|The American Presidency Project|
|• John F. Kennedy|
|Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio - (Advance Release Text)|
|October 17, 1960|
I have spoken many times this fall about the need for a new spirit in Washington - a spirit of dedication - an enthusiasm for progress - a willingness to meet new challenges on the New Frontier of the sixties. If we are successful this fall, such a program will be accomplished only with a government that is honest, a government that is efficient, a government that is dedicated solely to the public interest. I pledge that kind of government to the American people.
One cannot make such sweeping promises, however, without recognizing that the have been made before. Every challenger talks about a "great crusade" to end corruption - to obtain government "clean as a hound's tooth." But experience has shown that such promises are not enough. For ours is a government of men, not of promises - and some men yield to temptation - other men lack discrimination - and other men see no wrong in pursuing their private interest in their public capacities.
The problem is not merely one of vicuna coats or deep freezes. Less flamboyant but at least equally flagrant are the cases of those who use their office to obtain contracts for firms in which they have a financial interest - those who use their position to repay political or financial debts - those who extract profits from the information they receive or the power they wield.
These cases are not only tragic in the public sense - in terms of justice denied, or taxes wasted, or problems ignored. These tragedies have their private effects as well, for cheating in the government cannot help but lead to cheating in the classroom, or on the expense account, or on the quiz show.
The appointment of good men, moreover, is not a matter of morality alone. It may not be unethical to appoint an Ambassador who is not acquainted with the language or problems of the country to which he is sent, but it is harmful to the interests of our Nation. It may not be immoral to appoint to key positions men drawn only from the area of private business who intend to return to that business asoon as possible, but the national interest cannot be adequately maintained by top Defense Department officials with an average tenure of less than 1 year. It may not be improper to confine Presidential appointments to the members of one political party - but the whole Nation was the beneficiary from the bipartisan services of such men as Stimson, Knox, Forrestal, McCloy and Lovett.
And if we are to open employment opportunities in this country for members of all races and creeds, then the Federal Government must set an example as the Nation's largest employer - and the President, in his key appointments, must set the best example. I am not going to promise a Cabinet post or any other post to any race or ethnic group. That is racism in reverse at its worst. So I do not promise to consider race or religion in my appointments - I promise only that I will not consider them.
If we are to keep the cost of living in line and protect the interests of consumers, then those agencies which regulate the cost of public services must be dedicated to their mission, and not concern themselves with future employment or personal ties.
I am making no charges and mentioning no names. For history teaches us that no party has a monopoly on honesty. Both parties attract their share of crooks and weaklings. But that does not mean that these problems are incapable of solution. That does not mean that a campaign promise is enough. A new administration must screen out those who regard Government service as the door to power or wealth, those who cannot distinguish between private gains and public trust, and those who believe that old-fashioned honesty with the public's money is both old and out of fashion.
And the next President himself must set the moral tone - and I refer not to his language but to his actions in office. For the Presidency, as Franklin Roosevelt observed, "is preeminently a place of moral leadership" - and I intend to restore that kind of leadership and atmosphere beginning in 1961.
Should I be elected President, it would be my intention to ask the ablest men in the country to make whatever sacrifice is required to bring to the Government a ministry of the best available talent - men with a single-minded loyalty to the national interest - men who would regard "public office as a public trust." For no government is better than the men who compose it - and I want the best.
It would further be my intention, at the earliest opportunity, to submit to the Congress a single, comprehensive code on conflicts of interest, aimed at eliminating duplications, inadvertencies and gaps, at drawing a clearer line between propriety and impropriety, at protecting the public against unethical behavior without making it impossible for able and conscientious citizens to accept public service.
It would also be my intention, through Executive orders, the appointing power and legislation, to reform and streamline our lagging administrative agencies, their organization, and their procedures. Often cases are decided years after the controversy has arisen, years in which the public interest, which the agency is designed to protect, has been severely injured through the action of the regulated industry. For justice delayed is too often justice denied - and these agencies were designed to protect the public swiftly and effectively.
But I believe a candidate for President has an obligation to say more than promise new laws, new men and new procedures. I do not want anyone to support me without a clear understanding of the basic personnel principles and ethical practices which will characterize my administration from Inauguration Day on.
I would like to take this opportunity, therefore, to set forth the eight basic principles which I intend to use as guidelines to the appointment and conduct of those who will serve under a new administration. This list is not presented as a legal code, complete in detail - although some parts of it may well be spelled out in law, with civil and criminal sanctions. But it does - as a list of illustrations, if nothing else - attempt to inform prospective Federal appointees under a Kennedy administration what they have a right to expect - and it does tell the American voters what they have a right to know - and that is the kind of attitude which the next President himself must exemplify in setting the moral atmosphere in Washington.
First, no officer or employee of the executive branch shall use his official position for financial profit or personal gain, or reveal to others for their advantage confidential information acquired through his position. For he serves as a trustee for all the people.
Secondly, no officer or employee shall engage in any business transaction with, or hold any financial interest in, or accept any gift, favor, or substantial hospitality for himself or his family, from any enterprise or person who is doing business or seeking to do business with that unit of the Government which he serves or is able to influence, or who is subject to regulation, investigation or litigation under the jurisdiction of that unit. To be above criminality is not enough; I want my appointees, like Caesar's wife, to be above suspicion.
Third, all gifts which cannot appropriately be refused, such as gifts from public organizations or foreign governments to the President of the United States, shall immediately be assigned to the Smithsonian Institution or other Federal agencies for historical, scientific, or welfare uses. The President must set the example.
Fourth, no Federal appointee to any public regulatory agency shall represent any view other than the public interest. Appointments to such agencies shall be made with the advice of those knowledgeable in the field; but shall not be dictated by those with a vested interest in the appointment. As the constant increases in utility rates and the cost of living in general reveal, the consumer is the only man in our economy without a high-powered lobbyist in Washington. I intend to be that lobbyist.
Fifth, no member of any such agency, and no person who assists in its decision, shall entertain any ex parte communication from any person, including political pressure or requests originating within the executive or legislative branches, concerning any case or other proceeding which is determined solely upon matters of record, unless that communication is made a part of the record and every party at interest is given an opportunity to reply. As Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley used to say: "Trust everyone - but cut the cards."
Sixth, all appointments, both high and low, will be made on the basis of ability, without regard to race, creed, national origin, sex section, or occupation. Campaign contributions will not be regarded as a substitute for training and experience for diplomatic positions; and appointees shall be drawn from all segments of the country, wherever the best talent can be found. This will not be a businessman's administration, with "business in the saddle," as Secretary McKay once described his mission, but neither will it be a labor administration, or a farmer's administration. It will be an administration of, for, and by the people.
Seventh, senior positions in the State Department, the Foreign Service and the Defense Department shall be filled by the best talent in both parties, and from the ranks of career diplomats and civil servants; and officials engaged primarily in the conduct of foreign and defense activities will not be permitted to participate actively in political campaigns. I do not want our politics colored by considerations of national security, and I do not want our national security colored by considerations of politics.
Eighth, preference in appointments will be given to those willing to commit themselves to stay on the job long enough to apply what they learn. The goal is a full time effort for the full tenure of the presidential term, without regard to any prior affiliation or prospective employment. The prospects for the Nation in the coming years are not easy; the tasks facing the President will not be easy; and no appointee should assume his life will be any easier.
These eight guidelines are not a magic formula for achieving a government perfect in all its parts. All human weakness cannot be avoided. All errors of judgment cannot be predicted. A code of ethics by itself, when confronted with a concrete case, may be found either too general to be meaningful or too specific to be enforceable.
But these guidelines can illustrate an atmosphere, a tone of government, an attitude which a new President will take. And they emphasize this basic principle: The essence of any government that belongs to the people must lie in the Biblical injunction: "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other." All America seeks a government where no man holds to his own interest and despises the public interest, and where all men serve only the public, and love that master well.
|Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio - (Advance Release Text)", October 17, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=74079.|
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project