Jack S. Futterman Oral History
Part XI- People
Q: Let's talk about Hugh McKenna, because you and I went to McKenna funeral last week. So why don't you spend just a few minutes telling your memories of McKenna?
I will be glad to do that. Let me knock that off and then I will finish this other thing. Yeah I would rather do something that we are talking about right now and that is why we never end up where we planned. I meant to since I thought that you were going to bring that up. But unfortunately, I have been extremely busy. I just haven't had time to do all of the things that I need to do each day. But I'd like to talk about it.
But the first thing that I would like to do, and I have been doing this consistently, I think, tell me if I haven't. I realize that when I give you an opinion about a process or an event or who is important or who is not important etc., I am giving it from my point of view. I don't know how to report to you without that qualifier at the beginning.
I have to say about Hugh McKenna, we were not the closest of colleagues. Not because I found him unattractive, and didn't want to. I don't know, I can't speak on his side, I do know that his conduct with me was very correct and very formal. That didn't mean that he did not stop, you know, to do some small talk on occasion and that I didn't. Now I am describing what I took to be his attitude toward me. I believe there is reason to believe that to some degree he was in that respect very correct to a lot of people. That was just his either armor or personality or what have you. But I never felt that Hugh and I were great friends. Not enemies. I did feel that he often conveyed the appearance of not being in full agreement of what I might have been expounding on at the time. He played things very close to the vest. So the difference between when he was in full agreement and not in full agreement was maybe a little blink in the left eye. It was not much difference. So a lot of it could be just perception.
All of this is my disclaimer. That is I am surely not going to give you a rounded view of Hugh McKenna. Now I hope that it is an objective view, and I will not pull punches. I don't know what the proper conduct is with a historian, but I want to help the Historian understand and he has to work out how much to discount what I have to say. But above all, I just do not want to create an impression that I have my knives out for McKenna or anybody else. I don't want anybody to think that Bob Ball is a god because I would agree with so much of what he's done. I can assure you that at the Executive Conferences that we had where the Commissioner was there, and before I became Assistant Commissioner for Administration, and I was his Executive Officer, I spoke up more freely and frankly at these conferences than the Bureau heads.
Maybe I am talking about myself again. But it is important because I am the speaker and I'm going to give you some thoughts on McKenna. At these Executive Conferences, once a week or more, I approached a conference, whether it was with Ball or whether it was my staff with me, in the same way. When we had a conference the implicit policy is, everybody around that table is equal. I have never heard this explicitly from anybody else, but I don't think that it is exceptional. If you are trying to discuss what should be the right policy in a particular area, then I think everybody around that table is a full participant in this and each one's thoughts might not be entitled to equal weight, but each participant should be free to express them because we are asking, when we sit around the table, we are saying, "Now I want your best idea." Now obviously the one who makes the decision will make his decision on the basis of his judgement of how much weight to give to each. But you should not repress your true reactions. So Ball had more trouble with me on those discussions, not that he had trouble, but to get the debate rolling and so forth and to get their views on the table, and sometimes it was points that he would have to reconcile, he would get more from me than from the others. Not infrequently the others might sit back, you know, and play watch which way the wind was blowing.
The same thing happened years before when I was on Joe Fay's staff. I was down the line at the times that I was participating in the very early days in Joe Fay's executive conferences. A lot of people who had been with Joe Fay before he came to Social Security, before he came into the Division of Accounting Operations, they watched him, they knew him. They would watch indications from his demeanor whether they should say something or even try to modify whatever idea he was throwing out as his view. So the same thing happened with Joe Fay. Now I am bringing that out because I'm not one to say things that my superiors or colleagues want to hear. By that I don't mean that I'm deliberately unpleasant, but I don't hold back if I have a reaction to something and they are expecting a reaction, I am going to give them my reaction. I will do it as politely and as considerately as I know how, usually. But I don't spend over much time worrying about it.
So I've made my disclaimer for McKenna. Now the first thing that I will say is, and this comes from me a person who was not close to him, was not part of his staff --there were a lot of people who felt very close to him-- there is no doubt in mind that Hugh McKenna made a huge contribution to the establishment of the Social Security field organization. No question in my mind. And for that his place in the history of Social Security should be assured. In addition, it didn't come by accident that the field organization became the greatest source of recruiting for other jobs. Hugh McKenna should be given a substantial, if not major, part of the credit for that. It's a fact that a large proportion of SSA leaders came from the field organization. Scratch a Historian and you find he came from the field. Scratch an Office of Administration guy like Jack Futterman, he was not from the field, he was not the "rule." But there are a lot guys like the Historian around who came to Central Office from the field, because that is where most of the jobs were. And that is where the people with the best credentials were.
But the fact was that they did come on their own, because Hugh sought them out. They were not driven away and they decided to make their careers in the Social Security Administration. I don't know what attracted you, maybe just the money and an opportunity to go to work. And of course the very nature of the work, which Hugh McKenna can't claim credit for. But he did provide an intellectual climate I think. The organization in the field was deemed by non-SSAer's as a first rate one for very many, many years. I cannot speak to what it is today, but it was truly an organization that hung together, was dedicated to its work, and who treated its mission like most all of us in the early days, as almost a religion. Social Security was a cause and it wasn't the paycheck that was the dominant incentive, motivation, what have you.
I often recollected, from my college days, studying the psychology of education, that amongst the motivations that were important in the workplace, research found that money was at about the fourth or fifth level. Such things as identifying with a "cause" were at the highest levels, and that money, except in individual cases, usually occupied a lesser role.
So there was McKenna, he had really built a good organization. It endured, it persists today. The people that were attracted were not discouraged, because people like that could easily get discouraged, and be driven out of the organization, but they were not. They are still that way. They come to Central Office and man all kinds of roles, because the people that came in through the field positions had very satisfying work experiences, had established wishes to stay with the Social Security program and organization, had varied backgrounds, varied interests, and they could do many things besides the things that they did in the field.
For instance, I've asked myself this question before, but as I look at the Area Offices; is that their current title? What do you call them?
Q: Program Centers.
Why have not the Program Centers over the years noticeably produced proportionate numbers of people that moved up into other positions? Taken all together, the PC organization was not quite as large as the field, they were not as public oriented, they were much more isolated from the public, but why not, withstanding that, have they not done as well as I think they should have? Now I am sure that there are some, and some important ones, but I am talking in terms of overall. I'd say the strength of the organization in the Program Centers and their antecedent organizations were not nearly as program-oriented in purpose as was the field. There were well-known SSA people in those offices who had been there a long time and were considered "pillars" of the organization. But somehow or other, and here I am making a leap, and a judgement. The Program Centers, starting with Ewell Bartlett, who was a very shrewd and intelligent person, did not have that kind of atmosphere. They were more insular. The hierarchy of their loyalties were a little bit inverted. All employees of Social Security should first and above all have a common overarching aim: achieving the aims and objectives of the Social Security program. And a most important part of this is a recognition, notwithstanding great pride in one's own organization, that all the other parts of SSA play vital roles in the common task. I think field people were not exempt from the all-too-common fault of sometimes having primary loyalty to the "field" and somehow or other equating what's best for the field is best for the program, but were much less so. I use that not to denigrate the field, but to make the point about my impression of the Area Office people.
You see I still keep wandering. Make sure I come back each time when I do. I want to come back to McKenna. I am sure if you had given me some time to think about and organize my thoughts about McKenna I would not ramble so much. Or if there were some specific areas involving McKenna that you wished me to react to, it would come more easily. But in general, and I think this is my view, I can't identify McKenna with very many areas where his personal contribution was the dominant thing that drove it--the engine that drove it. Now that does not mean to say that he was not a real good administrator in most respects. I am not saying that he really did not develop ideas; I think that he sparked a lot of things, but I can't point them out. From the vantage point of many points in my career I was not in a good position to observe in any detail his personal contributions to administering the field organization. And undoubtedly I have, because of the years that have passed, less than a ready recall of many things that I was able to, and did, observe.
Another reason why I can't easily identify McKenna's personal contribution in the development and administration of the field organization is that I have little basis to separate his staff's contributions and the many able people in the field from his own. When you have x thousand people working for you, large numbers of whom are well educated and are bright, young ambitious people, you are going to get lots and lots of ideas burgeoning up. But the point is, an executive's job is not to personally develop all of the ideas. Whether or not McKenna was the driving force on it, you have got to give him credit for this bubbling up. There is a good word for it, but at 85 I have trouble digging up the good words, there is a good word for it. This bubbling up, this effervescence throughout the organization existed; he no doubt encouraged it and did not exterminate it. He must be given credit for the fact that the ground was fertile for this kind of thing. Otherwise it wouldn't have taken place. So there was a lot of credit there. There is an organization that cared. It was not unusual. Am I out of line?
Q: No, you're doing fine.
I'm thinking out loud, you know, and I am trying to make some points about him, and I'm not going to say just the good things, but in this particular case I think it's important because of all the top staff I've worked with, I felt less close to Hugh than I was to all of the others, although we had good relations. I never had an open debate with him or an open argument with him or anything like that, to my recollection. He never went and complained about me to my knowledge and I never went and complained about him. Bob Ball and I would have discussions about a lot of things. Sometimes what I said had to have some relationship to my impressions of McKenna. If he was to ask me, you know, who among the top staff would be best to do so and so, I would have to tell him what I thought in terms of the impressions I had of different people and why. That doesn't mean he would swallow what I had to say. He had his own views and an even better basis for evaluating some of these people. But sometimes he would get a deep insight into somebody he looked at from a different angle. Like I told you the other day when I suggested McKenna for the BRSI job.
And he said to me, indicating at one and the same time his approval of the suggestion and his surprise at the idea. "Do you think that he would take it?" He had not thought about it, basically, I believe because it did not occur to him that McKenna would take it. He had been thinking and thinking about who was the best qualified to do the kind of job he thought was needed and had come up dry. And I just came up just like that, as I did on a number of other occasions.
Q: This was for the Program Operations job that Ball offered McKenna?
BRSI, the head of it, the Bureau of Retirement and Survivors Insurance.
Another indication of the strength of his organizational abilities was the high quality of the conferences that he ran. And the bringing into each of the regional conferences of central office people, top central office people like the Commissioner, like Alvin David, or the program people, other top staff. I would be there when I became Assistant Commissioner for Administration. I'd attend regional conferences and be on the program so that people in the field had an opportunity, a real opportunity, to know personally, or at least to hear them personally, so that they would not get the impression that they were working for the field organization and that they were isolated from and that their voice was not heard in the councils in Washington. It's a real builder. I don't know who started the regional conferences. I think they started before McKenna; I'm not sure, but they certainly went on throughout his stay with the organization and they were major, major things. I don't know whether you ever attended one, but they were major events. They were "morale builders" for the staff. They were also informative sessions. They heard from the horse's mouth. Bob Ball's greatest work, I think, was the speeches that he made at the Regional Conferences. They were highly motivational and inspiring. In terms of a Commissioner leading the flock and inspiring them and making them understand the realities and the problems that they were confronting and what was being done about it and all of that stuff, that was great, great stuff. Without it the SSA Field people would not have been as outstanding as they were.
Now they didn't always have a Bob Ball. They had Commissioners before who didn't do that kind of a job. I am not sure to what extent they attended the Regional Conferences, but I know that in the many years that Bob was around he attended every one that he could. So he had things like that going on, they flourished. If he didn't initiate it, they at least flourished. They were embraced widely by the staff and enjoyed.
Incidently, when they met in the regional conferences, it wasn't just the regional chief and some of his staff. I believe every manager, and assistant manager or whatever, and others down the line, were expected to attend or at least they were invited to attend. And for a week usually in a nice place, off-season, where it could be gotten dirt-cheap, like Florida in July or some place like that.
One other thing I think deserves mention. Again, Hugh McKenna was clearly in my view somebody who pushed training. Now I'm not sure how far down the line that went, but executive training, that was something of particular interest to him. From where I saw it, it appeared to be identified with the training of executives, of people coming up the line, you know, the Field Reps, the new hires, etc., that kind of thing. He was a strong trainer in terms of selecting people who he thought showed the most promise and putting them on a fast track. And that, of course, is a tradition that does Social Security proud.
Bill McDonald, whose name I couldn't remember the last session, it just came to me. In the earliest days when we were first hired, I was first hired as a clerk, I was given 2 or 3 days of training along with everybody else who came in with me. So it wasn't just me selected out and that was when we had college professors, especially, hired as members of the Social Security staff, as a part of the training staff and they provided this kind of training on all elements of Social Security, including the Grade 2's, of which I was a part. The lowest clerical was a Grade 1. It was given by college professors knowledgeable in the history of Social Security throughout the world and they gave us this feel about this program and they were very much, as I think about it, very much a part of the feeling that we developed early on that this was a religion almost. This was a purpose with which one could identify without strain.
All I am saying here is that Hugh McKenna certainly wasn't one of those guys that would save money and denigrate training. I think he was quite of the other camp, he saw a use and value in that. And obviously too, Hugh was especially well-read. When you talked to him, it was clear that he kept sort of abreast of writings in the area of organization and administration, that kind of thing. So he was not unfamiliar with the advanced thinking then current, and he was more responsive to that kind of thing than I personally was. But the fact was that training was very high on his agenda and that very important aspect of administering a very large and dispersed organization like the SSA field organization was in the hands of a guy of obvious high intellect and ability with a proven record of running a "quality" organization.
Now what is it that bothered me about Hugh's methods, his way of working? Really basically, it is one, just one. I'm going to use an analogy Larry, you may have some ability to understand. If you were a Marylander for longer than you have been, you would know about Mayor Schaffer, who became Governor Schaffer. Mayor Schaffer, I had met him once many years before he became Mayor, he was the Chairman of the Council, or the President, I forget what the title was, of the City Council. He was not the Mayor and I thought that when he talked to people at several affairs that I attended in those days before he became Mayor, I thought that the man was incoherent.
Now I was saying this in terms of what was my problem with McKenna. From the point of view of the ordinary tasks of running the city, which today a lot of people say are the city manager sort of tasks where, you know, you keep the garbage picked up and the roads fixed and the people happy and water flowing, whatever, you are managing the city. Schaffer was not all that scientific, Schaffer was an impulsive guy. But he had right impulses in terms of serving the people in their neighborhoods. He was very responsive to the complaints of the ordinary citizen. He would jump and he would usually land on somebody and say, "I want it fixed now." Meaning you had better come back tomorrow and tell him that it was done. But he had a characteristic that he couldn't tolerate the slightest criticism or difference of opinion, as it appeared to me. And so he would vent anger at his employees, at people who expressed themselves, like newspaper reporters, or whatever, or members of his staff, high members of his staff. He wouldn't talk to them. His definition of loyalty was so extreme he did not contemplate anybody differing with him. Loyalty was to do exactly as he told them. There was an element of instilling "fear" in the way he operated.
Now this is highly overdrawn as a way of highlighting the one aspect that I regard as the minus in McKenna's style of operation. I always had a feeling that he was greatly more disciplined than Schaffer in the overt responses too. But it is undemocratic, that is what I label it, undemocratic. My point was that there was an element in Schaffer's operation, although first rate, the people who had pot holes and wanted garbage collected on time were very, very happy with Schaffer. And I was too, in respect to his responsiveness. But from the other end, if I had true choice, I never would vote for a person like that, if I had a choice. Because, you know, a benevolent despot may be the best person to run the government, but he is a despot and what you have to give up is more important.
In an employment situation, I think what is involved is a more democratic approach. That means that you build on people's common urge to make their best contribution to the purpose for which you all are working. As employees of the Government of the United States you have a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the United States. That doesn't mean loyalty to the President, if he's wrong.
McKenna was rightly accorded high praise for building and running a strong, effective field organization, but to my taste, the performance was not unattended by some amount of fear. I am using a four letter word that isn't softened. You know what I'm talking about? It wasn't something that came wholly out of love to contribute to the program, some of it came out of fear. It seemed to get out of line to an extent--he got tight discipline and order out of fear. I am over-stating it obviously, it was a small element, but it is often a small part of the whole that changes the character, sometimes subtly, of a totality. You take oil, gasoline and put an additive in to remove the knocks and it becomes No-Nox, but the additive is only maybe half a percent. And when you have in that equation of ruling with a fear factor, intentionally or otherwise, you are having that kind of effect on people, intentionally or otherwise, and to a degree I get negative "vibes."
Now, as I've said, all this talk about this "minus" may be giving it much too much weight. My full judgement of McKenna's contribution, is that he made a very big contribution, and I did recommend him to take over the BRSI job, and I did it in full knowledge of that. I told Bob that one of the reasons that I would specifically recommend him in this particular situation was because it was my understanding, from a conversation that I had with him some months before, that his general plan was to retire in two years. And I thought that in two years he could do the kind of job that only he could do. He was the man best fitted to restore order, which was badly needed in the Program Centers.
Q: And he was successful at that.
Yes he was. Oh absolutely, no question. Sure I am saying that I made an excellent choice in recommending him, and I take credit for that. Were it not for my conversation with Bob, he would have never thought of it. So that's it in a nutshell.
I think now I want to say one other thing in that connection. Again to put this in perspective. I am the easiest guy, in my judgement, because of the way that I came up the line, the way I knew people from lower grades. I'm on a first-name basis, people four levels, five levels below me would call me Jack with no problem, and they would call their immediate supervisor four levels down Mr. Something or Miss Something. So here I felt easy and comfortable to talk to anybody. And there was one guy that I am thinking about. A bright young fellow whom I noticed had a lot to say when he was amongst his peers. But my habit was when I gave an assignment to tell the person that I was giving the assignment to that if he wasn't going to do the job himself personally, rather than having to repeat the guidance that I wanted to give him, bring in whomever was going to do it to get it first hand. You can do the supervising, but I want both of you to hear the same thing rather than just you, and then you can take him back to your office and you can elaborate more and give him more guidance. And I used to do that frequently and never thought that was any problem for anybody. Well this guy, who was effervescent and talking all the time amongst his peers, when he came to my office he just wouldn't say anything. Years later I find out talking to him one time he said, "I was scared stiff of you." And I thought I exude just easy bonhomie, comradery, and I never had any trouble with anybody because we were on a first name basis. Nobody, that I can recollect in all of the years that I worked, took advantage of that familiarity, they showed me respect, etc. Sure they might say some things to me that they would never say to somebody else, but they knew I took it the way it was intended.
So I use that example, that here I am describing my impression that Hugh worked a little too much through fear, consciously or unconsciously. I am not even sure that he had a chance to really thoughtfully weigh that factor, I think it was compulsive sort of with him, and that was the way that he worked. You have one or two other stories that are from other sources that are consistent with some of the things that I am saying. And incidently, that person I'm referring to now, that you have some information on, is one of the reasons why I, myself, formed over the years, this impression.
So here I am saying this is about McKenna, and here is my self-image of a jovial, friendly, nice-guy Futterman and I find out that some people were scared of me. So you never know.
This is not at all a comprehensive or many-sided view of McKenna. We worked together for many years, but my points of personal work with McKenna were not all that many. We both attended the regular meetings of the executive staff. We attended regional conferences together, I had a chance to observe him there. We attended other meetings together, but there were not many day-after-day things. We were not in overlapping areas except in the budget and training. And there was the characteristic that you yourself mentioned to me that Hugh would talk to the top but he wouldn't talk to "underlings." Not that I was an underling, but I found that, unlike most of the others of the top staff, when I was an Executive Assistant to Bob Ball, if Hugh had a problem he wouldn't take it up with me, he would only take it up with Bob Ball. So Bob had a lot of opportunity to know him intimately and they met quite frequently because of many reasons, one of which was obviously the field was a big part of the total organization. And that is where a Commissioner had to focus and a lot of the Commissioner's responsibilities of running the organization resided in the Field and he had to depend on McKenna for that. And McKenna, of course, was not afraid to ask for things. He sometimes sought more than his share of things, and he did it of course with the top man.
Q: And also a minute ago you were making a point about you being informal and people calling you Jack. We both heard Bob Bynum at McKenna's funeral say that when he started working for McKenna it was several years before he felt that he could call him Hugh instead of Mr. McKenna, even though he worked right on his staff. So he obviously, unquestionably, had a very formal approach.
I'll tell you another person that was the same, Joe Fay. I worked for Joe Fay for many years, while a lot of the people who had worked for him in pre-Social Security days, and there were a lot of them in the organization, who would sometimes call him Joe. I never called him Joe. I never felt that I had his permission to call him Joe. I didn't call him Joe until many years after I left, when I was unquestionably at his level.
Q: Now that formality, was that more common in the early days of SSA. Culturally I would say that was more common in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s?
Yes it was. Oh yeah, very much so.
Q: It would be more common at SSA in general beyond Hugh McKenna and his personality, or Joe Fay and his personality?
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! But that applied to a subordinate/superior relationship. I don't think it was all that usual even in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s, for people working intimately at near the same level to be informal. Like in the early days in the Candler Building, I can't imagine that the people that worked on the ninth floor, in and around Joe Fay's office, would call him Mr. Fay, they frequently called him Joe. They were not his equals, but they often called him Joe, not Mr. Fay. And it went down to guys lower in line who had worked with him previously in Washington, they'd call him Joe, but not the new guys. At least, most people wouldn't, some people are brassy, you know. They would just call him Joe--not me. I mean I have to feel that there is a certain receptivity for it and the guy is entitled to be called what he wants to be called.
In other places that was not required, that was not the custom, it would be on a first name basis. Alvin David was called Alvin by everybody on his staff all of the way down. It was a small staff and it's conducive to that. My staff, the only ones that didn't call me Jack were the secretarial staff, of which there were four or five, and they felt comfortable doing that. I don't go around and say,"Call me Jack." Since I founded the Social Security Alumni Association people still call me, who never were close to me and on a personal basis, would talk to me as Mr. Futterman and still they call me Mr. Futterman. I just told one of people at the funeral, he sat in front of us with his wife, he was calling me Mr. Futterman. He had a high office in the Program Center, I think, when he came here, about the time when I left. He knew me coming up, so he was calling me Mr. Futterman, I said, "Call me Jack." My philosophy on that down to the lowest grade, people who occupied the lowest grades, who are now in the Alumni Association, we were all equals. I'm not a Mister, I'm an ex-employee. Now if you want to show as a sign of personal respect a difference, I'm one of the guys, but if you still feel more comfortable calling me Mr. Futterman, I'm not going to insist. But everybody in my office called me Jack, and way down the line, except the secretaries, they had their own code. It didn't issue from me, but then I can understand that. In those days it was just a little too informal for secretaries. They always tried to maintain the dignity of the office in which they worked.
So I guess I could talk more, but I was hoping to give you a little more, you are going to get facts on McKenna from other sources and I would hope that it would not be intemperate. There will be a lot of people, I'm sure, I can't name who they are, but there are a lot of people who stayed closely associated with McKenna over a long period of time and I think that they were his disciples and thought very highly of him. This factor didn't always hit him, but I think if you read between the lines of Hugh Jr.'s talk with me and a little bit of what he was saying in the little talk that he gave, you saw that element of augustness.
Q: Even from his own son who basically alluded to his father being kind of formal and aloof.
Well I hope you understand now, I try to be objective as I can, including my own biases, if I have any, and I try to exclude biases. To give you as balanced a view as I can give you. But you know, everybody has a bias and when you talk to others closer to him, like you've talked to Bynum, I am sure he gave you a lot of, more of strengths and probably the only thing that he talked about that was not of strength, you know, not pro, is the thing that I put my finger on. And he didn't dwell on it.
I would say also without having to tell you that, I think you'll do it, is that you have to talk to people who looked at him from a different angle. Who were on his immediate team and will give him a lot of credit for things that they know of, you know, things that they were trying to do, to get the Central Office to do, like getting the Commissioner to do, but the Commissioner wouldn't do it, and that kind of stuff. I don't know, but I put mine in the pot and I hope it carries more than equal weight, because I try to be balanced from the start and I have a basis for balancing it. Other people are not equipped that way. That's your problem. And that's why I don't believe in archaeologists very much when they find a single cheek bone and they can construct a whole society from it. I think the fragments of this history that you are going to be able to touch and put together, provide a very limited view.
That just occurred to me that, and this is relevant to Hugh McKenna, so this is a little side thing. It has no importance other than to help visualize the individual. I come over, in my view, on this tape as if I'm a basso profunda, whatever that means, deep voice.
Q: You do have a deep voice.
I sort of think that I have a tenor voice, and I am not very musical. I want to be a little clearer, this is gravely voice. But Hugh McKenna had the most, I think, the best voice, deep, it came from the chest, it carried a long distance, and the best speaking voice. And the trouble was with that magnificent instrument he was one of the most boring speakers.
Q: I've heard other people say that.
The problem was he didn't use that voice. He did a lot of, some people say today, "you know, you know, you know, you know." Not McKenna, he'd say, "err." So there would be numerous "errs" in this thing, and this guy standing up there and making this presentation, probably solid stuff, but it was just full of "errs." And it was universally recognized that he could put you to sleep. So that's a little side thing.
Q: That's funny.
So that's a little aside.
Bob Ball & Alvin David
Bob Ball and Alvin David were extremely close. But that didn't mean that David got anything special; not infrequently in difficult discussions, he got the short end. Because you know, being the closest, you were supposed to be the most understanding of not getting your full due. I inherited that kind of mantle, somewhat. Often the understanding was there; sometimes it did not go down all that well.
Q: When you became close to Ball.
I was never as close as Alvin David was. Nobody could be closer at work. You know, I was the inside man. And in all of this, I want to make sure that it's understood that I didn't operate at the same level as Bob. When I said we were a two-man team, I mean I complemented him in an extremely good way. I had a lot of talents, some of which he did not have to the degree that I had, but of course, he always operated at a higher level as a whole. I'm not comparing myself to him in any way as an intellectual or career equal.
Q: Tell me a little more about the relationship between Alvin David and Ball that you mentioned.
Well, they were extremely good friends, they saw each other socially. In the early years, prior to the time I went to Program Analysis, which was in 1955, even though they both had permanent positions in the organization, financially they were struggling. I don't mean they were poor or anything like that. I mean, they lived very, very modestly. They lived close by. Linda David, Alvin's wife, and Doris Ball were very good friends. And Alvin was a unique person. He had a complete measure of understanding of what Bob needed to do before he thought about it himself. So he would do the things that needed to be done before Bob became aware he needed it. Indeed, Alvin had a relationship with Bob on the other side, in the program area, where he had measures of competence and sensitivity that (I'm not imagining this) that Bob learned from. As indeed, in a certain sort of way, when Bob and I became associated with each other, he had no administrative experience, particularly about testifying, not testifying on everything, but testifying on the budget, things like that. And so, you know, we were extremely close, in that respect, for several years. And then he began to do, by himself, a large amount of testifying. Oh, I'd brief him, and all that stuff, but he didn't need, and indeed he didn't want, the Congressmen to see that he was being helped. So it became tricky sometimes to feed him information, data, etc., without doing it in a way that would clearly send a message that he was merely a spokesman. Bob liked to be fully informed, and he was without doubt one of the very best informed persons to testify regularly before the budget committees and the committee members, both sides, respected him for the way he worked with the committee and the Congress.
Q: Tell me about your relationship with Alvin David. Talk about that a little bit.
Extremely good. Alvin's a unique person. And chemistry is important to him. And he's very sensitive. So if he detects the kind of chemistry in a person that makes him feel squeaky, you know, uncomfortable, that would be a problem. And he gets uncomfortable with a lot of things, intellectual and emotional, etc. If people are saying things that are off-key--if something reveals the person as being of different values or ignorant, or whatever--he gets uncomfortable in their presence.
John Schwartz was my Personnel Officer. I had a problem in getting him to be my Personnel Officer. The personnel office, with all the manuals and all that, they were sort of the most "unionized" type of thinking. The personnel office people, at least in those days, and I suppose to a degree still, thought of themselves as sort of a different, slightly different organization, that was working in kind of a unique field and that only prior experience could qualify individuals for advancement in that field. So that if you were a classifier, in order to be a higher classifier, you had to have more experience in classification. But equivalent experience in other fields, like direct operations which gave you knowledge of the substance of jobs, etc., was barely recognized, if at all.
John Schwartz had none of those experiences in specialized areas of personnel work such as classification. But I took on the Civil Service Commission or its representatives that handled it for us. I convinced them that as Assistant to the Director of Field Operations, or whatever the job was called, the occupant of such a job, who was John Schwartz, he dealt with personnel matters; he dealt directly with operational matters; he knew how to bridge between the two. And he couldn't do one or the other without being really knowledgeable. And that's the essence of the information that we wanted to have in personnel officers. A person who was knowledgeable both on the substance of the program that he was attached to sufficiently to enable him to optimize the kind of the spirit of civil service administration, and of the standards of merit protection, of the merit principle, and all of that. Well, that finally qualified him. But it was one of the rare occasions when that kind of a job was okayed by Civil Service without a fight.
Incidentally, a similar thing that I did--although it wasn't between Social Security and the Civil Service. It was a professional association of Government Accountants. And they wanted nominations for the accountant of the year from different agencies. And I nominated Millie Tyssowski, who was not an accountant.
Q: She was a budget officer.
I convinced them in a similar way. She became one of the 10 Government accountants of the year, and was honored in Washington and all that. My argument was that as the head of the Fiscal Management Office of Social Security, she needed to deal with the products of accountants. She knew how to do that. She knew how to use the accounting function to enhance program administration, and how to integrate that with the larger purpose of which financing is but a part. Accounting is not an end in itself; fiscal management is not an end in itself, nor is personnel management an end in itself. The people who should be sought, are the ones who are able to acquire that specialized expertise and use it in an optimum fashion.
So anyway, he is quoting somebody in the Department named John Cole praising Schwartz for his work in personnel and manpower development. In the area of equal employment opportunity, there was considerable recognition of SSA's accomplishments, there was also a lot of demand on us, going to help other people do as well.
In 1967, I made a talk that we were greatly impacted by the recent amendments. This is the piece I wrote for that talk.
I particularly like this, Arthur Altmeyer wrote me this: it's that letter, did you read it? I gave you an Arthur Altmeyer letter; he wrote me.
Q: You did.
I think he said in that letter he liked the piece very much. He never wrote me before. I knew him; I met with him several times when I was head of Budget.
Q: What was he like as a personality? Can you describe him a little bit for me?
I didn't know him that well. But he had a presence; he must have seen himself in a historical perspective. So sometimes he would pontificate on budget; he was not just an expert on the operational budget.
Incidentally, Arthur Altmeyer, he was retired at the time, wrote a letter, which I think I showed you. He was a guy that was always seriously interested in the program; he didn't seem to go very far from it. When he talked about anything, he was talking about Social Security. Many years after, that paper was written in the 1960's, he was still watching over Social Security and writing letters. Obviously, he didn't have any staff; maybe he had some typist available to write me a letter. He had never done that before. I wasn't even sure that he remembered me, he didn't show any evidence in that letter. But that reveals his kind of close and sincere interest in the program. He was kind of relieved that there were people who were carrying on in the way that he fully approved. I think that speaks a lot for him and for the program itself.
Q: Can you tell me more about him?
As I said, I never met him one on one. I was in small budget conferences with Wynkoop, Bill Mitchell, and Altmeyer, so there were three layers there in SSA. I don't know who else was in those meetings, maybe two or three others, like either Bob Ball or (not Roy Touchet alone ever), but I'm sure Bob Ball would be there and myself. In effect, we were discussing strategy, overall approach, and I was low man on that totem pole. I wouldn't have talked. There wasn't anything that I needed to say.
Roy Wynkoop was an ex-SSAer, and he was very well versed in budget matters. He was a very good, able, career person. Knowledge was important because his job was largely in helping the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner oversee all the Social Security units. He was a very able guy, and they put him on loan to the Federal Government to settle the Cubans in Florida when they flooded the country. He did a spectacular job. Sometime you might want to get somebody to write up that period; the Cubans were coming over in thousands, and he ran that program. He ran it for Uncle Sam, and he was spectacular in the way he'd pull together agencies that had no direct function on that and got them to do things that were necessary. He had no funds to operate on. He had a begging operation and he was spectacular. He was a very bright guy. He knew Social Security very well because he worked for the Social Security central field organization in a fairly good position before he went to the Office of the Commissioner.
Q: So you wrote this article and Altmeyer sent you a letter praising you.
Oh yes, and I will take several copies of this. We've got a lot of copies here.
It was more than just about a good article. He said, in effect, that: "You guys are doing a great job in improving the program, service to the public and all of that." So he was blessing a lot more because this article really shows the program developments. As I recall, this was in several versions. This is the Social Security program.
Q: This is interesting.
This is 1969. This has never been done before or since I guess.
Q: Okay, what about Roy Touchet?
He and Oscar Pogge were close social friends, with their wives. And then there was, I think, a falling-out.
I always want to qualify what I say about other people. My views are frequently not foursquare with the consensus on them. But I usually think a lot more about what I've said, not while I'm talking, but before.
I've thought about what made Roy what he was. He was not the most effective management person. I told you that he was out with Oscar Pogge. When I got to know him, he commanded little authority. In fact, Bartlett often made him the butt of jokes. Because he was on the "outs" with Oscar Pogge, I think that interfered with their relationship. But, as I said when I was invited to talk at his memorial service, I said it in front of his wife, that Roy was not one whose fate in life was to be evaluated as a person who had a lot of great ideas, all of which, or the majority of which, were good. The way I said it was: "Many people walk through the sands of life and don't leave an imprint. There are mighty few who leave imprints; they're not always the people who do a steady good job day in and day out who leave the imprint, although they may leave a different kind of imprint. Some guys do not have high batting averages, or are impractical; but do come up now and then with very good ideas and the good idea may become a milepost." Roy, I thought was that kind of a person. As a day in and day out leader, he was erratic, and had his faults. And I was up front, and knew that. But yet, he had these flashes. And he had, before I came under his supervision, he had established an organization-wide employee program, that solicited suggestions from all over the Social Security organization. It generated a great many ideas that were considered, and a substantial number which were implemented. It was well thought of by all as a very worthwhile program. And it was his program, he conceived it and carried it out. It was back in 1950, it was called the "Why Survey."
Q: That's all right, we'll find it somehow.
But it preceded me. And this was an idea he pursued for a long, long time. The name of it was, "Mind Your Business." The level of government, and this was his thesis, which is best equipped to deal with a particular action is the level at which all the unique information resides. Roy's thesis, and in many ways a perceptive one, was that the decision power should be exercised at the lowest level at which all the necessary information was available for the decision to be made.
That was his theory. And I helped him.
Q: So he wrote an article?
Not an article. He printed it up. And I never read this all the way through. But there were other pieces that he wrote, condensations of this. This will probably give you a lot more full development of the idea than I ever obtained.
Q: So this wasn't specifically about SSA particularly?
Well, it was. He wanted to apply it to SSA, but it was also his thought that this was a principle of general applicability to most, if not all organizations. He did apply it in his theoretical evaluations of actions that he had to pass on. Like he was responsible, technically, for organization. He was the head of budget, which was the function I took over when he was my supervisor. He attended the budget hearings, but he didn't have sufficient command of the facts, and soon became not useful in the process. He would stay back and let us deal with the Commissioner's office. He called it "the theory of exclusively possessed information" being the location for the decision.
And it was pretty good, in a way. I don't subscribe to it completely. But it is helpful at least in getting some idea where the decision making power ought to reside.
One of the things he did, he wanted to develop a profile of an executive. I helped him refine his ideas all along, I was part of his staff, this was a personal effort on his part, but he would ask occasionally for my help or to review or comment. He wanted to see whether they were decisive or imaginative or creative or whatever, you know? And he made appointments throughout the country with textbook writers. John Simon was one of the foremost thinkers on public administration, in those days, and he talked with him, and others. He would visit universities, and I went along. He invited me to go along with him. I was part of his team, his effort of helping him rationalize what he was getting at. But the effort led to nowhere. It was sort of an interesting thing. It led to nowhere but we learned quite a bit about leadership qualities from the people who studied the matter. However, it was clear to me that there was not, nor could there be, a set of characteristics that constituted executive leadership. It is a far more complex matter involving a great many variables and if one looked around at the best known leaders of organizations their profiles would vary greatly and often the elements in one might be opposites of those in another. I don't know whether he ever came to this conclusion, but I did, is that it was an imponderable subject; it was an art form. But he was approaching it as if there was a definite answer.
Roy had a reputation of being very erratic. I used to have to defend him, and I still defend him. Some people go through the sands of time and don't even leave a footprint on life. Roy left a lot of footprints. Some of them were in the wrong direction. But occasionally he would have one in the right direction, and they were important ones. So while you want a guy who steers a steady course and is consistent and all that, you can't overlook the value of one who may call more than his share of just ordinary, or even bad ones, and then call a good one. There is something to be said for people like that.
He was not a dependable, daily, shoulder-to-the wheel sort of guy. There was a great deal of strain which came about because of his reputed outside actions. I think it put a very great strain on him. He developed dermatitis. He had separated from his wife. He was not influential in SSA. I helped him a lot, well I did help him personally; I loaned him some money, got him on his feet, that's an aside thing. I also gave him my shoulder, and I listened to him, and he felt he had a friend.
I had a lot of ideas, and they had to go through him. And, you know, they took his name. I suppose some of the more insightful staff assumed they were not coming from him. But, I think, for the most part, it was evidence that he was doing his job. And so, he and I became close.
Then what happened, somehow or other, he went to the War Production Board, or one of those agencies--all of a sudden. Now this is "Dr. Futterman" explaining, you know, what's happening to the mind set of Roy Touchet. He became a big man in that agency, or at least he felt he was a big man. People were listening to him on his own and all that--he flowered.
Now I'm going to give you some names.
Q: All right.
Bob Brown was the guy who at the Department level in the Financial Office handled all the budgets including Social Security. Marion Stevens was the Assistant Secretary. Marion Stevens, he was Assistant Secretary for Budget and Finance, and their names came up with Wynkoop. You remember that story I told you about how I got sort of hooked into going to "beard-the-lion," Herman Downey.
Q: Okay, right.
I'm filling that out for you.
Q: Right, okay, good.
Jim Kelly later succeeded Marion Stevens. I haven't talked about him yet, but you might earmark him. He had very considerable influence on the paths that Social Security took. Sometimes he was helpful, other times he saw SSA as a way to help solve or ease DHEW appropriation problems and that created some problems for SSA. He was not one of the easy friends we made. He was of course at the Department level.
Q: Do you have some more names there?
Yes, I've got more names. Bruce Cardwell was Jim Kelly's successor later. Then Roy Wynkoop of the Commissioner's Office when we were the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, one of the bureaus along with Public Assistance, the Children's Bureau, etc. Now going to DAO in the old days, there was Leo Synder. When we set up Region II, within the Division of Accounting Operations, he was the head and I was his assistant. The two of us started out organizing the first regional internal organization at the Candler Building of the Division of Accounting Operations. We set up the first and the largest region, Region II, which was New York. As I said, Leo was a fine guy, I loved him, and I was a very good friend of his. Somehow Leo had damaged his health, and he seemed to be quite lackadaisical about things and not able to focus on what needed to be done. Here was I, this young character from New York, who had never worked for the Government. I just went out and did everything that seemed to me to make good sense and it seemed to work well.
Anyway, we set up that region and it was some time before the other regions followed. We were the pace setter and worked out a lot of problems beforehand. Joe Fay was the head of the Division of Accounting Operations, and Tom McDonald was his assistant. Tom McDonald was a very charming person. Everybody loved Tom; that is, everybody who worked with him. He had a classical Irish outgoing personality that attracted people. He didn't tell jokes and things like that. And he wasn't witty. He was a very good people person and he spoke of and used his Irishness to deal with people. I became intimate with Tom. He used his people talent very well and I regard him as a major force in holding the organization together.
I will give you one example. It might be reflected in what he said in the quote that I'm going to give you. I felt he was not especially equipped in any other respect that I could observe other than that, but I think his ability to make people like him and want to do a good job was very highly advanced. His typical thing would be that he would put his arm around me and ask me to do something not related to my job, or whatever, or maybe related. He would say: "Jack old buddy, I got a job for you. You are the guy that can do this job. I can't even begin to tell you how to handle it, but I know you will, and I have a lot of confidence in you, etc." He would deprecate his own ability. He wouldn't give you any other input except that confidence. Then you would break your back, I did, to retain his good will. I think he had a real affection for me. Of all the people above me, when I went into the Service, to my recollection, Tom was the only one who sent me letters. It was more than just a style that he found to be effective, and I'd often spend Sundays with his family. He had a big yard and lived out in the suburbs. I was alone, single, and I would drop by. I was always made to feel very much at home. That was the kind of guy he was, and I was not unique in feeling that way.
I mentioned Warren Irons as head of the Methods Branch, and I told you about Louis J. Baker. Then there was a bright guy who did not seem a part of, but yet was connected with this group that had come over. He was not part of the McDonald/Fay group that came from the Agriculturial Adjustment agency, or whatever that give-away program was in the 1930's, his name was James Harrison. He was a procedures writer at one point--front office procedures stuff. They were establishing what to do and the policy at the same time. He was the one guy that I had confidence that you could talk to. I mean he was very rational, and not only very rational, but thoughtful and so forth. He became chief of Region I; that was Boston.
When the regions were combined, in that setup there was a fellow by the name of Stanley Rotta. He was an assistant to John Harrison at some point, and Glen Dewey was in one of the regions. And George Moriarity and Barney Nolan (you notice the Gaelic names). Charlie Taylor was the subordinate and J. J. O'Beirne. Have you come across him?
Q: I've heard the name.
He was about at the rank that I had while Acting Assistant Regional Chief under Leo Synder.
Jimmy Haggerty was a procedures writer for machines. He was supposed to be the very knowledgeable punch card procedure writer. I mentioned Jimmy Grey, who was sort of an esthetic type, very nervous guy. Obviously, he couldn't work under stress, he worked best in an isolated room or something like that. He was the sort of technician's technician. In looking back, not that wiring a board for a punch card machine was all that difficult, but very few knew much about it then. He was the technical guy who was entrusted to see that was done correctly.
There was Lou Carrico, who was a favorite of mine, who was my immediate boss for a while and who selected me out of the crowd of people unknown to him, for a group leader job three days after I had reported. He headed the branch that had these five or six groups. When he moved up, I took his place. So those are some of the names that I recall. I will now pick up and talk about whatever you want.
Q: All right.