Jimmy Carter photo

Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony.

October 13, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. I think this is a happy day for our country, and I want, first of all, to express my deep appreciation to those who are assembled around me and to many others who serve in the Congress who have made this remarkable achievement possible.

Seven months ago, we began an effort that many people predicted would end in failure, but this ceremony commemorates the courage and the ability, the dedication of the Members of the Congress to a very noble effort.

During my campaign for President, I made reorganization of the Government a top priority, and this monumental civil service reform bill takes a long step toward meeting that commitment to the American people. It's a centerpiece of our efforts, joint efforts to bring efficiency and accountability and competence to the Federal Government that will exceed what we have known in the past.

This legislation provides a fundamental and, I think, long overdue reform of the Federal bureaucracy. Ninety-five years ago, a civil service was created to put an end to the abuses brought about by the political spoils system. Today, I'm happy to sign this bill which marks the first major change in the civil service in nearly a century.

This bill changes the rules in a constructive fashion, a carefully considered fashion. It puts incentive and reward back into the Federal system. It allows Federal employees to be encouraged, transferred, or discharged for the right reasons if they cannot or will not perform. And it prevents discouraging or punishing them for the wrong reasons, for whistleblowing or for personal whim in violation of basic employee rights. This bill will make the bureaucracy more responsible. It will build in incentives. Excellence can now be rewarded.

In being fair to Federal employees, we must also and will be fair to those who pay our salaries, the American taxpayers. Our Nation was built on a system of rewards and incentives in the private sector of our lives. "You get what you pay for" is part of the American folk wisdom. Civil service reform will help taxpayers get what they have been paying for.

Promotions will no longer be automatic. From now on, promotions and pay increases will be a sign of jobs well done in the Federal Government, just as it is in every successful American private business. Employees who use imagination, initiative, and bold vision will be able to benefit in ways that they could never do before. Those who believe in government the most and who dedicate their careers to lives of public service have the greatest stake in making it work.

It's an honor for all of us to do the people's business. It's time to match this high purpose with even higher performance by the President and by all those who work with me in our Nation's service.

This is a great piece of legislation. Now all of us—elected officials, appointed officials, tenured civil servants, newcomers to public service—have to get busy and make it work.

Again, let me thank these men and women in the Congress who have made it successful and sign this measure with a great deal of pride and gratification for their superb achievement.

Thank you very much.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

I would like to ask a few of the Members of Congress to comment briefly. They've been great allies and partners in this effort, which was sometimes very difficult, and I believe the sensitivities of all those who have been affected by the legislation and will be in the future have been adequately addressed.

I'd like to start by calling on Mo Udall to say just a word, if you will, Mo.

REPRESENTATIVE UDALL. Thank you. Let me take my 60 seconds to congratulate everybody, but to throw up a word of caution. Remember right after the Bay of Pigs, John Kennedy couldn't find anybody who had dreamed up this great episode. [Laughter] And he quoted an old adage. He said that victory, has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan. And there are a lot of fathers and mothers of this legislation around here who deserve a lot of credit. But I think the job now, as the President has said, is for all of us to make it work.

I was in this room 8 years ago with another President, a great reform called postal reform— [laughter] —you all remember that. I was one of the fathers of it. [Laughter] But we learned—we were going to have efficient and inexpensive postal service. And we learned that reform has consequences that you don't like sometimes, but the best reforms aren't going to work unless people make them work.

So, it's up to all of us in the Congress to give the oversight and follow through on this thing. It's up to Scotty Campbell and the people in the executive branch and the President to help make it work. It's up to all of us.

But I think we've got a good beginning here, and I have high hopes for this great reform, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mo. Chairman Robert Nix.

REPRESENTATIVE NIX. Mr. President, I would just like to thank the members of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee for their dedication in helping to achieve this great result. And I particularly want to thank Mo Udall and everyone else who has been a participant in this great effort. I'm honored and pleased, and particularly so because I go out of Congress at the end of this session.

THE PRESIDENT. Everyone would agree that it would have been impossible without bipartisan support. We could not have done it had the Republican leaders not joined in in the effort to make our Government more responsible and more effective.

I'd like to ask Ed Derwinski if he would say a word.

REPRESENTATIVE DERWINSKI. Thank you, Mr. President.

We felt that this was a bipartisan cause, and we are aware of the fact that our bipartisan effort has had proper influence in the White House in many other fields. [Laughter] We're glad, as Republicans, to have a role in government, as small a group as we are— [laughter] —and we think that this reform will do a hell of a lot better than the postal reform that Mo referred to you. You were the father of that. [Laughter]

This is a good bill. And, Mr. President, you should know that Scotty Campbell is one hell of a lobbyist, and you ought to turn him loose on a few other troubles that you have.

THE PRESIDENT. Senator Abraham Ribicoff.

SENATOR RIBICOFF. Mr. President, you gave the country the leadership; Congress gave you the cooperation to make this possible. I want to pay tribute to the entire membership of the Governmental Affairs Committee, and the cooperation from Senator Percy, and the staffs, majority and minority staffs of the Governmental Affairs Committee, who worked so hard and effectively.

I also want to pay tribute to Mo Udall, who headed up the House conferees. I have never worked with a group of conferees so constructively and so effectively. And the difficult parts of those bills to be reconciled were made possible through the great cooperation we had from the House conferees.

THE PRESIDENT. I might point out that an integral part of the entire reform effort was a reorganization plan that was approved, of course, by the Senate committee and also by the House committee separate from Post Office and Civil Service. And that was headed up by Chairman Jack Brooks.

Jack, thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, last night, or rather this morning, at about quarter to one, we passed your reorganization bill number 4, you'll be pleased to know.

THE PRESIDENT. Good.

REPRESENTATIVE BROOKS. I want to say that for the record I did not vote—you can look at the record—I didn't vote for that lousy post office bill. I thought it was rotten then. [Laughter] But this is a great program, and I think that any President, if he's going to manage the vast executive branch, has got to have a civil service, a personnel system that's responsive and effective and so you can manage it.

And I think that you proposed this and Congress supported it. I think you now have the tools to have a shot at managing this vast bureaucracy in a way that'll make it work for the people and not against them.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Again, in the Senate it was a very superb demonstration of bipartisan effort. And I'd like to call on Senator Chuck Percy to make a comment, who was very helpful in every way.

SENATOR PERCY. Thank you, Mr. President.

I think we know why Camp David was a success, and we know why civil service reform is a success and why you became President. It's that determination and stick-to-itiveness and setting a goal and just never flinching from it, and we're grateful for that leadership.

I was particularly gratified to work once again with Senator Ribicoff as our chairman. I think both of us had tremendous admiration for Mo Udall, who really waltzed us through that conference in beautiful style. I've never had a better feeling as we left a conference—almost as good as when we went into it. [Laughter]

My colleague from Illinois, Ed Derwinski, was just a tower of strength. And Chairman Nix, we appreciate your support.

I think that probably when you get down to a couple of words, what we're trying to do in a sense is make Federal employees proud of being a part of the Federal system. And Chairman Campbell, all through this, even when I decided to try to hold hearings in Illinois, in four cities, to have it understood by 110,000 Federal employees and by our 11 million people what we were trying to accomplish, his backing and support was just—we couldn't have done it without him.

And I think, in a sense, when we left those hearings, people did understand what we were trying to accomplish. Probably no two words in the English language have had more rhetoric about them than "substantial evidence"—that is, except the border dispute on 242. [Laughter] But taking an example there, we found that when we were going to merit fire as well as merit hire, substantial evidence for nonperformance is well understood in administrative law, and we think we won't have the problems we've with 242.

So then, I think that people understand this law, and it can be applied, and it's going to be a giant step forward in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the civil service.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Senator. It would be good to point out that the original draft of the legislation and every stage of its consummation was monitored and supported to a major degree, finally, I think, overwhelmingly, by those employees who are affected most directly by the legislation itself. Employees at the top civil service ranks, those who are appointed and serve relatively temporarily, those at the bottom ranks and middle ranks helped Scotty Campbell draft the original proposals and worked with the Congress throughout.

Ken Blaylock, one of the leaders of a large group, as you know, of Federal employees, did yeoman service at great political cost to himself potentially. But I think his courage and his ability to explain in definitive and clear terms to those employees who were concerned has been instrumental in the final passage of this legislation. And I'd like to ask if Ken Blaylock will say a word.

MR. CAMPBELL. This will be his second speech, Mr. President.

MR. BLAYLOCK. Mr. President, I've already spoken to the group while we were waiting earlier, but let me say this—the real emphasis now has been said many times here—there's a lot of players, everybody's intent was the same. But now we've got to make it work, and we've just opened the door. And again, the American Federation of Government Employees and AFL-CIO, who, by the way, all of you know, lent great support to our efforts, we're just proud to have played a role in the development of this piece of legislation.

And thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Ken, very much.

I think if anybody deserves to speak twice, it would be Ken.

Scotty, you haven't said anything.

MR. CAMPBELL. We started before you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't want to close the ceremony without recognizing Scotty Campbell. I think in every person's remarks, certainly including my own, we know who was the guiding light for this legislation. And Scotty, because of his superb professional ability and his own integrity, his deserved trust that was built up among all people toward him, made this success possible. And I want to express my own thanks to him on behalf of the American people for his leadership now and for his leadership in the future.

I think it was an awareness that Scotty would be instrumental in implementing this legislation that made many people accept it in faith. And our confidence in you, Scotty, is complete. And I believe the confidence of all those who serve the Federal Government in you has made it possible for this success to be achieved.

I want to express again my thanks to all of you for a wonderful step forward in making our Government better for the American people.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Kenneth Blaylock is president of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Alan K. Campbell is Chairman of the United States Civil Service Commission.

As enacted, S. 2640 is Public Law 95-454, approved October 13.

Jimmy Carter, Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243994

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