Jack S. Futterman Oral History
Part XII- General Observations & Experiences
Reviewing Papers--Misc. Topics
Q: Okay, good. (At this point Jack began reviewing some letters and papers he had and to comment on topics discussed in the papers.)
Did you know Mercia Laton Kahn? Know of her?
Q: Who was it that mentioned that name to me before?
She was a Regional Representative; she was first in claims policy, a top policy analyst in the days when Ewell Bartlett was the head. Then later, she went out to San Francisco, she headed one of the offices in California and trained many, many analysts who came east from her office. She was a powerful lady, very gracious. She had Baltimore roots. This was just a minor reference, but it shows you the kind of a person she was.
At my retirement, there was a fairly new Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management of HEW, he was a hot-shot business person, that was brought in. This was a time of considerable stress where there was pressure from the upper levels on Social Security. This was 1972. At the time I retired, they were beginning to exert a lot of pressure for us to reduce staff and all that. And here's the guy that's supposed to do it. He also happened to share with me his opinion about my services, he spoke very highly of them.
Oh, one of the things that I very much encouraged was the toastmaster's club and toastmistress' club. I joined with them on a couple of occasions and talked with them. I thought it was great for our people on their own to want to develop ways of better expressing themselves.
Q: I'm going to borrow this and make a copy, okay? A note from Rod Brady.
In SSA grade advancement was not a primary consideration for me, except perhaps a few years before I retired. I've mentioned to you that when Bartlett died, when I was Bob Ball's Executive Officer, he told me "you're the best qualified man for the job and you are entitled to have it. It is a higher grade, no reason why you shouldn't, but I would hate for you to go and I would like for you to stay where you are now, and I will make sure that you don't lose anything." Well, Bob Ball was not immediately able to make good on his promise to me, he had made a real effort to do it. I understood it and it didn't bother me.
Q: So you were ready to serve, basically, is what you are saying to me?
That's right! Essentially the same thing happened at least once more. The only time that I said I no longer was willing to do this was when I knew that my retirement was but a few years in the future and the higher salary levels would significantly increase my pension amount and Joe Fay retired from his job as the head of Accounting Operations, the organization in which I first worked, and I was without any question . . .
Q: Qualified for that job?
Not only qualified, Bob said the position was mine if I wanted it, but he was asking me not to take it and to stay where I was and he would get me a promotion, and he did make an effort. I was told by some people from the Department, who were privy to it, that Bob Ball went to Civil Service and made a kind of plea, plea is not strong enough. He made a presentation. The very strongest this guy ever heard anybody make, you know, why Civil Service should classify my job at the Grade 18 level. I think that it got me a Grade 17, and I got the Grade 18 when I went in 1965 to take Roy Touchet's place in the Office of Administration. I may have the sequence of these things wrong.
Anyway the whole record of my service reveals that I just did not keep reaching out to get the most money and the most prominent position. You know the nature of staff work is such that I had a background in the area, years of managing mods, units of the Division of Accounting Operations, several thousands. And I was also 1st rated in the Control Branch in terms of staff positions. And in Program Analysis on the Program side. And in Financial Management. Throughout it all I never pushed for the highest grade or more money as long as I was happy in all of these positions. I never had a job that I wasn't happy in. One of the things that Bob Ball and I, in the evening when we had a chance sometimes to swap stories, we agreed on was, "There isn't any job that isn't interesting, and people who worked in what seemed to them to be unimportant jobs, needed to be helped to understand the importance of their work and why what they did was important to the organization, and indeed it is important." I always felt that any job I had to do I would find ways to make it very satisfying and challenging.
I always liked to save time in the end by laying a groundwork first before conveying to you what my thoughts are. This is the way I usually work so that people understand where I am coming from.
So often a Supervisor would call somebody in his office and tell them do this, and he doesn't give a starting point. He doesn't begin to give the party that is going to do this work some feeling about the direction that he should take. So I usually would try to sketch-out what I think would be helpful. Sometimes I go further than to sketch-out--without circumscribing his effort--I'm not that kind of a fool. I let him know, if you can do better then that's fine.
Understanding SSA's History
I want to highlight some thoughts about your developing the history of SSA. The usual history, which I am sure is not your aim, is one of chronology about dates, and leaders. Unfortunately a lot of histories are mostly that. When I studied history in school, we didn't get into the economic causes or the geographical influences, or the idea behind various events. It was just to learn that in 1588 the British Armada defeated the Spanish Armada, things like that. I didn't know much about the Magna Carta, except it was signed in 1215. I knew the event, but I did not appreciate the significance of it. I think it is a necessary starting point for you to pick up the ideas, the relationships of individuals. It is a part of the history.
I am suggesting another depth, beyond the usual approach, and it came out in the kind of discussion that you and I have had on individual matters. Like you wanted to know about Program Simplification. You wanted to know about other programs, etc. And my answers to you were not simplistic. I always try to give you these rounded pictures, to give you a better understanding, a communication of the times, of the matters that then were important to deal with. Some things that were said or done 20 years ago, or in another setting, are notable and what makes them notable of course is they were creative ideas then, they helped solve major problems then, etc. So that is why it is important to know the setting.
And also I am thinking to the extent that you can, you might do perhaps more. Try to identify the individuals with the things that they did within the organization, that's point one. What made him/her significant. A greater depth than just to say that he was a Commissioner. He was a Commissioner that did more than be a routine Commissioner. He did more than selling the legislation on "the hill." Which is typical of Commissioners. There are always higher staffs that develop a program and he's selling it. But he was, I am not talking about Bob Ball specifically now, but I have Ball very much in mind, but he was also busy in the design stage of the legislation and I'm talking about the original program, and not about Ball, but a guy like Wilbur Cohen who was on Edwin Witte's staff. Cohen was very much a junior, but when he moved over to Social Security under Altmeyer, he became identified with all aspects of it. Very much identified with it throughout. Too bad that you never met Wilbur Cohen.
Q: I actually met him once, I never spoke to him, but I just shook his hand.
Remarkable guy. First he was a real "people person." He didn't care where he got his ideas. I mean he would talk to everybody on an equal basis. And as friendly as a puppy dog, but I don't think that his friendliness caused people to show his high office any disrespect; Wilbur Cohen wasn't sensitive to status, but he was not insensitive.
So I just want to say that is one point of it. To identify in more detail the setting, etc. Like I tried for instance on Simplification. Many, people will say, "yes I was identified with it. I helped and such." You are not really telling anything other than he was identified with this and this program. That doesn't tell you a hell of a lot. It tells you a little bit, but it doesn't tell you a hell of a lot.
But like in Simplification, which is one question you were very interested in, I knew that in the field many people were cynical about some of our procedures, but they really misunderstand the situation, because they were not well informed. And so I said, let's give them first a base, a platform, on which they can understand better and as a result be more perceptive and less critical. I wasn't worried about the critical part, but I was worried about the ignorance part, reflected in our staff. Second, they, our field staff, should be a source of good ideas, program ideas as well, and everything else, and they can't be that kind of a source of good ideas if they proceed from a base of ignorance where they therefore think the solutions are easy. We wanted not only our staff to be able to give better information to people when they came in and sought information, and at the end we wanted SSA also to simplify the program. We wanted also to develop more knowledgeable people, not only to benefit from better ideas they may develop, but also to enable them to be resourceful. We also wanted to improve the career of employees by widening their understanding and making more think of a lot of challenging things to go in that direction.
So this was a well-rounded program. It doesn't necessarily get described by saying "Program Simplification." It doesn't, I say necessarily, I'm being very charitable, it doesn't get described, period. So if I merely say, "Yeah I was on the Program Simplification project," and if that was all of it, that would not really explain very much. Under certain circumstances some people are identified with something, I suppose, where they were the head of a group, or the nominal head of a group, and they didn't do a hell of a lot, except lend their name or their name got attached to it. I didn't work that way.
To finish it up, this is all in connection with developing SSA's history that when peoples names are used that an attempt be made to go well beyond that to try to identify the ways they made a difference. One must do it in some depth, in a way that goes beyond merely name-dropping. Like icebergs, when events seem to be, or are perceived to be, like icebergs, with only 10 percent visible above the water; real understanding of matters are not always the result of easily visible and obvious factors.
Remind me to follow up on a comment that I made early on, and I continue to make in relation to the red carpet Oscar Pogge and others used to lay out for the Regional Directors. This may be particularly apropos today since you and I have just returned from Hugh McKenna's funeral. In the eulogy bob Bynum made reference to "these towering figures, the Regional Directors." I'll put it on this tape, while thinking about Hugh McKenna today. They were in many, many respects outstanding people, certainly men of stature, commanding presence, etc. But they were not towering as Bob Bynum sees them today. I lived with them. I was lower-ranked in those days, but I saw them as they were, and I don't see them from the disadvantage of years later where looking back they may seem like the towering names in Social Security history. They were very prominent names in those days, but sometimes distance lends enchantment. That is well to know not just about Regional Directors, but everybody else.
I didn't know Arthur Altmeyer very well, I used to sometimes appear before him in some inside budget preparation for the Commissioner's Office budget hearings before the Senate and Congress with Roy Touchet. I was low man on the totem pole in those little private office discussions. Altmeyer certainly was not, nor should he have been expected to be, a towering figure in discussions of his office's "small potatoes" budget. Of all the people in the room there he probably knew the least about that budget. There was Bill Mitchell, his Executive Officer or Assistant. Roy Wynkoop, who was Bill Mitchell's Executive Assistant. Roy Touchet, who was my boss, and I was the Financial Officer of the BOASI. I think that Arthur Altmeyer should not have been expected to know all about the budget. But he was not even one that would get insights, except in areas where one expected that he would. He is a towering figure in Social Security, Arthur Altmeyer. He didn't tower alone, he had to have help.
That's one of the things that I want to go back to. There were many SSA people who were very bright and accomplished in lower ranks. The most notable thing that I remember Francis McDonald doing as he went around the country he identified "comers" and spread the word to officials back in headquarters, "You've got a good guy back there." He'd spread the apple seeds. The point that I am trying to make, or emphasize, is that so much of written history seems superficial, because of its thinness, because of the necessity to pick out the most important events and the most important people. Unfortunately, this creates a shallow impression of the history of whatever you are talking about. Whether it is Social Security, the legislation, the Social Security program, or whether it is about going to the moon. It's impossible, of course, to give everybody credit. But that is not my point. My point really is more to avoid the impression that the ones written about did it practically alone. They needed lots and lots of help. That does not diminish in any mature person's mind the outstanding character of the contributions that certain people made. It's still outstanding. In this world only God, if you believe in that approach, can do something completely on his own. In this world everybody is dependent, not only on staff, but colleagues and others, and there is a degree of inter-dependence. So somehow or other I hope you will work out ways to convey that notion. And I think one way would be to describe the kinds of things that people did in more depth than is usual.
If I am talking about Bob Ball, of whom I know a lot more than I know of others and who is the brightest and ablest person I ever worked with, I would try to work in, even you thought you can't give a lot of space to it, the kind of people he was working with and he was drawing support from. One resource he had was within Social Security and there was a staff there that helped him do that job and helped him project himself into other areas. But then he had people at other levels who would work with him, allies, but I'll go back to Social Security history, which we're concerned with. It doesn't take anything away from the man I have the greatest knowledge of, and I am far from knowing everything I would like to know about Bob Ball. I knew a lot just by working with him. It doesn't take away from his stature one whit to know that he had enough sense, intelligence, know-how, to draw into his area people who served him well. They reflect credit on themselves only to the degree to which they help to advance the common interest. Which is, in the Commissioner's case, the common interest was his, of leading the organization, to improve on its record of execution of the laws, to improve the laws and so forth. It doesn't take away from that fact, it enhances it.
This is a picture of Marion, my wife. She worked under me. In 1936-37 people came from every State in the Union; with college educations, graduate degrees, lawyers, professional people. They comprised one of the largest group of highly educated people who entered Federal employment at one time to do very routine tasks. Social activities sponsored by the employees were interesting too. We were all strangers in a strange town and turned to each other for various recreational doings. Office romances were everyday occurrences. It took a little while for ours to bloom. She was a very pretty girl. And her hair looked a little funny here.
This is when I got the DHEW Distinguished Service award. You don't recognize me.
Q: Yeah, I recognize you. I've seen plenty of pictures of you. A good looking guy, especially with that pipe; you look debonair.
Remember that speech I was talking about in St. Louis, where they sort of ganged up on us? Well, this is a writeup of that in the OASIS. "The Social Security Administration is big government," stated SSA's Executive Assistant. "And even without additional legislation," etc., explaining that he welcomed us getting bigger with time. The subject of the meeting was "bigness" and impersonal service.
Q: That's right; I remember now.
I don't mind taking a different point of view. And this is what I said here, (this is me): "I don't deplore bigness; I'm happy to see it in Social Security because it is a sign that we have arrived near the goal that was set for us." "I think there is strong evidence that on balance, mechanization and automation are forces for greater personality rather than impersonality." Do you remember the rationale I gave you?
Q: Yeah, we talked about it.
That we can better adapt the Social Security program provisions to the facts in the individual's case so that the Social Security program is more personalized instead of impersonalized.
"Today and Yesterday: Social Security." This is a youth opportunity program, which I gave a great big shove in Woodlawn. As I said, I was trying to advance integration. I used some top-notch people, especially Earl Young, who later was in disability. Did you know him?
He came to the central office from the Chicago Payment Center. He's a great big athlete-- this guy, black guy. Of course, most of the kids we get into the Summer Opportunity Programs were black. He knew how to really get them going. And Earl really made a cohesive group out of them, and gave many a preview of looking forward to a life of work with Social Security if they could. I think it helped to integrate us into the community very much.
A Disclaimer Regarding Perspectives
But that brings me to a final point, and that is to repeat my disclaimers. That whatever you get in terms of opinions, and my recollections, are subject to human error. My opinions, I realize, are very subject to error. I try to hold myself to an objective standard. I hardly ever say, "I'm positive of this or that." I am too well aware that errors can happen and I am, if anything, too motivated to communicate sharply and not enough motivated to the nuance of criticism that might appear. I want to make sort of a general statement, that one might have a lot of differences within the Social Security I grew up in with certain people. Some people just constitutionally don't want to agree, or want to establish some basis on which they can say they disagree. I sometimes must seem to claim what a listener might tend to regard as a "super virtuosity," a cleanliness of motivation. I assure you that I am aware of the dangers of embellishment and that I am trying to say these things as objectively as I am able. Of course I've long learned that my recollections of events often don't coincide with other participants. I say this in respect to people who have nothing but the greatest affection and good will for me.
I was reading in this book, these notes, last night as I was preparing for our conversation, and I was reading remarks by one of the people whom I trusted without reservation, he's now dead. He described certain events, perhaps in a loose way, which I thought kind of overstated his participation. I know one thing, and this would be in respect to Robert Ball, and if he was to be confronted with some of the things that I said earlier, he wouldn't recollect it that way. But I try to be especially disciplined in that respect. I believe what I am saying, otherwise I wouldn't say it, but not withstanding that, I fully expect that what I say may be open to challenge by other observers or participants.
So that sort of overrides everything that I say, it's my disclaimer. I don't have in my heart equal respect for all of my colleagues. I have more respect for some colleagues than I have for certain ones. But all of it is above the line. You know, I would be challenged to find people who I thought were minuses. I think we were an unusually select group, whether nature did the selection, or economics or whatever, but the time was such I think as to bless us with good people and they did well. We all had our share of flaws, as I had.
Anyway, that's that.