Bob Ball's Remarks at BOASI Scroll Ceremony

Upon his selection as Commissioner of Social Security, Ball left his position as Deputy Director of the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (BOASI). In a ceremony held at SSA Headquarters on April 25, 1962, Ball's colleages in BOASI presented him with a ceremonial scroll in recognition of his years of service. These are the remarks he offered on the occasion. This speech focuses especially on his philsophy of public adminstration.


Some of you won't believe it but I really don't know what to say. I never had a scroll and I never had a day named after me before. But this is a very beautiful scroll and I really can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate it, and this ceremony and the thoughts on the scroll and behind your all coming here today.

I've been very fortunate also, as Tom suggested in his introduction, in the other awards that you have given me because it is only a matter of simple truth that the other recognition that I've gotten in terms of awards, or in terms of this new position, are really yours, and that I've taken them in your name as a representative of this fine organization and this great humanitarian program. This scroll will have a very special place because it comes directly from you, my friends and co-workers who know me best, and it pleases me very much that you wanted to do it.

You know, I'm not sure that people around here believe me when I say that I'm not leaving the Bureau, and I kind of suspect, once in a while, when I say this, that what's going on in their minds is, "That's what he says now, but between Cuban refugees, and Aid to Dependent Children, and the Office of Hearings and Appeals, and a few other things like that, he'll find out--he'll learn he really is leaving." Well, I still doubt it. How I really feel is what they always say to the mother of the bridegroom, and that is, "you know you are not losing a son, you are gaining a daughter." But in any event, no matter how sincerely that is meant in either situation the relationship is certainly changing, as to how much and to what extent, I guess only time will tell. But since we are, in a sense, ending one relationship and entering into another, I want to take this point in time to thank you for what you have done for me in the years past, and to say how much I look forward to working with you in this new relationship. And I want particularly to thank Vic. No one could have been a better boss. From the day he came to the Bureau, back in 1954, right up to his presentation of this scroll today, he has always acted toward me with the greatest generosity and helpfulness that anyone could possibly have. I know that Vic and I see eye to eye on how this program should develop and how it should be administered, and as I leave to go to the Commissioner spot it gives me really a tremendous sense of confidence to have him here as Bureau Director.

I was originally told that this was going to be a very brief ceremony, and I gathered what people meant by that was that I was to talk for only a very short period of time. But with such a large and distinguished audience here I couldn't resist the temptation to tell you a few things that are on my mind, and I got permission from Tom and Vic to extend these remarks a little. I don't know when an opportunity like this will come again; it will probably not be too quickly. So, I want to spend at least a few minutes talking to you about three things that seem to me over the years to have made this organization a little bit different--a little better organization than the ordinary organization. There are others but I'm singling out what I think are three of the most important things for this purpose. To my mind they are worth talking about because in articulating them and understanding them, I think we have a better chance of solidifying a tradition and of passing on from one generation to the next the ideals and spirit of this organization. The points that I want to talk a little bit about today are these:

1. That social security has never stopped being a cause and become just a job.

2. That devotion to broad humanitarian goals, on the other hand, has never been used as a substitute for doing a workman-like job of day-by-day, bread and butter administration.

3. That we have kept our eye on the individual to be served by the program, that we are service oriented, and customer oriented.

First, social security as a cause: I think this organization is great because in leadership positions here centrally and throughout the country we have people who view their work as being in the forefront of the fight to overcome one of man's oldest problems--poverty. A leadership that understands that they are part of a great social reform movement--part of a cause devoted to the great humanitarian ideal of decent treatment for the most vulnerable groups in society--the aged, the disabled, the widow and the orphan. People who are knowledgeable in this fight and realize that the invention of social insurance in the last century gave us a new institution that could be used to contribute greatly to the solution of one of organized society's greatest evils.

You know, before social insurance, and still in the welfare areas, many, many, people have been reluctant to meet the needs of the poor as they arose and adequately because of a fear that meeting need on a need basis would injure incentives of great importance to economic society--the incentive to work and to save. Whether right or wrong, large numbers have felt this way and action has been influenced. But social insurance has reconciled this old dilemma between incentives and meeting need. Since it prevents poverty and need from arising and because the social insurance payment grows out of the person's own work and contribution, we have an institution that backs up incentive to work and because there is no means test, we have an institution that backs up incentives to save. This is a great social invention fitting conservative motives and ideas to the service of new goals. It has been revolutionary in its impact on how civilized societies deal with the problem of poverty.

Now we're doing well with this new institution in the United States, but my point here is, that this organization has not lost, and it must not lose, its sense of cause; and that it must recognize, as I am sure it does, that this instrument that has been entrusted to this organization--this instrument of social insurance--can be used much more widely and much better than it is now being used. We will be moving ahead in social insurance, to health insurance, to higher levels of benefits, to improvements in the disability program, and this is what I mean by the impetus of cause in this organization. And the fact that this is going to be done brings up my second point; and that is our attention over the years, and day by day, to the art of administration.

As I have heard Vic say many, many times, one important reason that the Congress has been willing to use the instrument of social insurance for the betterment of our whole society, has been because as they have added programs, the people in this organization have administered them well, and the American people have responded that they like the program and they like the way it is being administered. Never forget the day-by-day work of administering these programs has an impact beyond the immediate; it makes possible the next step forward. A good law, obviously, is only as good as its administration. And in the same way, it's really not much of an advantage to an organization to have noble ideals or humanitarian purposes, but fumble its attempt to carry them out. A sense of cause wouldn't help us very much if we didn't keep the wage records accurately, and if we didn't get the checks out on time. One of the unique things about this organization is that it has kept these two horses in tandem. We have kept our ideal goals and we have been hardheaded, tough administrators at the same time.

Thirdly, and the final point is that we have never allowed ourselves to operate the organization for the convenience of you and me who work here, as against the service to the public for whom the program is set up. And that's not said facetiously. It's a great temptation in big organizations to start to make policy in terms of how well it fits into the organization rather than centering on the individual out there for whom the program is designed. I think a simple illustration of that is how we reach out with an aggressive information program to tell everyone what his rights are, and what he is entitled to--that these are his benefits. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of that very point is the program we are just launching right now--the leads program, where, in effect, we are saying, there are people who have contributed to this social insurance program and who have rights under it and yet haven't applied. Our own records tell us there are many who haven't applied. And our assumption is that in large part, this must be because we haven't gotten the word to them--because they don't know what their rights are. Thus, we're launching a program which, within the limits of economical administration, will try to tell these people on an individual basis that they do have rights, and that their needs can be met under this program, and that we will not just sit idly by with this knowledge of their entitlement and say, "Well, if they don't read the newspapers, that's their own fault."

This is customer-oriented, service-oriented thinking, and to me, above everything else, this attitude and this point of view--the devotion to a standard of friendly, helpful, and courteous service with sympathetic treatment of all people is the very essence of the BOASI spirit.

I know that the leadership of this organization agrees with that assessment of the BOASI spirit, and I know that in the years ahead it will be maintained and that you will not let it be diminished. This program, this vast national program with its 600 offices throughout the country, has a very great effect on the way people generally feel about their Government. To many, many people all over the country, we are Uncle Sam. They know us best of all Government agencies. There's no other Government agency that approaches us in the number of meaningful contacts that it has with the public.

And our program and its administration has, also, an effect well beyond our national borders, for in all truth, a domestic and a foreign policy are a seamless whole. What Government does here at home, and how we do it, the sympathetic and helpful way we go about it, affects what people think of us everywhere around the world. The social security program is without doubt one of Democracy's major expressions of concern for the ordinary person.

I am proud to take on this new post of even greater responsibility in social security, and I am proud to have you with me in this organization. Thank you again for the beautiful scroll, and for coming, and for your good wishes. Good luck to you and God speed.