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Establishing an agenda for the Department of Labor.

Establishing an agenda for the Department of Labor RAY MARSHALL

The achievement in which I take the greatest pride as Secretary of Labor is in having helped establish an agenda for the Department of Labor and having asembled the people and promoted the relationships to carry it out. I was aided in this by several factors. The first was that President Jimmy Carter gave me almost complete freedom in appointments and establishing the administration's labor agenda. It was also very fortunate that I worked this agenda out with the President before we ever took office. In our system of government, a Cabinet officer's main constituent is the President. There will inevitably be policy conflicts within an administration. An early commitment from the President, therefore, helps minimize are resolve these conflicts.

"Selective programs could target the groups with the greatest need."

President Carter's general instructions to all Cabinet officers were (1) to make every effort to recruit qualified women and minorities for top positions; (2) to do everything possible to improve the efficiency of our departments; and (3) to concentrate on important things and simplify our operations to achieve our objectives as efficiently as possible.

With respect to specific Department of Labor programs, President Carter was particularly concerned about widespread criticism of the Ocupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for having too many expensive, onerous, and nit-picking regulations which detracted from very important objectives of working with labor and management to improve safety and health in the workplace. We therefore simplified and concentrated -- we eliminated many regulations, simplified the rest, and concentrated on the most serious problems. Our basic approach was to strengthen knowledge and ability of labor and management to deal with health and safety problems. We thought it particularly important to strengthen workers' knowledge of safety and health problems, as well as their power to deal with them and to use Federal resources to address the most serious problems. While we still had a lot of work to do in this area, I am proud of our OSHA accomplishments.

President Carter's second special interest was in employment and training programs. We agreed that active labor market policies should be important components of economic policy. These policies met the test of efficiency, stability, and equity. They were efficient because they could reduce unemployment at lower cost than any alternative. Because they could target particular employment and labor market problems, these programs could reduce unemployment and avoid inflationary pressures that were likely to result from macroeconomic policies. Selective programs were equitable because they could target the groups with the greatest need.

Because of our concern about unemployment, our general approach was to enlarge the employment and training systems as fast as we could, consistent with efficiency in the delivery system. In areas where programs had demonstrated their effectiveness (for example, the Job Corps), our objective was to expand as fast as possible. Where we were uncertain as to effectiveness, we initiated research and demonstration projects (such as youth programs, welfare reform, and worker adjustment).

Because I had studied these programs in some depth before becoming Secretary of Labor, I knew the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) was seriously flawed. When CETA decentralized Federal programs, the relative participation by young people, the private sector, and the most seriously disadvantaged declined. We therefore attempted to correct these defects through the Youth Employment and Demonstration Projects Act of 1977, and through special efforts to minimize substitution (that is, local units of government using Federal funds to pay regular employees), to get the private sector more heavily involved (which we did by strengthening the National Alliance of Business and providing for the Private Industry Councils in the 1978 CETA reauthorization), and targeting programs to special groups (veterans, youth, and seriously disadvantaged, for example), who were likely to receive inadequate attention from local prime sponsors.

The most difficult problems with the CETA system related to the delivery system and the funding cycle. CETA's fundamental flaw was the assumption that State and local governments could implement a Federal program without an unacceptably large support and oversight mechanism. Perhaps these problems could have been corrected with enough time, but the nature of the defects and events (especially inflation and growing resistance to government programs) made it impossible to do this in CETA's short life. The system was caught up in a Catch-22 problem: attempting to correct the problems by, for example, introducing a special investigations unit (which we did -- it later because the Office of the Inspector General) helped correct problems, but it also caused the media and the political system to exaggerate the system's weaknesses and therefore weakened support for it. We mounted a media campaign to attempt to keep the problems in perspective while we corrected them. The campaign did some good, but was not enough to save public service employment. The other features of CETA were included in the Job Training Partnership Act, which improved the delivery system by focusing on the States, but it was a mistake not to have public service employment at all and to greatly reduce overall funding at a time when unemployment was soaring to 10.8 percent.

I still believe very strongly that selective labor market policies should be integral components of economic policy. However, we should do more to improve the delivery systems (especially making the Private Industry Councils more effective local labor market committees). We should also improve the linkages among employment and training programs, educational institutions (especially community colleges), companies, and labor organizations.

The funding problem could be corrected by forward funding or the creation of trust funds. It is very difficult to undertake a complex program to deal with serious structural employment and training programs with an annual funding cycle. On balance, despite CETA's inherent flaws, independent investigations have concluded that the programs were successful by any reasonable criteria; they were cost effective and helped their participants.

I take great pride in having made good appointments and establishing good working relationships with the career staff. An early decision any Cabinet officer has to make is what approach to take with respect to career employees. It is a huge mistake to alienate permanent employees through negative attitudes and comments. I had been around the Labor Department as an adviser, contractor, or grantee long enough before becoming its Secretary to know and respect the Department's career people; they are overwhelmingly dedicated, conscientious people willing to work hard to carry out the Department's mandate to protect and promote the interests of America's wage earners -- a mandate I enthusiastically support. I knew, moreover, that whatever we accomplished during my tenure would be done mainly by the career people. My basic policy, therefore, was to try to work with the civil servants to develop consensus on programs. I also included career people in the pool from which we made political appointments. In each cse, I selected what seemed to me to be the very best people for the job. My Under Secretary and four of the Department Assistant Secretary-level appointees were career Department of Labor people and one other Assistant Secretary was selected from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a closely related agency. Without exception, these appointments vindicated my judgment.

My basic management approach was to select the best people we could find, develop consensus on goals and objectives, help find other jobs for those who could not agree with those goals and objectives, and then give the agency heads considerable freedom and as much support as possible in carrying out those objectives.

I also take considerable pride in our accomplishments in the program areas. In addition to those mentioned above, the most noteworthy are:

We developed a policy of strengthening collective bargaining by good appointments to such agencies as the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, National Labor Relations Board, Federal Labor Relations Authority, and the National Mediation Board. I held frequent joint meetings with the heads of these agencies. Our basic policy was to strengthen workers' right to choose whether or not to be represented by unions. In order to encourage the parties to bargain and give major responsibility to Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, our policy was to intervene in collective bargaining only in rare cases where there was a strong national interest reason to do so. I do not believe we should have intervened in the 1977-78 coal strike, but we did so as the basis of exaggerated information about its impact. From then on, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and my staff had careful strike assessments available to defend our non-intervention strategy. My biggest disappointment in this area was our inability to break the filibuster to pass labor law reform to strengthen the workers' freedom of choice under the National Labor Relations Act. Because of the weak penalties for violation of the Act and legalistic delays with the National Labor Relations Board procedures, that right currently is not adequately protected. I also believe, however, that our collective bargaining structures and policies need to be modernized. The law's basic assumptions relate more to the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's than to the conditions of the 1980's and 1990's. We need to develop labor-management and bipartisan consensus for reforming these important laws. Despite our efforts to do so (and contrary to some of our critics), we were not able to get any significant employer support for labor law reform, despite their recognition that free labor movements are essential components of free enterprise systems.

"...free labor movements are essential components of free enterprise systems."

We also developed a strategy to demonstrate that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) could be used to protect pension funds. I am proud of our policies in this area, especially over handling of the important Central States case, in which we caused the fund's management to be shifted to outside financial institutions. We also brought civil suit for restitution against the trustees accused of violating their fiduciary responsibilities. We did this through a unified government position under the Department's leadership. We still have a lot of work to do to make pensions more secure and to give beneficiaries greater control, but we demonstrated that ERISA could be used to protect the funds from the worst forms of fraud and abuse.

Finally, I take considerable pride in the relationships we established with outside organizations and agencies. We worked very hard at establishing good relations with the Congress; unions; civil rights, employer, and community organizations; the White House; the media; and State and local governments. Our relationships with the Congress were particularly good -- we were blessed with strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, but particularly in the Senate, where Senator Jacob Javits, ranking minority member of the Labor Committee, was a staunch supporter of the Department's programs.

We strengthened the Women's Bureau and elevated its status within the Department, and the Women's Bureau maintained close and effective relationships with women's groups. Similarly, we strengthened the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), consolidated it in the Department, and got close cooperation from civil rights and community groups. Some of our strongest support came from those State and local government officials who gave high priority to workers' problems in their jurisdictions.

Our relationships with foreign ministries of labor -- particularly the Copenhagen Group -- were very valuable. We learned a lot from each other about common problems, and these relationships helped us with international political problems. In an international information world, the Department of Labor cannot adequately carry out its mandate without being heavily involved in foreign policy and international economic decisions and activities.

In conclusion, I take the greatest pride in the agenda we formulated to carry out the Department's mandate and the people, systems, and relationships we put together to carry out that agenda. We had our share of problems and made our share of mistakes, but we also had our share of successes. From my perspective, being Secretary of Labor was a good and satisfying job.

PHOTO: Ray Marshall
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Title Annotation:Reflections of Eight Former Secretaries
Author:Marshall, Ray
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Feb 1, 1988
Words:1999
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