Jack S. Futterman Oral History
Part VI- Working in Program Analysis
Going To Work For Alvin David
Q: So then you came to Program Analysis to work for Alvin David, tell me how that happened. How did you end up in Program Analysis? Tell me that story.
There's a little bit of a story. I don't know how much to give, because some of it is surmised. Well anyway, when I first came back I did not get the job I had expected in DAO, as the policy provided. During that time I learned that Alvin David had a job in Program Analysis; a top job, not his deputy, just a top job. And I indicated some interest. But it turned out that Alvin had become very friendly with my very good friend--he just died last year, I got to know him from the early days of Social Security, and he became a life-long friend.
Q: George Leibowitz?
Yes. And Alvin had a lot of respect for him. Although I had a mild interest in looking at that kind of work, I really didn't get a chance to compete. Although, I went through the moves.
Q: He selected George?
He selected George.
George Leibowitz had been my assistant, and under this plan of promotion in absentia he became my boss. While I was in the service, George Leibowitz had made a very good impression on Alvin David. During this period when I was in the Methods Procedure Branch, there was business about a grade 12 job with Alvin David. While I never went out looking for the job, it came to me. Personnel wanted to know whether I was interested and I said yes. It turned out that George was interested in going there, and Alvin David sold it to George. He didn't know what he had gotten, you know--George was a good man.
Then years later, when he got to know me a little, and had greater experience with George, it worked two ways. First, it opened his eyes about my capabilities, things that he was unaware of, he learned through experience. And it worked the other way, unfortunately. (This is speculation about my friend George's contribution.) In a sort of a summary way, I would say that George had a more pedestrian kind of mind. It was not one that would come up with creative surprises. So I guess it took some years for Alvin to appreciate this: he was learning about George firsthand, and he was observing me.
One incident was part of what happened then. They were undergoing the nadir of their existence, if that's a good word--the very bottom. They hit bottom in Program Analysis. The staff was down to practically nothing. The guys that did the work were Alvin, Betty Sanders--I'm talking about the legislative policy and the technical effort to produce the documents that Congress wanted to support the positions of the Department or SSA--Kitty Marquis and Henry Schumer, and an ex-social worker, Neota Larson--a real professional. Neota had a great deal of knowledge about the social welfare aspects of things. And she had a lot of information about sources--where to go to get information, advice, etc., which Henry didn't have. Henry worked for me along the line. And that was it, in essence.
They were working around the clock, literally. They would work until three, four o'clock in the morning, then go home, get a couple of hours of sleep, freshen up, then come right back to work. They were droopy--they were down, they were just unable to get things done. And they lacked staff, they lacked good staff. I mean, they needed five times as many as they had. And it was in that setting in 1955 that I was asked would I accept a deputy job? So people would come in and would push me for the Deputy job. I never made a single move, not even hinted that I was interested. In truth, I wasn't particularly. I was very happy with what I was doing. In some ways, you know, being a deputy is not as good as being one of the principals. But the job was open. Alvin would have in mind who the possible persons were--he would make it very clear. He didn't think there was any better choice at the time, so I took the job.
I immediately began to flesh out his office. I became a full partner in terms of hammering out policy and all that. Mr. David was very much in need of a deputy who could get him out from the deep fog that he was in. He was the least administrative type of person. He could never think to hurt anybody, so adverse decisions piled up on his desk. And I was hired in 1955 as his Deputy. Not so much for my background, but for my natural ability to reason problems. And my sense of values I guess were important, my general belief in the importance of Social Security.
So I went to Alvin and I stayed there for two years. When I first got there, he went on vacation, in July. He had a lot of unresolved matters on his desk, suggestions, requests for promotions, and action on this and that. I just got rid of it all, and I don't mean just junked it, I dealt with every issue. And I did some tasks I'm sure he personally thought were distasteful. He just didn't like to give people news that they wouldn't like.
He is a very unusual person, unique, I would say. Anybody who talks about Alvin David would have to say he is one of most unique people. He's very kind, very thoughtful. I talked to him not too long ago. He's alert, no question his mind is in good shape, his body's all bent over, and he just lost his wife.
The Dragnet Program
Q: What were some of the things that you did during those two years.
There was the Dragnet Program.
Q: Go out to the field and get people and bring them in?
Bring them in for interviews. It had never been done. I mean, not really, this was large scale, large scale. I'll say this, it had many purposes. The immediate purpose was to get good people from the organization, no matter where they were, to work in DPA; it had been denuded; it was really in terrible shape. And obviously, the major source was the field organization, but not the sole source. This was my idea--the Dragnet Program, where we would bring in people from the field and elsewhere for interviews, and also for possible assignments--long-term details, short-term details, so that each side could be exposed to the other. And we got some fine people.
Q: Now the interviews were not just to hire people to work in Program Analysis, but also to get input on policy?
No, no, not at that point. Dragnet had to do with recruiting.
Q: Okay, I got you.
And we brought in a lot of people from all regions. I should say, at this point, why did I feel that's the way to do it? Well, I have to tell you that the way we were then organized, and still are organized, the chances of good talent floating to the top in the organization were not proportional to the capabilities of the individuals. A lot depended upon their location, where they worked, under whom they worked, how good those people were in identifying talent and promoting people, how good their values were in terms of identifying people who had the talent to go to, let's say, an office like Program Analysis. One of my favorite examples on that is if you were working on the top of a mountain in Wyoming, in a district office, who sees you there? At most, some slightly higher-graded individual would visit every once in a while. And the only guy that maybe then served that function--and this gets to a guy you touched on, who you ought to know--was Francis McDonald. Francis McDonald had a way of showing up in any place. He was a guy (even though he probably would have been the worst administrator in the world) who had some smell, some sensitivity, some idea of who was a talent, a bright guy. And once he'd identified him, he spoke their name wherever he went. Francis McDonald was responsible, he was only one man, but he was responsible for doing much more than any one person, on a personal basis, could have done in getting talent known regardless of the location. But of course this depended on whether he spent time in that office, which obviously was sort of an arbitrary kind of a thing--and no one could depend upon that kind of a system.
So the idea of Dragnet, again, the first function was to get staff. The second function was to really add opportunity, a window for employees to see what was out there, and to have some basis for making judgments about whether working in central office was interesting. You know, there's a widespread opinion, "Oh, Central office is no good." Until you get there, you find out what's going on, a lot of people get very attracted. So that was one way of opening up the organization so that the individuals themselves would have a better idea of what course they might want to go in the future. And even more important, when you bring them up to the central office, and you show them around and have interviews with different people, not just Alvin David, but Hugh McKenna, and other people, you get exposure like you never got before. Even though it might not have resulted in an immediate placement, it might result in a detail, or a short-term assignment. Even if it didn't, it would remain in the minds of people who would use that information later on.
So it was a very popular program, and a very successful program. It was not inexpensive; but I think it was, in terms of the cost-benefit ratio. I think it was a major help at that time in renewing vitality in the organization and also the morale of the organization. It certainly contributes to employee morale to know that they have chances to travel, so that they might have an opportunity to be further exposed and for planning their career objectives. Did I make this clear?
Q: Absolutely. All right. Now what else, what other things?
The Simplification Program, early on. Again, it was oriented to two things. First, about that time, I guess it was about 1956, am I right on the year?
Q: I think so.
First, the conception of it was wholly mine. I was, as I say, Alvin's Deputy. And I did not just work on administrative problems. But I knew that the burden of administration--if improvements were going to happen, if improvement in the staff and the quality of the staff and the direction of the staff and all the other matters was to take place--I would have to carry 90 percent of it. But at the same time, I was doing all the other things in the management of the Division of Program Analysis. And my thought was the law was getting so complicated then (we thought it was complicated then!) that there was talk amongst the technical people that, you know, we ought to simplify. Almost always, in enacting legislation, there's an opportunity to put together a lot of things that we call technical amendments, that really didn't go through full legislative scrutiny. The technical people would tell the program committees, you know, that there are certain provisions that we would like to have corrected; they're not political, they're not this and that. And they pass them routinely. You had to be damn careful that you were not getting these things passed under some false guise. They had to be truly technical.
I thought, being new, we needed to go beyond just technical amendments and get legislation that could expedite our administration of the provisions, without changing the intent in any way, but at less expense or at better quality, or whatever. We should not be inhibited by over-direction in the law about how to work. We called that "simplification." And I wrote to Alvin, I hope we can find a copy of the letter, proposing this program. I proposed that we have somebody, one person, who was capable of doing it. My first choice was Manny Levine, who was in the General Counsel's office.
We tried two or three guys from the field to help Manny. We had a couple of good guys. I wish I could remember the names off hand, but I can't. We had at least two guys there that worked with Manny. They became real help, you know. They knew their stuff; they knew the law. One of them came from California; the guy that did the most. He worked with Manny the longest. And when he went back to California, he got a very big position. So his service was very useful to him.
But in proposing this program, it was a little bit of an aberrant thing, you know; it had never been done before. I'll describe now what I thought the structure should be. We would periodically issue a simplification letter in which we described the problem, the technical problem, as we saw it, in the current law, or the way the current law required us to act. And we laid that out clearly. "We are now doing A and B and C and D to accomplish E." And what we were looking for was a way to overcome some of the problems that made us take these steps, and ultimately find creative new ideas, new approaches to accomplishing the objective of that provision, or of those provisions. And so in the process, that simplification letter, (and this was a major consideration in my mind) educated the field. They had very simplistic notions about how to change the law, and didn't understand why the law was the way it was. We would have to demonstrate how to change it in a way that would convince the people who enacted it in the first place.
Q: So these simplification letters would go to the Congress or to the field?
Oh, it went to the field. All the people in the field in certain areas of work. All the representatives, the Claims Reps.
Q: They would explain the way things work now or why they worked that way or any proposed changes you were planning to make?
Oh yes, there would be some. We would discuss in that memo ways we had considered, and the problem--why they were not yet selected. We would always try to educate: "Here's the present law; we'd tried to overcome it by these ways--administratively or legislatively. But we still have this problem, and we're not accomplishing the full objective. If anybody has ideas . . ." And I especially designed it that way in my original memo, saying that the field is rife with simplistic notions about provisions; how stupid the law is in certain respects. Do you recognize it?
Q: Oh sure.
How stupid the law is, how easy it would be to correct it. The simplification memos were designed to wake up the field to stop being so damn simplistic about it; learn something about what you're talking about. So they began to be able to answer the questions that came up. Because the field would encounter questions from the people coming in: "Why do you want this stupid procedure?" They would learn not only what the law required, but also why it was the way it was, and what the purpose was for doing something that seemed to be stupid to somebody. But after you'd explain it, they would understand it, and have a better idea of it. And they can harness their own intelligent approach how to solve the real problem, not some phony problem that they simplistically came up with.
Q: So did these simplification memos also introduce changes in practices and policy and operations, or you were soliciting ideas, or you were just educating them?
They were both.
Q: It was all of that?
We were really in effect saying, "We want to simplify the law. We realized we had a lot of things in the law that could be better written. Some limited us; some of the provisions do this and that, and get in the way of what should be our real objective." Now we didn't just confine it to what was the intent. But if we thought sometimes the intent needs to be adjusted, we'd argue for that too. But basically, it was to accomplish the job without changing the end result that was sought.
Q: Let me make sure I understand the process. So Manny Levine and his staff would look at an issue or an area.
Well, they would take up one issue for a period.
Q: And they would try to come up with ideas for how we could administratively simplify it and yet still meet the objectives of the law?
Not how. We'd identify problems, and explain the nature of the problem.
Why we weren't happy with it.
Q: And why certain ideas wouldn't work.
Why certain ideas didn't work. And having identified, as best we can, the nub of it, we would solicit their ideas, from their experience, any suggestions.
Q: Okay, I got it.
And so it was an educational thing; its ostensible, fundamental purpose was to get suggestions for simplification. And we got many. It was a shot in the arm. It really brought, I think, a sensitivity to the law, and the purposes of the law, that were too easily dismissed by people who didn't know that they didn't know. And you know, that gets pretty annoying. And that means that they can't handle the job very well, when they have to explain to a member of the public, why this stupid provision of law is in it, and the public says, "Why don't you do so and so?"
Q: So what did you do with all these suggestions when they came back?
Many went into our legislative planning.
Coverage and benefits and all the others, it went into that and went into the hopper. And I think there was a way of feeding that.
Q: Did we make some progress through the Simplification Project? Do you think we made some improvements in the administration of the law?
Oh yes. I personally couldn't give you the cards and spades on it. But I think there were many things. You see, a lot of people have the idea that if you approved something, it happened sort of immediately. No. In many, many areas, you get ideas coming out, and they have to percolate in your mind. And then a certain opportunity comes up, and you say, "Oh, this idea will work just right." But at other times, the idea of improving went right into the way we wrote up certain things.
It was part of the legislative planning grindstone operation; we were grinding out justifications for this and that all the time, and sending them to particular Congressmen, feeding them ideas, etc. Or we might at their request feed them these ideas. There were some Congressmen who were always looking for ideas--a lot of the grist for the mill of legislative planning was Congressmen who were interested in changing this provision of law or that provision of law. And we would do whatever they wanted, whether it was good or bad. That's one of the things you have to do. When a Congressman seeks our help and says, "How could I write this thing so that it would do so and so?" You first did that for him. And if you thought that he was open to other suggestions, you might throw in "There are other ways to do this. Or it might not be a good way." But you didn't do that very often. So Republicans and Democrats, or whatever, would seek our help. And even though a lot of the help that they were asking for was to accomplish things that Social Security or HEW or whatever did not personally seek, we did it as a technical assistance, just like the Congressional Library would provide that kind of service.
Q: All right. Is there anything else to discuss from your period in Program Analysis?
I worked for Alvin for two years--1955 to 1957. I've already indicated the kind of situation I stepped into when I went to Alvin's place in 1955.
Q: You lifted some burdens from his shoulders, right?
He got the Distinguished Service Award, and all that. He was a happy guy.
Q: And you had beefed up his organization; and you had done a lot of things like that.
A lot of things, not just administratively. As I said, I got a lot of people for him. Irwin Wolkstein, you've heard of him?
That was another case.
You know, I was looking around. One of the things I was looking for is who in this organization do I think has talent and they're not being utilized? Irwin Wolkstein was a Special Assistant to this guy who I told you was obnoxious; he wasn't obnoxious, but Alvin couldn't stand being in his presence. I put myself in Irwin's place; I thought Irwin was a very bright young fellow. He wrote lousy. He was the exception to one of my main rules, which is that a guy who writes lousy, thinks lousy. He was an exception. He was just unable to take what was in his head and write it. Most people are unable to write it because they don't have it in their head. But Irwin was better. He was the only guy that in my lifetime, I've come to that conclusion about. I thought he just had a trigger mind. And it was only because of some casual opportunities that I had to see his work. The Statistics Branch we didn't get to see very often. It wasn't on the main line.
During these early days when I was trying to beef up the staff. I told you that Jimmy Marquis and Neota Larson and Henry Schumer and Betty Sanders were the mainstays. Betty Sanders was a Technical Assistant for Alvin David, and she was very bright and I thought that she was well-suited in her placement. She worked at Alvin's level and he assigned her to do all kinds of tasks that she was capable of doing and she was capable of doing anything. I mean, all of the technical levels. She was very bright, very quick-witted, very fast, she could write and she produced.
So I was looking around early on, even before Dragnet. I was trying to see who I knew and who I was exposed to that I thought might be more productive. And I thought that Irwin Wolkstein, working under his boss, was wasted. That was not the most important place and personally I thought that he was in a demeaning position. That the man he worked for tried to grab credit. He established a real reputation for himself in the government in our staff and in other places after he left us. I liked him, but he was a pushy guy and he used his staff to advance his own interests. I just didn't think that was the best place for Irwin, and I thought that he had a brilliant mind.
So I called him one time out of thin air and I said to him, "Have you any interest in so and so?" He said, "I haven't thought about it." I said, "Well I'll tell you, I thought about it and I am not trying to persuade you to do something you don't want to do, but my first thought is that you are a bright guy and that you could be more useful and productive in other placements. Those other placements would be in higher jobs and they would lead to more interesting work for yourself. Not as some technical background person for one of our branches, but you would be able to aspire on your own." He said, "I might be interested." I said, "Are you happy where you are?" And I don't think that he was prepared to be explicit, but he realized by the question that although I had not known him, or met him very often, that I was discerning enough to detect something that he was not talking to people about. I became sensitive to it, not because of anything I saw in the way of a bad reaction on his part, but I said to myself, "If I had his brains would I be happy as a sort of a back-of-the-curtain adviser or helper to so and so?" I just thought that the roles were reversed in terms of actual knowledge and ability and intelligence. I didn't say these things to him. I said, "if you are interested I will pursue it a little more, because I hadn't talked to Jimmy Marquis, who was the one I wanted to divert him to. Jimmy Marquis was in Coverage.
Q: So you wanted him as an analyst?
Yes, as an analyst under Jimmy Marquis. I talked to Jimmy Marquis, and to my surprise he didn't want anybody unless he had extensive knowledge of him and all that, so he sort of resisted. He didn't turn him down, he said, "Well let me think about it," you know, that kind of thing. He thought about it and he didn't come to me, but I tried him again sometime later, and he said, "Well I haven't quite come to a conclusion." So at some point I just mentioned it to Alvin, and I told him why I was doing it. He thought that it was a good idea. He never said no to anything of that kind. So I then sent out to Alvin, after I waited some more, I said, "I'm going to tell Jimmy Marquis that I want him to make the move and if for any reason, after a month or so, he tells me that he's sorry that he did it or that he doesn't want to continue, without argument, I will take Irwin off his hands." I don't think that I was asking Alvin to do it, I was just informing him. And it happened and they became great for one another, they worked beautifully with one another as equals, and Irwin developed his own reputation in the health field. In 1965, when the Health field started, Irwin was one of our top researchers and I remember how strong he was in the area of bringing in managed health care.
Q: Are you talking about HMOs?
HMO's. There were a lot of technical problems to devise under the law the way of getting them covered. But he became tremendous, one of the leading persons in the government in terms of legislation, in that area.
The Origin of the Downey Books
Herman Downey had lots of printing and binding jobs that he needed, that he tried to get done by the agencies served by his Committee--he had Labor and HEW and some others. And it was perfectly legitimate for him to make these requests. But he was frustrated because he could not get most of the agencies to do things the way he wanted them done. And I told him we had an excellent print shop at Social Security and we would be happy to help him. Boy, that impressed him.
Q: You mean we would help out doing print jobs for him?
Sure. These were small jobs. He wanted certain papers bound. He could get it done at the Library of Congress, but they didn't do a good job for him, they didn't do it the way he wanted. It would take a lot of time, etc. And so wherever there were facilities, in various agencies, he would glom on to them. And I did lots of things for him that way. Which I would have done for anybody, if they had a legitimate need for it.
Q: While we're on the subject, about Herman Downey and publications, tell me about the "Downey Books," is this the origin of the Downey Books?
Yes. The Downey Books were my books, I didn't put my name on them, but these were my books, that I had made.
This was after I left Budget and was with Alvin David, I was his Deputy, Deputy Director of the Division of Program Analysis. This was 1955, 1956, and a little bit of 1957.
Bob Ball would still personally come down when he couldn't get what he wanted, and he would come down and ask for my help. And I determined that if he wasn't getting what he needed I would take on these extra duties and help him out. So I maintained a connection with Ball in my new job. And Bob Ball always wanted me to maintain my influence with Herman Downey.
What happened was this. That was an entirely new field for me too. I was a guy who had worked with punchcards, and coding and all that. Then budget. And now legislation. Now Bob Ball and others have told me over the years that I demonstrated great program sense. I didn't know the details. But I did know what were the purposes and aims and objectives of Social Security. And in a given situation, it was no handicap for me to be lacking the details, to be able to identify the kind of result we should be seeking.
But I digressed. Back to the Downey Books.
I had this relationship with Downey, since before I went to Alvin David's office. So it was well-established. Occasionally he still came over to Baltimore, sometimes bringing Roy Wynkoop along. Roy Wynkoop loved it because he had been used to contending with Herman Downey, and this became a kind of inside-club.
Now the way the books got started was like this. Sarah Brown was an analyst at Social Security. She started in 1936 I think, around the same time I came in. She took on and was given the duty of keeping copies of bills and hearing reports and thinks like that. So that when an analyst had to refer to it, Sarah would be able to dig it up. And there were always lots of bills being introduced, etc. She couldn't keep up with it all. But she managed to do a lot, she did very well.
So she began in the early days to try to bring some order to all these bills and hearing reports, etc. She would try to put together a complete set for every year. To make sure she had every bill, every hearing, every committee report. So Sarah had really laid the basis for what would become the Downey Books. But she was not doing anything so ambitious as what we later developed.
I visited Downey one day. He was complaining about how he was unable to get the materials he needed. He showed me these beautiful books that he had prepared as the Senate Finance Committee Clerk. These leather-bound books, with speckled edges, and all that. And I told him that we were collecting some things. Because even he couldn't keep abreast. He was only one person. He had no staff, and he did a tremendous amount of work.
But he tried to bring everything into a book, but he couldn't, he was missing things. I would supply from Sarah's materials, some missing things. Or we would hunt it down, if Sarah didn't have it.
Out of this, I offered to produce an annual book for him. And we did. That's how it became the Downey Books. I did it for him. And then, it occurred to me, that this is an indispensable tool for research into the history of Social Security, and it was fast being dissipated so that nobody would have it. If the Clerk of the Senate Finance Committee couldn't maintain it, and if Sarah Brown, who was a bird-dog, could not keep up with it, then I was afraid that being loose-bound and all that, that in a few years there would be some things that would never be part of the record, they would be lost forever. I thought of it in those terms. That it would be a wonderful thing for our Library. It would be a wonderful thing for the people who were the heads of those divisions, those bureaus, to have this. I didn't mean for it to be personally owned by them, but it turned out that this is what happened.
And I hope that our Library has them, and other places too. Because as part of our plan, Lew Dykes shipped a set of the leather-bound books to the Library of Congress, and a few other places. Then Lew Dykes had printed maybe a 100 sets of paper-bound books, and we distributed these too. After I retired, John Trout used to send me paper-bound copies of the new books each year, then after awhile he was not in a position to continue that. A set was given to me upon my retirement.
Q: Okay. Great story.
Relationship With Alvin David
Q: What was your relationship like with Alvin David?
There was a good chemistry between me and Alvin. First I recognized him as a very unique, finely-tuned, sensitive human being. He did things the Alvin David way. He had certain characteristics that were not suited to being the head of an organization. He couldn't tell somebody no; he couldn't bawl them out. He was so basically determined to look at all sides of an issue that he found it difficult to make some kinds of decisions.
To illustrate the point: When I came down, he went on a month-long vacation. And his desk was piled 2 feet high with things that had been lying there for years, a couple of years. One of the branch chiefs, the head of the Statistical Branch, was a very difficult person for Alvin to deal with, because this guy was brash, bold, demanding, and contentious. So Alvin found it very difficult to be in his presence. And he was asking for things that Alvin didn't want to do, like establish this and that--he was an empire builder. Alvin knew he shouldn't let him build the empire. But at the same time, he found it very difficult to say no. So that kind of thing was sitting on his desk. When I took over, I just took over the desk. Alvin was away. So I started cleaning it out. I called this Branch Chief down and we talked about it. And I said, "No, you can't do it." And that was it. He tried to argue with me. But where his argument might have wooed success with Alvin, it didn't have with me. I was not afraid to tell him in blunt terms, why I didn't think it was a good idea. So when Alvin came back, he had a clean desk.
He doesn't write letters any more--he's 90 years old. He's the best writer I know. He writes with precision; with very little redundancy, none practically. Each word carries its full weight. And there's no other word that would work better. And it's precise, and about as clear as one could be. So you can imagine how flattered I am when he tells me in recent years, repeatedly, that I'm the best letter writer that he knows. At first, I didn't believe him. But I do believe him--he really means it. I'm not trying to tell you I'm not. But the best? To Alvin?
Q: Tell me some more about Alvin David during that period.
I want you to know about Alvin David. Alvin David had, in many respects, a deep insight into all the developments in the early days. He was familiar with and knew all the early characters: Isadore Falk, who was the head of research; of course he was very well acquainted with Wilbur Cohen; Ida Merriam. He was very well acquainted with the head of Program Analysis, Jake Perlman, who preceded him. It would be well worth trying to get some picture of Alvin as a person and what he contributed.
Q: That would be very helpful.
I can only do a partial account. Enough maybe to give you some clues as to people who might know more, who are today alive, and who can maybe help do that sketch. Unfortunately, I think, most of them are dead. Alvin is now in his 90th year. We discussed that when I last spoke to him about a month ago. And he and I were especially close, once I started to work with him, or even slightly before.
In a sort of a "broad sweep" generalization about him as a personality, I'd first say, and this is something almost everybody would agree, was that he was one of a kind. He was not bizarre or anything like that, but he had a unique personality. He was an Alvin David original. Amongst the unique characteristics were, first, he had a personality all his own. He was eternally, cheerful. Whenever you'd call him, he would answer with a musical "hello," or whatever, buoyant, and so forth. He was a man who influenced me a lot, a master of the English language in writing. What I regarded was his ability to write with a minimum of words, with no duplication at all, every word, you know, carried its full weight. He's just a master at concisely identifying precisely what he wanted to say. So I learned from that by example, not by copying any part of it.
My writing style is entirely different. Even today, I feel insecure because my school system stupidly, in those years, skipped me over the whole seventh year. And there were important subjects that were taught then, that I skipped over and never had, like parsing sentences. To me, it was grammar. And I didn't know how to parse a sentence, and still don't know how to parse a sentence; I have feelings of insecurity about what exactly is or is not grammatical. I've been told I write extremely well and probably, in some respects, better than Alvin in terms of conveying with force the thoughts I want to communicate, but not with the style and the distinction that his has. But he influenced me in keeping what I had to say compact, not using multiple words to say one thing. And also learning the discipline that "You want to write something good and enduring, you better count on four or five drafts or something like that." So that's the kind of habits I developed just by observing him and reading and enjoying whatever he wrote.
Beyond that, he just was a wonderful person, generous, he'd always been generous in his praise of me. You know, he got me to even believe some of it. Take recent examples. About a year ago, he started telling me that my letters to him were absolutely the best that he receives. Well, I think they are good, don't mistake me. But the best that Alvin receives, that's high praise indeed. It's almost as high praise as Bob Myers--who justifiably had a widely-held reputation of identifying errors large and small in substance and even in punctuation--saying he looked at that piece I did in Kansas City and couldn't find even one error to correct. That's the kind of thing that Alvin would tell me. He also would imply that even without all the technical knowledge that I did not have, he regarded me as a program policy person par excellence, with a great deal of creativity and so forth.
I'm not fighting that, because I don't think modesty to that degree is helpful. I think I was very good. I believe that one of my outstanding characteristics is creativity. Not just in that area. I don't know what it is about myself, but I do think creatively. Just like I said, when I first went down there, by not being technically oriented, I was forced to think in larger terms. But I have a tendency to think in larger terms. Even right now, I've bought the computers, you know. And I don't want to learn how to do this and do that; I want to first surround the subject by learning the big picture about Windows 95, and the big picture about Office, and the big picture about Excel, and the big picture about Access. Even though I will not stretch those things anywhere near their limits, I do get an appreciation of how they fit together, far better than when you build it up by small steps and you never get an idea how vast the thing is that you're entering into. So I'm beginning to understand. I'll make a slow start in being productive.
When I went into painting, I didn't want to go through all that buildup stuff. I needed to get into painting; to have something constructive to work on, to divert myself recreationaly. And so like Churchill, who I heard had the same approach, I decided to paint. I learned as I painted and broadened out. But that's about the only thing I've done that I don't approach in a sort of a survey way. I don't try to remember all this stuff; I just enlarge my view of things.
So to get back to Alvin, he was a kind person, he made friends, he had friends all over the country. He gave each one a feeling of importance and dear friendship. And he truly was that, he was a very, very effective person, especially for Bob Ball. Bob would mention a problem and Alvin would wrestle with it all night with two or three or four of his staff or whatever was required, and do everything. He knew he was the greatest of all kinds of lieutenants who didn't have to be told what to do. He would be very quick to assume responsibility for something that he had failed to think about. You know, he'd say, "I should have thought about it," to remove the sense of his superiors saying to him, "Alvin, I want you to do this and this and that, and remember to do this." Alvin thought, or at least he acted like he believed, his superior only needed to name the subject and that he ought to be able to figure out all the things, and if he didn't, it was his fault.
With it all, it was very difficult to get people sometimes to put in the tremendous hours. They had family, and they needed to go home. But like Bob Ball, he persuaded them. Sometimes they would cuss, you know, when they left at 12 o'clock midnight or 1 o'clock in the morning. You know they say, "this is a lost chase, this is for nothing." And Bob Ball was known for running out every hit that didn't have a chance in hell. Bob would not think anything of having some of the Program Analysis Staff work around the clock, even if there was only one chance in a hundred. He wouldn't say, "No, there's practically no chance; we'd don't have to break our neck." For the program, any chance--and sometimes when there was no chance--he felt, "Well, maybe they'll change their mind." So it was very difficult to get staff, who were tired to begin with, to do this day after day, week after week.
Q: And what was your role in Program Analysis? What did you do?
Well, I did whatever needed to be done. I participated in the sessions where the problem was sketched out and we put our heads together. It was wonderful for me because I could participate in all those discussions fully as equal partners. It was a matter of shooting for some particular purpose. One had to really clarify what that purpose was in very specific terms; how it related to the public, translated into policy and all that.
But Alvin, as I said, was very generous in attributing expertness to me; not just competence, but expertness in dealing with all the issues, including policy issues, that came into the office. There was no distinction between Alvin and myself in terms of what I'd handle, except that of course, the Washington contacts would call Alvin. Bob Ball would naturally call Alvin. Alvin would be more often in Washington than I would be.
As I said, when I first came down to Alvin's place his desk was piled about two feet high with a whole bunch of stuff. Benny Mandel, Benjamin Mandel, the head of Statistics, was one problem case. Statistics was not a priority concern of Alvin's, it was a peripheral area put under his guidance; there was no other place to put it that was better. Mandel was a very aggressive guy--aggressive for his own advancement. Benjamin Mandel, not Mandel Benjamin, who was Chicago Area Chief, but Benjamin Mandel, was a very aggressive statistician, fairly competent in statistics. But he looked through glasses that saw only statistical problems or statistical matters. The outcome, as it affected him, was his obvious concern. That kind of a person was the hardest one for Alvin to deal with. Because he was innately courtly in his manner, and Benjamin was aggressive.
Another thing, he couldn't fire anybody. He would let the person hang on and on. Well, we had one fellow that we thought was going to be good. I remember we hired an information specialist, he was supposed to help us in a way different than the information specialists under Roy Swift and the other persons who headed BOASI and SSA's Information Office. The guy turned out to be an absolute dud; and also the kind of a person whom Alvin was too sensitive to deal with. He couldn't handle him. Well, when I got into the desk I reduced that desk to nothing.
Q: That stack of papers you mean, that you were talking about earlier?
Q: So you went through his stack of papers and disposed of all the actions?
When he came back in a month, his desk was clear. And he had some of these things hanging on there for maybe a year and a half or so. I fired this guy, he remained good friends with me, but I called him in, and I said, "You know, it ain't working out; you're just not working out. And we're just going to let you go." And we worked out something, a going that was fairly reasonable. He and I remained friends. I don't take these things personally.
But Benjamin Mandel was slightly different, he knew that Alvin did not create the hard conditions for him. He was so self-oriented, that he knew where his problem was, it was me. I made no bones about it. But he always kept trying. If you rebuffed him once, he'd come right back. With Alvin, that would have just made him grit his teeth. He just found difficulty being in the vicinity of persons like that. That's part of his unique personality; people loved him, and others who might not have loved him, would dwell on his uniqueness, you know. They would exaggerate those things only because they didn't see Alvin in the whole. You had to take his uniqueness as part of all of him and understand.
He was a magnificent contributor, behind the scenes, not an originator. I don't think he was particularly creative, but he appreciated creativity in others, and he was quick to discern it and give credit for it. But he himself was in there, the plodder; oh, I don't know whether I would say he was a plodder, but the guy you could count on, day in and day out to be in there pitching, doing his best.
I had the highest opinion of Alvin as a human being, and as an important contributor to the definition of Social Security. His staff then became extremely important in the development of Social Security, in the maturation of Social Security. After all, what happened in the case of Social Security was that they had ideas about Social Security coverage for a lot of areas. But they started with the part, Roosevelt started with the part which was easiest and most understandable, etc. Then there was hard, hard going to get coverage, which was the first indispensable area to improve upon, because without a universal program in the United States, or almost universal, the principles upon which the program would rest would be defeated. So coverage became extremely important. Farm coverage, public workers, public institutions, finding compromises for the self-employed, for the priests and for the clergy, and for the charitable organizations and all of those, had to be worked out; for State workers and so on. They were all worked out. They were not necessarily ideal solutions, by far, but the more we went, the better the program was, and the better financed the program was.
Coverage was especially important because everyone of those exceptions could, at some time, earn on a basis of short-term employment, benefits which would be disproportionate to their contributions, because they were coming at that as if the benefits were geared to low average wages. So if somebody was not covered and not paying taxes for a long period of time, and then they came in for a short period of time, they would qualify on the basis of these very generous provisions to provide insurance status for short-term workers. So coverage improved the financing of the program because it spread out the cost of the program more equitably to those who were ultimately going to get benefits.
Then of course, there was expansion of coverage in terms not just of who, but what. You had a disability freeze and then disability and so on. That meant a lot of other things, all of which Alvin was in the forefront of. He just got to know a lot of the staff and in the Congress and a lot of the important Congressmen. Congressmen were always writing to Program Analysis with problems that they needed to deal with and asked for language that would do something. So he was also running a service for the Congress, and for others, a technical service without distinction as to whether we favored it or didn't. But recognizing that we had an obligation to help the Congressmen present whatever ideas they had. And we gave it our best shot.