disappointed, as he should have been, in not getting an 18, but I don't think Ball had any idea how McKenna really felt about it. And I said, "he's absolutely humiliated." He would be glad to take this, particularly if you put it to him that he is the guy to do it. I had some reservations because of Hugh's desire to be Commissioner, but I thought Hugh would bring strength to this organization, which was headed downhill. And lastly I said to Bob, "I did have some conversations with Hugh about our mutual plans to retire, and he told me that he planned, then, to retire in two years." So I said my reservations, and they were not insurmountable reservations, fell apart because he would be leaving. And he would be leaving on a high note, he would straighten out a mess and earn the gratitude of the Social Security organization. And he said "Well, I'll talk to him."
Q: That's very interesting Jack, because I interviewed Hugh a couple of months ago. He told me this same story from his end. He said he was going on a trip to Cleveland and he was at BWI airport and got a phone call saying Bob Ball wants to talk to you, don't leave. And Bob Ball came to the airport and offered him this job. And he said he went to Cleveland and he was upset the first day because this was a big change from the field, so he couldn't sleep that night worrying about it, but the next day he decided maybe that it was a good opportunity and he said yes.
So I was right. Bob Ball never gave me feedback like that.
Q: That's what happened.
That was another example of our relationship. Bob Ball would sop up any ideas you might have, but he would not give you much feedback on how it came out, other than maybe in a summary way. McKenna said that he would do it. But I never knew what McKenna's first reaction was. I didn't preclude that from my analysis of him. I knew he was, I felt confident that he felt degraded, that's what caused him to accept, after his first initial reaction, "no I don't want to give up all of this."
Q: It was sort of a step down, right?
Yes. I said that you had to package it with the truth, and the truth was that I don't know of anybody in the organization better equipped to turn that organization around. Now I said, "the 18, he wants an 18." Not because of the salary exactly, but to be in less important role, less than the Commissioner, was I am sure what was bothering him.
Q: He was a very proud man.
Yes, a very proud man.