Assistant secretary of what? The secret jobs that can really make a difference.
It's November 9. You're exhausted. You've just spent two months pledging allegiance and two years traveling from Des Moines to Pennsylvania Avenue. Now comes appointment time. But far from being a pleasure, it's taking all your energy. Just thinking about who should be Secretary of Agriculture gives you a headache. (The farm state governors are calling you; the National Cattlemen's Association has some ideas; your staff is bickering again.) The last thing you want to think about is your appointment to the Merit Systems Protection Board or the Consumer Products Safety Commission. You can leave this swff to your cabinet secretaries or your pollsters or the people in the party. You just concentrate on the big jobs, like Treasury and Defense.
But sometimes the president should focus on the trees as well as the forest. We're not saying that he should pore over every job in Carter fashion. But there are little-known posts in the government that demand the president's interest-jobs with long, boring titles that, if performed well, can become truly important, Call them Power Pockets. Do you remember Julius B. Richmond? He was Jimmy Carter's Surgeon General. Today C. Everett Koop has made that office important by banging the drums-sending everyone in the country a pamphlet on AIDS, going mano a mano with the New Right on sex education, wrestling with the tobacco lobby. You can't forget his Amish-style beard, and you can't deny he's made a difference. Same with William Bennett. The education secretary isn't exactly the most pivotal member of the cabinet; after all, town councils and state legislatures run our schools. But Bennett, of course, came in and gave a boost to the reform movement-fueling important debates on awarding teachers merit pay, teaching great books, and controlling the costs of higher education. (He steered the AIDS debate in a lousy direction, but that's another story.) He filled the Power Pocket.
If an appointee is going to bring provocative ideas to his office-ideas guaranteed to earn him the wrath of interest groups, Congress, and the civil service-then he needs the president's support. Ideally, the president will stand up for him, loudly at press conferences and quietly on the phone to lawmakers. Barring that, the good appointee needs a healthy dose of presidential indulgence, the freedom to speak from the heart even if the president won't embrace his ideas. Reagan doesn't buy the whole Koop agenda, but he hasn't shut him up either.
We don't stay awake nights thinking Michael Dukakis will take our counsel. (And we're even more doubtful that George Bush has the vision to pick those we're proposing.) These are not the staid names from permanent Washington-fixtures like Robert Strauss, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Schlesinger, Anne Wexler (see "The Powersthat Shouldn't Be: Five Washington Insiders the Next Democratic President Shouldn't Hire," Paul Glastris, October 1987). But haven't we had enough? For instance, when it comes to campaign spending, we do not need someone who's going to be squeamish about wringing the big PACs and special interests out of Congress.
While we're wary of the inside respectables, we're just as suspicious of the face that's too fresh. Both Carter and Reagan fed us the line that to make Washington work we darn well needed someone from outside the Beltway to kick some horse sense into those bureaucrats. From Hamilton Jordan to Ed Meese we've seen what happens when novices are handed the tiller. So while the people we've picked aren't the biggest names, they know Washington. They know the complex latticework of agencies, interest groups, the executive branch, and the courts.
This supple understanding of government has been the signal quality in the best of our leaders. FDR owes much of his greatness to his experience as, of all things, a bureaucrat. During World War 1, as an assistant secretary of the Navy (a job comparable in rank to the ones described here), he learned how not to trust the chain of command. In the White House he played rivals Harold Ickes and Harry Hopkins against one another, asking each what he thought of the other's latest proposal. At times his understanding of the system could be eerily sharp. Leon Keyserling, then an aide to Senator Robert Wagner, recalled an occasion when the president buttonholed him"I just want to ask you one question about the housing bill. Have you got anything in there to keep the sand and gravel men out of it?" Keyserling, caught off guard, said he didn't understand"You know," the president to keep out the people who sell the government materials for mixing sand with cement." Having been in charge of the Navy's procurement, FDR was wise to the shenanigans of contractors.
The six jobs we've chosen illustrate a larger point. Throughout the government there are lesser-known posts with rich potential-positions that, if administered with that rare combination of vision and street-smarts, can make all the difference.
-M.C. for the editors
cts-Chairman, Federal Communications Commission: In 1970, an unknown state legislator named Lawton Chiles strapped on a pair of hiking boots and walked his way from obscurity to a seat in the U.S. Senate. He spent only $375,000 and refused campaign contributions of more than $10. Ninetytwo days of trekking across Florida brought him the voter appeal he needed. The Floridian who wins this year's senatorial contest will probably spend about $6 million. As head of the Senate Budget Committee, Chiles was in a position to raise the formidable sums needed. But the prospect of constant political panhandling proved too much and he gave up his seat, Chiles is leaving at a time when his average senate colleague is raising $10,000 a week, every week, for all six years of his or her term.
The escalating role of money in politics has a host of antidemocratic effects. Politicians spend everincreasing amounts of time raising money, rather than thinking or legislating. Political action committees increase their grip on the system, promoting special interest politics. PAC politics is bad for both parties, but as Robert Kuttner has written, it's particularly bad for the Democrats, since it increases their reliance on Big Money and weakens what should be their economic populism.
While few people realize it, the place to strike a blow for democratic restoration is the FCC. That's because of the role that television advertising plays in inflating campaign costs. When Alan Cranston spent $13 million on his 1986 senate race, TV and fundraising consumed 83 percent of his budget.
The candidates ought to spend $0 for their TV ads. And with the right kind of FCC leadership, they could. Television stations don't "own" the airwaves; they borrow them-for free-from the public. And they reap huge profits while doing so. A requirement for stations toprovide qualified candidates with air time isn't asking much in return. Such ideas may sound radical, but virtually every European democracy provides candidates with free air time.
A typical objection to this plan is that in major markets like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, there are too many candidates within a station's broadcast range to accommodate them all. There's one easy answer to the quandary: start with the presidential candidates. That's a requirement that every station could meet, and it would establish an important principle of public service. As for the other candidates in crowded metropolitan areas, stations could offer them the choice between air time and enough postage to mail a letter to every voter in the district. Or they could give the air time to the parties and let them parcel it out among their candidates as they see fit.
The FCC should also eliminate the packaging of political commercials and require candidates simply to face a camera instead, offering voters their words and ideas. As Curtis Gans has written, slick and deceptive television ads have the power to "wreck a lifetime of loyal, effective public service and with it the stability upon which American democracy depends."
We think Mark Green is an ideal choice to head the FCC. Green, head of the New York-based Democracy Project, understands the insidious effects of money and television on politics from many angles: as a journalist, an activist, and a former candidate. As an alumnus of Ralph Nader's corporate accountability group, where he specialized in antitrust matters, Green has spent a lot of time thinking about corporate responsibility. As author of Who Runs Congress?, he is savvy about Capitol Hill. And as the winner of the 1986 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in New York, Green has practical experience in campaigning and a history of sticking to his principles: he accepted no PAC money, spent only $40,000 on television ads-and beat a candidate who outspent him by nearly eight times.
*State Department, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs: It's becoming more and more obvious that pollution-whether it's acid rain in Lansing or record-breaking temperatures in Sioux Falls-is the result of complex, international problems that can't be solved in Washington by a few good bills and a couple of tighter regulations. The problems need to be confronted in Brazilia, Prague, and capitals around the world.
When it comes to international environmental issues-like the emission of ozone-depleting chemicals and ocean dumping-no single agency is taking the Nobody is giving marching orders. There is no drill instructor to melt [the agencies] into one common goal," says Rep, Dennis Eckart, an Ohio Democrat who was an observer to the international agreement on the ozone.
Take the problem of deforestation, the clearing of trees in the Third World to make room for growing populations and to pay foreign debt. It is a regular practice in Brazil where the forests being cleared can be as large as Texas. The major consequence produced by burning that many trees and sending that much soot into the atmosphere: global warming. About 200 billion tons of carbon is bound up in the plants of the Amazon rain forests-carbon that, if the trees are burned, becomes carbon dioxide and contributes to the greenhouse effect.
In the United States, there's no shortage of civil servants who deal with the deforestation abroad. The Agency for International Development spends $120 million to promote environmentally sound projects. To monitor those projects, AID taps scientific expertise in the Soil Conservation Service, and other parts of the Agriculture Department, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Service. If you're talking atmosphere, you're also talking NASA's Earth Sciences Systems Committee and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Commerce. You want international agreements? It's up to the State Department and the United Nations to negotiate treaties on the greenhouse effect. And don't forget the Environmental Protection Agency has an office of international activities, too.
The person in charge ought to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. His bureau, the OES, negotiates international treaties and as such can go to foreign capitals and work out bilateral and international agreements.
Under the Reagan administration, the office has earned far less scorn than Donald Hodel's Interior Department. But the next administration needs to do much, much more. For instance:
Cooling the skies. Get an international treaty to stem the emissions of carbon dioxide and other chemicals that become trapped in the atmosphere and warm the earth. Then, use the OES as a bully pulpit to convince Americans to conserve like they never have before. (The United States and the Soviet Union produce about half of the world's carbon dioxide.) Cut the international deals so that Third World countries can get their economies into this century and not contribute to international pollution.
The Assistant Secretary for OES needs the authority to cut nothing less than a global bargain whereby private banks ease and even forgive international debt in exchange for specific forest conservation plans. Bullying Citibank into such a position will be no picnic but there's little choice. Deforestation accounts for a fifth of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. And as James Gustave Speth, president of the World Resources Institute has pointed out, we have leverage. Of the top 17 most heavily indebted countries, 12 are destroying their tropical rain forests at a brisk clip.
Saving the Oceans. There was a point when ocean pollution seemed like a purely local issue-an oil spill in -Santa Barbara. But this summer it's become painfully clear that this is everyone's problem. Most notoriously, there are the vials of medical waste. The U.S. remains the chief obstacle to passage of the Law of the Sea treaty which contains strict provisions on the dumping of radioactive wastes in the seabed and the dumping of toxic waste at sea. Why have we been so obstinate? U.S. energy interests have been leaning for a better deal on underwater mining.
Doing our part. The U.S. has been shameless in the export of toxic wastes. The GAO found that the amount of hazardous waste produced in the United States swelled from 9 million metric tons in 1970 to 247 million in 1984. With disposal costs getting higher in the U.S. , American companies have found a willing market in the Third World. The number of shipments going abroad, according to the EPA's Office of International Activities, has jumped from 30 to 400 last year. As the Nation reported, those figures may well be off because of overlapping bureaucracies within EPA: "Export of certain chemicals, like polychlorinated biphenals (PCBs), is forbidden by the Toxic Substances Control Act and is regulated by the EPA's toxic substances division which does not handle exports." Again, the OES head needs the authority to cut through those bureaucratic lines and take action.
Someone who seems poised to carry the torch is Richard Benedick, a career civil servant in the State Department who negotiated the ozone treaty. His performance was universally praised. Here's to hoping he has the chance to make a clunky title a household word. -M.C.
*-Director, Office of Personnel Management: Let's say you're a go-getter of a young college grad out to make your mark on the world but unsure where to staff. You polish up your Thom McAns and slide on down to the placement office. There to greet you are the emissaries of Goldman Sachs, Exxon, American Hospital Supply, and Touche Ross. But before you take the plunge into corporate life, another thought crosses your young mind: government service. No, no recruiters are scheduled this fall, a placement officer says, but there is a Federal Job Information Center downtown. This turns out to be an unmanned kiosk, decorated in pale green papers that say "Job Notice." That settles it. Private sector, you think, here I come.
Is it any surprise that not enough talented people want to work in government? Only about 3 percent of recent Harvard graduates have chosen to pursue government work of any sort. The figures from the Kennedy School of Government are even more disturbing. Three-quarters of its graduates take jobs outside the government. The next administration needs to wage an all-out war to lure top people, not only from the Ivy League but from a thousand different and diverse backgrounds. The talent scout ought to be director of the little-noticed Office of Personnel Management.
Remember, federal jobs were once considered exciting work. The modern federal bureaucracy dates to the Roosevelt years, when its exponential growth was animated by the twin missions of fighting the Depression and the war By contrast, today's federal bureaucracy is suffused with a culture of caution-too often, it attracts workers concerned more with job security than with what the job accomplishes. One measure of that caution is the quit rate, which is less than 2 percent at the GS12-15 level. The rhetoric of recent presidential elections hasn't done much to help, with triumphant candidates Carter and Reagan both belittling the federal bureaucracy instead of aiming to inspire it. Several years ago, a former OPM executive from the Reagan years went as far as to argue that top talent has no place in government. The federal government should "be content to hire competent people, not the best," wrote Terry W Culler on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, while "the brightest and most talented people should work in the pi-ivate sector."
With comments like that, it's little wonder that so many bureaucrats perceive their work as meaningless. That sense no doubt contributed to the doubling of complaints before the Federal Labor Relations Authority from 1978 to 1983-covering such vital matters as the positioning of cubicle partitions and the placement of office coffee pots. The Washington Post has recently featured letters from civil servants complaining about co-workers' gumchewing habits and polyester apparel. Such complaints are the work of minds that think they have nothing better to do.
To counter these forces, the next OPM director will have to tackle not only recruitment but also:
Pay: To attract people with technical skills-accountants, engineers, nurses-we may need to boost federal salaries, since for these people government usually holds no inherent allure. But for those with an interest in policy, government work could carry its own rewards, if the sense of purpose and meaning returns. A warning to the next OPM director: one tool federal workers frequently use to make themselves seem underpaid is the innated job title, which gives to your average GS13 responsibilities that would make the president of GM quiver. Beware civil servants bem"comparable" salaries in the private sector.
Discipline: "THUMPA, THUMPA, THUMPA. . . ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST." The sounds of your tax dollars at work? Unfortunately, yes-at least in the Department of Labor, where that tune was one of many filling the corridors a few years ago after a union contract gave workers the right to play tape decks at their desks. Lack of discipline discourages not only managers but other workers. Who wants to be the one person in the office working late if everyone else is cutting out at 4:30?
Our choice for the next OPM director is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Maryland state administrator who has extolled the service ethic in its many manifestations-from after-school volunteerism to government service by top professionals. She understands that when you have people fighting the mafia, searching for cancer cures, guiding passenger jets from the skies, or performing countless other government tasks, you don't want to settle for the "merely competent." Her 1986 run for Congress made the service ethic a campaign centerpiece. In seeking to turn the office into a bully pulpit for citizen obligation, Townsend, Robert Kennedy's daughter, won't be hampered by her family name. The celebrity-conscious press is likely to give her a platform for her infectious enthusiasm.
*Health and Human Services; Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation: The next president will inherit one of the truly mixed blessings in our society: an aging population. Obviously, the increase in life expectancy strains the public health care system. As Phillip Longman points out, today Americans spend $35.2 billion annually on nursing home care, most of that on persons over 80. Of course, this is what we are spending before the Baby Boom reaches retirement age. Those over 80 now constitute the fastest-growing age group. Meeting the demand for their care would require the construction of one 220-room nursing home every day for the rest of the century. Unless we come up with solutions, we face the gloomy prospect of more busted budgets (government and individual), lousy institutional care for the elderly poor, and resentment between young and old.
How can an obscure official with a cumbersome title make a difference? This office is the brains of HHS, filled with economists, actuaries, mathematicians, and others who can help map out a long-term care plan for the next century. Its budget of $11 million is bigger than that of the American Enterprise Institute.
One person who's up to the job is Barbara Torrey, an economist who has worked in the Bureau of the Census and the Office of Management and Budget. Credit her with one of the most elegant and equitable ideas for tackling the long-term health crisis: The Pay When You Go Plan. Medicare recipients almost always receive benefits far in excess of the contributions they've paid in-and some of them then leave substantial estates. Under Torrey's plan, they would be required to repay some of that largesse through a final estate contribution, It would require the rich to repay the most, and the poor, who leave little or no estate, would repay very little-preserving the principle that Medicare should most help those who most need it. The plan is not only sensible, it's delicious. Right now the children of the affluent have the best of both worlds. They let the government pick up the tab for much of their parents' care, and they get to enjoy a large estate. Torrey's plan means no more free brunch. If they let the government pay for dad's nursing home, they won't inherit that trust fund. In the spirit of family togetherness, the plan gives the sons and daughters of the affluent an incentive to keep parents' health care costs low, perhaps by taking their parents into their home rather than letting the taxpayers pick up the cost.
*Director, Office of Management and Budget: Thinking about the OMB can remind you of Stalin's question: "How many divisions does the Pope have?" This White House office has some 550 employees, but because its job is to just say no to the other three million federal employees, the director's chair at OMB is one of the most important positions Michael Dukakis or George Bush will fill.
And it could be more important if OMB was organized to evaluate how wisely the government spends its trillion dollar budget. Right now, OMB prepares a budget worked out by separate budget analysts (who prepare the numbers) and management analysts (who look at organizational inefficiencies, like the failure of agencies to keep monies in interst-bearing accounts). But none of these analysts undertakes a systematic evaluation of programs: no one judges what really works and what doesn't, what's needed and what isn't.
Instead OMB plays the percentage game. Take, for instance, OMB's National Security Division, which covers the Pentagon. In his book, The Defense Game, Richard A. Stubbing, a former head of the division, describes how OMB can get conned by the brass. While OMB prepares alternatives to the Pentagon budget requests, the previous year's funding level (plus inflation) is the starting point for negotiations. Discussions between OMB and the Pentagon brass focus only on the real rate of growth.
Another con the Pentagon uses to get its way with OMB is the "inflation rat&' trick. The Pentagon uses its own estimate of innation and-guess what?-its rate is higher than the consumer price index, which is used in most government programs. This rate, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as defense suppliers find that they can get away with charging the Pentagon ever more. According to the General Accounting Office, from fiscal year 1982 through September 1985 the Pentagon's "inflation rate" resulted in $36.8 billion in extra spending.
And these are the big budget issues that OMB is supposed to be good at. OMB has no real mechanism for evaluating specific weapons systems, nor for keeping watch over those who are supposed to be doing evaluation within the Pentagon.
Another ill that has continued under all OMB directors, Democrat and Republican alike, is the end-of-the-year spending spree. As the end of the fiscal year, September 30, approaches, agencies that have money on hand quickly find a way to spend it, lest they come in under budget and find their appropriation cut for the next year. When reporters from Industry Week asked if OMB kept tabs on fourth-quarter spending sprees, they were told "no." The GAO, however, found that some agencies spewed money in the final hours of the year. In 1985, the Environmental Protection Agency spent 54 percent of its budget in the final quarter; the Commerce Department, 38 percent.
What should OMB be? While being skeptical of all government programs, it must be much more than the "Abominable No-Man," as it's occasionally referred to. During the 1960 transition, Richard Neustadt understood this. In a memo on OMB, the political scientist wrote president-elect Kennedy: "The reason why your man ought to be programminded, not a cost accountant, is that national or presidential needs may call on him or you to say 'yes'. . . "
To be able to say "yes" with confidence, the agency must combine the management and budget functions, forming a kind of superevaluation agency that can provide crucial, disinterested intelligence to the president about what is going on in his own government . In effect, it should be an intelligence agency in the best sense of the word, providing information on what's going on in the Department of Labor, just as the CIA is supposed to be providing intelligence on the Soviet Union. The question should not be Well, should we add or subtract 3 percent from last year's budget?" Instead, OMB evaluators should ask: "Is this program needed?" "If it's needed, is it working?"
The evaluators must be the right kind of people. To be sure, the agency has always teemed with the best and the brightest of civil servants. (There's an old yarn about the agency's professionalism that goes: if an occupying army of Martians invaded Washington, OMB would work around the clock to insure an orderly transition to power.)
But smarts is no substitute for experience. What OMB needs is regular infusions of the best civil servants from across the government, young enough to be vigorous, confident enough to burn bridges with their old agencies.
Charles Schultze, Lyndon Johnson's budget director, tried to get field offices for the Bureau of the Budget, the precursor to OMB. He told Congress that the agency was unable to conduct "firsthand observations and analysis." But Congress, fearing an executive branch equivalent of the GAO, rejected the request. It was a mistake. Having people out in the field with the authority to audit at random could go a long way towards eliminating waste-and striking fear into the hearts of GS13s everywhere.
James Fallows is our choice to be director of OMB. While modesty makes us reluctant to tout one of our own (Fallows is a former editor of The Washington Mouthly) he, more than anyone we know, has the mix of investigative skills, government experience, and policy smarts that the next director needs. As a journalist, Fallows has immersed himself in theminutiae of defense spending; in government, he served as chief speech writer to President Carter. Fallows understood--early--that Carter had become hopelessly insulated from the problems of his administration. He offered to make himself the president's eyes-and-ears, criss-crossing the country to sound the alarm about what was wrong in the bureaucracy. Carter rejected the offer, relying instead on conventional channels to keep him informed. When it comes to OMB, let's hope the next president isn't so short-sighted. -M.C.
*Director, Selective Service: In Washington there are many buildings and monuments that inspire awe. But this is most certainly not the feeling one has when tooking at the offices of the Selective Service. They are housed in a small, commercial office building that could be in any office park anywhere. I hope, though, that the modest quarters and the modest prestige of the Selective Service will not deter the president from naming a first-rate director, someone who believes that the burden of military service should be shared by all classes and who favors a fair draft that will take rich and poor alike.
The upper classes have been avoiding service by, in effect, having society bribe the poor and the lower middle class to do the serving for them. When I was in the Army, I was paid $50 a month. Since I got free room, board, and clothing, I didn't need any more. Twenty years after I entered the service, the beginning pay had risen to only $78 a month because there was still a draft. But today, because the military has to meet its manpower needs solely by attracting volunteers, it has to offer beginning pay of around $600 a month. If a draft was instituted, the pay could be cut in half. The other half represents the bribe that persuades the poor to enlist and permits the affluent to avoid doing their part. The waste and the immorality are so blatant that one wonders how anyone can justify not having a draft that takes both rich and poor.
The affluent say that they don't want their children drafted to die in another Vietnam or W be brutalized by the kind of vicious superiors who were depicted in From Here to Eternity. The more thoughtful argue that compulsion is wrong in a free society. But From Here to Eternity was about an allvolunteer army with the same class structure as today's, and draftees would never have been sent to Vietnam if there had been influential parents to object . Indeed, it was fear of just such opposition that kept Lyndon Johnson from drafting the rich. I wish compulsion weren't necessary. I wish people would volunteer. But the rich and the upper middle class aren't volunteering. It would be nice if people volunteered to pay taxes, but they never have. We need the force of law to make sure that some burdens are shared.
To persuade the nation and the Congress that such a law is necessary, we need a Selective Service director who can inspire and appeal to the idealism of the young. I don't know who that person is, but I do know he should be capable of the kind of exciting advocacy that I saw Sargent Shriver, a vital and energetic navy veteran in his forties, bring to the carly days of the Peace Corps.
The new director's most powerful argument will be the need to bring the people of this country together again. When I was growing up, the social classes mixed in the public schools. But there has been an increasing tendency of the affluent to send their children either to private or to elite suburban schools. Their children are missing something important, just as are those poor kids who only get to know other poor kids in the ghetto. That something is a sense of community and a faith in democracy.
When you've actually known people from all walks of life, you're not going to believe that any class has a monopoly on virtue or vice. You will not make the error of the liberal who assumes that the poor are all deserving any more than you will that of the conservative who thinks they are all lazy or dumb. You will find out that people with good common sense can come from the farm as well as the country club. These are all lessons that badly need to be learned by young people today and they are all lessons that can be learned in a military in which rich and poor serve.
Incidentally, I have a strong suspicion that a fair draft will produce a better military. We are more likely to get rid of those weapons that don't work when it is the children of the influential who will be complaining about them. If word of that unsafe troop carrier were presented to the secretary of the army by his son-rather than in a 362-page report from the General Accounting Office-quick action would be more likely. During World War II, when you had Bushes and Kennedys flying planes, you saw things happen. Remember how little time it took for the inferior P-40 to be replaced by the excellent P-51.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 1988|
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