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Richard Nixon: Remarks to Top Officials at the Department of Labor.
Richard Nixon
26 - Remarks to Top Officials at the Department of Labor.
February 4, 1969
Public Papers of the Presidents
Richard Nixon<br>1969
Richard Nixon

District of Columbia
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Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very privileged and honored to meet with you today--the top officials of the Labor Department.

As I was saying to the Secretary when I came into the building, I think that during the years when I was Vice President, except for, of course, the White House, this Department of Government was one that I visited more often than any other.

I was involved at times in various matters involving labor disputes in which I worked with Secretary. Jim Mitchell.

As some of you will remember, and particularly, George, you will remember-George Weaver1 here--that I was Chairman of the President's Committee on Government Contracts, a duty that the Vice President had. The meetings were held right here. So I was quite familiar with this building and was privileged to know many of the fine career people who work in the Labor Department.

1Assistant Secretary of Labor for International Affairs 1961-1969.

I have, incidentally, something in common with the Department. I did a little background beforehand as to the Labor Department--when it began and all of that.

I found that the Labor Department was founded in the year 1913. That was the year I was born. And I think I can probably say we both have our best years ahead of us.

I want to begin, as I have in the other departments, by saying a word about your Secretary. He is one of the men that I selected for the Cabinet, having in mind the responsibilities that he would have to meet and the background that I felt qualified him for those responsibilities.

I think, too, that in selecting him that we have brought to this Department a man who will be able to carry out the new responsibilities that are going to be given to this Department--and I will mention them briefly later--but also who will continue in the high tradition of the Secretaries over the years.

Of course, the man that I knew the best was Jim Mitchell, who brought such a high degree of professional competence in the manpower field to the Department. And I believe that your new Secretary has that same ability.

I think, too, I should mention the fact that he has shown that he is a man of very great talent in getting along with people. I checked his background a bit before coming over here. I found that he had worked in the Eisenhower administration; he was a consultant to the Kennedy administration; and he worked on a task force in the Johnson administration.

Now, anybody who can stay employed in those three administrations can keep down unemployment in the United States of America.

I know, too, there has been some concern in the Department about the desire, naturally, to see that we have a broad regional representation as far as the people who are in the top echelons of Government.

I remember I attended, on one occasion, the swearing in of one of the Under Secretaries of Labor during the Mitchell regime. The Under Secretary was Jock O'Connell,2 who came from New Jersey. He was sworn in by Justice Brennan, who came from New Jersey, and the Secretary of Labor was Mr. James Mitchell, who came from New Jersey. Now we thought that was simply keeping too many of the jobs in one place.

2James T. O'Connell, Under Secretary 1957-1962.

I am glad to see that the new Secretary of Labor has appointed one new Secretary from South Chicago, another from West Chicago, and another one from the Chicago suburbs. If I don't watch him, I will have Mayor Daley in here next.

Of course, we do want to say some words that have to do with the mission of! this Department. On that score, I that the new Secretary has talked to his top officials indicating to you the interest I have strongly emphasized to him in having a strengthened Labor Department, strengthened in terms of not only its capability of handling its current assignments but strengthened also in terms of some new assignments in the manpower area, which I think properly Belong to this Department.

Now, just a word to indicate where we began. When you look back to the year 1913--I checked some of the statistics then and found that there were 21 million wage earners in the United States--employees.

Today there are 77 million. I hen me average wage was 21 cents an hour; today it is $3.10 an hour.

Those are some indications of how things have changed. But beyond that, the mission of this Department has changed. The unsophisticated observer thinks of the Department of Labor as being one that is almost completely absorbed in the problems of labor-management relations and avoiding controversies. As a matter of fact, I am expecting the Secretary of Labor to tell us how the dock strike is to be settled before the day is over.

But you know and I know that the Department's mission goes far beyond that; that the Department's mission relates to the problems of the disabled, to the problems of employment for minority groups, also to the whole general area of manpower which is becoming increasingly a part of our concern in this Nation.

I refer to the fact that as we look over the next 30 years and look back over the last 55 years of the Department, so much more will happen in terms of the manpower force and the labor needs in this country than has happened over that period, much as did happen in those dramatic figures that I just quoted.

We know that the practices of automation-the new devices that are going to not bring unemployment, but change the character of needs for labor in this country-that that is something we must plan for.

It means forward thinking with regard to America's youth what we train them for, what kind of education they will have. As the Secretary will tell you in a meeting that we had of our Urban Affairs Council this week, a couple of days ago, I emphasized the necessity for all of our departments to be thinking ahead as to now we can meet the new problems that are going to arise.

And I would say that there is perhaps no department in Government, more than the Department of Labor, that has this responsibility, because those who work in the great productive complexes of the United States, whether in factories or on the farm or wherever they may be, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, may not have that same kind of job opportunity.

We must train them for the new responsibilities, for the new skills that are going to be needed.

Consequently, I am particularly glad to note to this group that you have in your Secretary a man who thinks that way; a man who is not thinking simply in the limited terms of labor-management relations, as vitally important as that is, but who is thinking in terms of the vision that we all need to have of the future and the kind of America we want this to be, not only in terms of jobs for America, but the kind of jobs and the environment that we want people in our working force to have.

All of these are certainly concerns that every man and woman in this room--you who are the leaders of this Department-will have in your minds in the years ahead as you provide advice and counsel to the new administration.

In terms of the new responsibilities, as far as manpower is concerned, it seems to me that the primary responsibility for manpower, for manpower training, job training, really belongs here. That is why, in terms of some of the reorganization plans that we are considering--and we have already discussed this with the Secretary--we are going to give this Department some more responsibility.

We are doing so for two reasons: One, because it belongs here; but, two, because I know that in this Department is the competence--the technical competence and the expertise--to handle the problem.

We are going to give you the challenge and we are sure that you will meet that challenge and meet it effectively.

There is nothing more important than this whole manpower area, more important as we, for example, defuse the crises that we have in our cities and the crises that also may exist in rural America as well.

With all of these things in mind, I simply want to leave you with the thought that this Department, old as it is--it is as old as I am, 55 or 56 years of age--that old as it is, it has problems that are new, it is going to have new responsibilities. It is a very exciting place to be, an exciting place to be in this Department, to be working in it.

One final thought I wish to leave with you, which I perhaps need to say less here than in any of the departments I have visited to date or will be visiting for the balance of the week, is with regard to those that I am not meeting today as I will meet you.

I know that there are thousands of people here in Washington assigned to this Department, working under the people in this room, and others throughout this Nation that I, as the President of the United States, will never have the opportunity to meet.

I would hope that you would convey to them that I recognize how very important their contribution is to the success of an administration.

Now, the only people that I personally will appoint to positions in this Department can probably be put in two or three rows in this room. I recognize that right in this room the great majority are people who have given their lives to the career service in Government. It is rather fashionable to knock that career service, wherever it may be.

But I have been in Government much of my adult life. And I know how many dedicated and very competent people there are; people who have come into Government not because of the remuneration that they could get, but they have come here because of a sense of purpose and a sense of vision that they had and they came here because they thought more important than how much compensation they received was that they could make a contribution to their Nation. We are grateful for that.

I also know that as far as the Secretary of Labor is concerned and the Assistant Secretaries and all of the top people that we may have appointed, that their leadership will make a great deal of difference insofar as seeing that this Department has the kind of a record that will be outstanding. But I know that without the support of the career public servants in this room and the thousands of others attached to the Department, no matter how good these men are and these women who are appointed to these top jobs, they will not be able to succeed without that support.

What I am really trying to say is this: We need you. We need all of the career people, particularly. We need your help. We need your dedication. We need your enthusiasm.

I only can assure you, we will try to be worthy of it--worthy of the people who have given so much of their time, so much of their lives to public service. We hope to provide the leadership along with you that will make the American people look at the record of this Department at the conclusion of this administration and say, "This was the best period in the life of the Labor Department."

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2: 30 p.m. at the Department of Labor.
Citation: Richard Nixon: "Remarks to Top Officials at the Department of Labor.," February 4, 1969. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=2119.
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