Jimmy Carter photo

Department of Agriculture Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Department Employees

February 16, 1977

SECRETARY BERT, LAND. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. I am new here. My name is Bob Bergland. I have an office up on the second floor. I hope you will come to see me sometime.

It is my pleasure to introduce my farm adviser, the gentleman who gives me advice on most all agricultural matters, except peanuts, ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

The week before last, I went to the Justice Department for the first time. Last week, I went to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the first time. This morning, I went to the Department of HEW for the first time. But I have been to the Department of Agriculture a lot of times in the past. I am glad to be back.

If I am not mistaken the last person who was a full-time farmer was Thomas Jefferson. At times, I think that we had a comprehension within the White House of the tremendous responsibilities that are on the shoulders of the people who work in the Department of Agriculture.

I searched the Nation over, and I chose without any doubt or hesitation the best person that I could find to be the Secretary of Agriculture. And it's Bob Bergland. I think I am lucky and you are lucky that he is going to be Secretary. I know you found that out already.


I spent a lot of time in the last 2 or 3 weeks thinking about cruise missiles, Backfire bombers, the B 1, nuclear carriers, the Mideast and potential conflict, how to deal with the Panama Canal, how to let the American people know first of all the strength of our country, and secondly, how that strength might be used for peaceful purposes and not to dominate others.

We have a tremendous reservoir of inherent strength in our country over which you have authority and for which you have a measure of responsibility. That is the open farmlands, fields, and Forests that God has given us. I want to be sure they are used for peace and for humanitarian reasons and for the welfare of all the people in future years. I am a partner with you to make sure this hope is realized.

There is no way that any other nation can challenge us in our capacity to produce food and fiber, and there is no way that we can ever be deprived of this tremendous advantage. It is there permanently. We are stewards of that tremendous gift. This has been part of my life.

My people have been in this Nation for more than 250 years. We have all been farmers. We have all seen the special relationship that must exist between those who produce food and fiber and those who consume it. In my opinion, there is no incompatibility between the two.

Other nations look to us for leadership. So it takes a combination of technology, a knowledge of agriculture, a knowledge of the needs of consumers, and a knowledge of government, of politics to bring it all together. And those are the characteristics that Secretary Bergland has so well.

As you well know now, there will be constant comprehension and support from the White House. Our farmers in this country, our ranchers in this country don't want to be welfare recipients. They don't want handouts. They want to be treated with respect. They want to have a maximum degree of independence and autonomy, an ability to utilize their own land resources and their own human resources.

Agriculture is our biggest industry in this Nation. We provide the major items of export. More than half the grain that moves in international trade is produced in our country.

So, your influence can be profound. We will develop within the next few weeks, by April the 20th, a comprehensive energy policy. We have been needing it for a long time. Again, your Department will be deeply involved in those basic decisions. You already are in many ways. I know that in the future we will see much more clearly what we can do individually to to make our professional lives more effective and also to make sure that we contribute our share to the resolution of problems that don't directly relate to the departments in which we work.

Bob Bergland says he is new around here. So am I. I have a lot to learn. Within this room and within this tremendous Department there exists talent and intelligence and experience and ability and knowledge and sensitivity and concern that touches the lives of almost everybody in our country. How that talent and ability is harnessed will determine whether or not my own administration succeeds or fails and whether or not our Government succeeds or fails.

There are a lot of things that you can do to help me to be a good President. I think we have too much democracy bogged down and circumvented with divisions, bureaucratic regulations, unnecessary reports, forms, constraints, guidelines, interference. If you will help me, we will cut down those interferences and let our democracy deal with people as though they were human beings and not just statistics. We will have to work together on that.

Last week or so, I told the public and the Cabinet officers that I wanted people who write regulations, who are responsible for that regulation, to sign it. I also asked all the Cabinet officers to read all the regulations that come out of their department. Sometimes it takes all weekend. I don't object to that. I think at least for a few weeks that we need to have the Cabinet members know what kind of regulations come out of each department, whether they are necessary at all, whether they are comprehensible, whether or not they are brief, and more importantly, whether or not they actually represent the policies of our own administration and the intent of Congress when legislation was passed. Only if I and the Cabinet members know what is being produced can we make the beneficial changes in the regulations promulgation area.

I have just written a letter to all the Cabinet officers, which Bob Bergland has not yet received, asking each one to assess a number of reports that are required from around the Nation that come around into the Federal Government here in Washington. We've got too many reports, they are too complicated. They produce an unnecessary aggravation that turns our people away from their own Government and puts a tremendous burden on ourselves to handle them.

I believe that it is accurate to say that the Department of Agriculture alone has more than 750 different reports that are acquired on a continuing basis and probably at least that many more that are required on a one-time basis.

And I've asked all the Cabinet members by the end of March to give me their assessment on which ones of those reports can be eliminated completely, how they can be made less frequent, how they can be made simpler, and how the information derived from those reports can be shared with other departments.

Another thing that we have asked the Congress to do is to give me authority, working with all of you and with the Congress, of course, to reorganize the structure of the Federal Government.

You need not be afraid of these changes. The changes will initiate with you. And you will be part of the final decisionmaking process. It will all be done in the open. No one will be demoted, have their salaries decreased, or be fired as a result of reorganization. You need not fear that.

Some people say, well, you can't make changes unless you fire people or demote people. That is not true. At the lower pay grades, we have about a 15 to 18 percent attrition rate every year. At the upper grades, where people are retiring, we have about a 15 to 18 percent attrition rate; on the average about 10 percent. So every year, because of your own initiative, we have about a 10 percent turnover in Federal employees. That is an adequate reservoir of change so that we don't have to force change on your life that is damaging to your professional career or to your family's security. You need not worry about that.

We are going to put into effect one more thing that I will mention--and then I will answer some questions--that is, zero-base budgeting. It is going to be complete. The fiscal year '79 budget will be prepared using zero-base budgeting. I am familiar with it; so is Bert Lance; so is his deputy. We have used it for 4 years in Georgia. It worked.

It is simple. It gives us not only the opportunity, but the requirement that we consider all programs on an equal basis, whether they have been in effect 5 years, 15 years, 50 years, or whether they are going to be tried for the first time next year. They are reexamined annually so that we make sure we spend next year's human and financial resources on the things that are most important to the people of this country.

Another very great benefit comes from zero-base budgeting in that it lets you make the decision. There is a one-page form required, one side of one sheet of paper. It is filled out by those that are responsible at the very lowest levels in the Department for a particular function. You will describe, just using a ballpoint pen, if you like, what your role is, how many people work with you and under you, how much money is being spent, and how you could perform your function better, if certain changes were made.

Sometimes you might want to cut back on a program. Sometimes you might want to keep it exactly as it is. Sometimes you might want to increase it substantially. But the initiation of changing ideas will be not from the White House, not from the Secretary level, not from OMB, but from you.

If you have had for a long time pent-up ideas, hopes about a better way to let your own life be meaningful in Government service, you will have a chance this year to show your contribution to the Federal Government can be of profound significance.

Now, I don't know all the answers about agriculture. I don't know all the answers about being President. But I will try to answer some questions for you. If I can't answer them, I will turn to my good friend, Bob Bergland.

Does anybody have a question?



Q. An enormous amount of time is spent filling out travel vouchers and all these things to confirm travel actually having been performed. Would it not be possible to issue a credit card and let the credit card summary be adequate proof of travel for which I have been paid?

THE PRESIDENT. The question was a very good one. It is the kind of question that I hope you will be asking all year.

The young woman said that an enormous amount of her time---obviously she has to travel a lot--is spent just filling out travel vouchers and all the numerous copies to confirm that she actually performed her travel. And if it would not be possible to issue a credit card, which could be used by her on official visits, and let the credit card summary be adequate proof that she has actually done the travel for which she has been paid. Is that correct?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. It sounds great. Secretary Bergland says it sounds like an excellent idea. So, I think you will be seeing some changes made about that very shortly.


Q. Is there some way that agricultural research can be improved in its competition with other research and development funds, compared to defense and space, health, and so forth?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is about agricultural research and whether or not it can be improved in its competition with other research and development funds, compared to defense and space, health, and so forth.

The answer is certainly yes. This is one of the questions that came up quite often when I was campaigning for President among agricultural groups. I have seen in my own farm life the tremendous benefits that were derived from very small expenditures of funds in basic research.

When I was first home from the Navy, back in the early fifties, the average production of peanuts, for instance, was about 800 to 1,000 pounds per acre. Now the average in our State is 2,500 pounds to 3,000 pounds per acre. It is almost directly attributable to basic research that discovered that the more you plow peanuts, the lower the production is. So, when we quit cultivating our crops, we not only saved a tremendous amount of energy and expense but we also derived tremendous financial 'benefit, and so did the rest of the world in getting cheaper food.

Well, I know you are experimenting, for instance, with minimum tillage for the production of our crops. And this is the kind of thing that can be done. I am in the process of choosing a scientific adviser for the President. The first six nominations I got were all physicists. I turned them all down. I am going to choose an earth scientist as my number one scientific adviser. That will be another insurance to my own interest that agricultural research will not be ignored in the future.


Q. You have recently given advice against living in sin. Don't you think the present tax laws encourage this?

THE PRESIDENT. The question was pointed out that recently I have given advice against living in sin. The point was made that the present tax laws encourage such--[laughter]--I started to say extracurricular activities, but I guess that is not --and that is a fact. I don't want to publicize it, and I hope you don't tell anybody about it, but two people who do live together who are not married have an advantage when they pay their income tax.

We've put in, you might be interested in knowing, a stimulus package that would have given a $2,400 standard deduction to married people. We discovered in the last 2 or 3 days that this further exaggerates the advantage of not living together while married. So, we have changed that proposal now and we are giving a $2,100 standard deduction---or $2,200 to single people, $3,000 to married people, so that we won't aggravate that encouragement not to be married.

I might say this: When we have a complete revision of the income tax structure, the study of which will be completed I think by the end of September, that will be one of the basic questions.

I would also like to remove the social security regulations and others that encourage the breaking up of families. It is not just a matter of living in sin. But it is a matter of trying to analyze all the Government regulations and structures, and laws and welfare and otherwise that tend to force a father to leave a home and break up with a family. Obviously, you can't legislate morality of that nature. But I think we can remove from that decisionmaking process, a financial reward for the destruction of families, either through welfare payment, if a husband is not in a home, which encourages the breaking up of the family.

But I am familiar with the problem on tax. It will be covered in the comprehensive tax reform assessment that is undergoing a complete study this year. We will be ready to recommend to the Congress a complete tax reform package this fall. Our present target date is the 4th or 5th of October.


Q. How do you feel about comparable pay raises for Federal employees compared to those in the private sector? The increase in Federal pay has not been keeping up with outside jobs.

THE PRESIDENT. The question is, how do I feel about comparable pay raises for Federal employees compared to those in the private sector. The further remark was made that the increase in Federal pay has not been keeping up with outside job payments.

I would certainly favor the concept of comparability. I am just a little reluctant to admit at this point that in the past this has not been done. I don't know about that. I would certainly favor comparable increases in salary.

We had a question at HEW this morning that might be important to you, in fact, we had two questions; that is, on the correction of the increasing percentages of Federal employees who occupy the higher grade levels. There has been a disproportionate accumulation of persons in those high grade levels. Something has got to be done to correct that.

My own inclination again is to use the concept of normal attrition rather than demoting people in an unfair way. But by having some freeze for a limited period of time to get the proportion reestablished and by using normal resignations and retirements and transfers initiated by the employees themselves, I think we can correct this problem much better and more fairly than by just peremptorily demoting people who have been granted a promotion because of their accomplishment.


Q. How do you feel about the mix of environmental quality and production?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is how do I feel about the mix between environmental quality and preservation and production of food and fiber.

I don't want to mislead you. I am a farmer myself. I use a wide range of herbicides and insecticides and other chemicals. Also we have a problem in my own processing plants. I have a cotton gin and a peanut shelling plant that I have now relinquished control of. But we have a problem there with environmental quality as well, air pollution in particular. As you know, farmers who are involved in livestock management quite often have an additional problem with water pollution.

So, in the use of toxic chemicals and air and water pollution, I think we ought to be very strict in adhering to the standards that have been established by Congress. We also need to have in the research and development program a search for less toxic chemicals that can be used. Many of the chemicals that we formerly accepted as a normal part of our lives, like DDT, we have now found that they have very serious long-range impact on not only animal life but also human life.

I think that we have to balance them as best we can on an individual case basis. I think that the farmers have been very eager to accommodate changes in new chemicals. I know in my own warehouse business, we act almost like a school. When a new chemical comes out that has been proven to be both effective and safe, we teach all of our former customers along with the county agents and others how to use those chemicals in a proper fashion.

I can't answer your question simply because it is a complicated question. But I would not deliberately derogate the quality of our human and animal life in this country just to have a slight increase in productivity. I think it can be balanced. I think research and development and predictable policies on quality standards which are reasonable are the only approaches that I think can resolve this basic conflict. It is not a good answer, but it is the best I can give you.

Yes, in the back, standing up?


Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. That question is difficult to answer in a simplistic way.

I would hope that we could get bilateral and multilateral agreement between our Nation and one other country and our Nation and all nations, to eliminate the possibility of additional nations being able to build atomic weapons. That would include South Africa, further development in India, an expansion of the nuclear capability to other countries, like Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan.

We are moving very aggressively on this subject. I am now trying to induce the Germans not to sell nuclear processing capability to the Brazilians; to try to induce the French not to sell the same capabilities to Pakistan. But it has to be done with a sense among other people that we can provide part of the nuclear materials to produce power and then deprive them of an opportunity to reprocess waste to make explosives. That is the first part of your question.

Secondly, I would like to move toward the reestablishment of normal relationships between our .own country and Angola, among other nations.

We now have several problems involved in that. The attitude of Angola and its Government toward keeping Cuban mercenaries--I would very much like to see the Cubans remove their soldiers from Angola. Let the Angolan natives make their own decisions about their Government.

We have received information from indirect sources that Castro and Cuba has promised to remove those troops. That would be a step toward full normalization of relationships with Angola.

The same thing applies ultimately to the restoration of normal relationships with Cuba. If I can be convinced that Cuba wants to remove their aggravating influence from other countries in this hemisphere, will not participate in violence in nations across the ocean, will recommit the former relationship that existed in Cuba toward human rights, then I would be willing to move toward normalizing relationships with Cuba as well.

The same thing applies to Vietnam. I would like to see us work out with Vietnam a proper accounting for the 2,205 Americans who were lost in that war. There are some still classified as missing in action. Then I would be perfectly glad to support the admission of Vietnam to the United Nations and to normalize relationships with Vietnam.

In all we have 14 nations in the world with whom we do not have normal relationships. We are dealing with each one of those cases on an individual basis. In some instances, the other governments despise us so deeply that they don't want to deal with us or search out common grounds for normalizing relationships.

So, to hold down nuclear weapons, to remove the military presence in the African nations from any other country including our own, and to normalize relationships with countries with whom we don't have a present friendship with, all those are matters of high priority on my foreign affairs agenda.


Q. On welfare reform, is it possible to get people who are able to work off welfare?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is about welfare reform and the possibility of getting people who are able to work off welfare.

This was one of my major themes during my campaign. Let me say this: About 90 percent of the people on welfare cannot work. The other 10 percent can work. I am perfectly willing to give humane and adequate aid to those who are not able to work. I am not willing to support those who are able to work and won't. The separation of that will be a major thrust of my government.

I might point out one other thing: We, by the first of May, will complete an analysis of the entire welfare system. We are trying to get HEW, HUD, Labor, and many other agencies to work together to deal with this question.

For those who are presently on welfare that are able to work ought to be given training. They ought to be matched with a job that is available, and they ought to be offered the job. If they are offered a job and don't take it, I am not in favor of paying them any more benefits.


Q. For a number of years the Federal budget has been just like a refrigerator containing old programs that may or may not be any longer needed. Is the zero-base budgeting an effort to correct that problem?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The question was that for a number of years the Federal budget has been just like a refrigerator containing old programs that may or may not be any longer needed. Is the zero-base budgeting an effort to correct that problem?

Yes, it is. That is one of the major thrusts of zero-base budgeting, is to take each year every program, whether it has been there 100 years or 50 years or 5 years, and to reassess the need for the continuation of that program at all or to decide how much it ought to be cut down to make room for new programs that are much more necessary for our people in this country.

This is done routinely, every year. You will be very surprised, pleasantly, I believe, at the penetrating analysis that will now be possible for a leader at the supervisor level, for the Secretary, of a major department, a member of the Cabinet, and for the President to assess what things ought to be changed.

The other benefit is that it is organic in nature, in that it doesn't start at the top by the President telling the OMB Director to tell the Secretary to make a change. It works exactly the opposite. It starts with you. If you work in an agricultural seed laboratory, and you have 20 people working for you, on one side of one sheet of paper you make an analysis: "I've got 20 people working. This is a product that I produce, the analysis of seed. This is how many people I need next year and the year after next, and how much money I need. This is how I can do my job better. This aspect of my job we ought to cancel. This we ought to increase."

And then all those one-sheet, one-page analyses are put together, they are called decision packages, they work themselves up to the Assistant Secretary and into the Secretary level. A copy of your analysis is observed by OMB. And we make a decision within the overall budget limits that might relate to this Department, how to spend the money more effectively.

It is a very good system. It works. I think you will be very pleased with it next year.

Maybe I can take one other question. I promised this lady right here. Yes, ma'am?


Q. You have put a lot of emphasis this morning on the number of reports that the bureaucracy puts on people. Do you have an equal concern about the number of reports placed on the bureaucracy from other parts of the Government, like the White House, OMB, and I presume Congress as well, and Civil Service?

THE PRESIDENT. Right. That is an excellent question.

The question was this: I have put a lot of emphasis this morning on the number of reports that the bureaucracy puts on people. Do I have an equal concern about the number of reports placed on the bureaucracy from other parts of the Government, like the White House, OMB, and I presume Congress as well, and Civil Service?

I have asked every one of the Secretaries, as I said earlier, by the end of March to give me an analysis of all the reports, the survey forms and so forth, that are required. Some of them are required by law, and neither I nor the Secretary can change that immediately.

But I would like for Bob Bergland to give me a list of all those reports that are required by law that ought to be eliminated. As you well know, in some instances, Congress passes a law in 1912 that says that every month the American farmers or the commissioners of agriculture, the different States have to make a report to the Department of Agriculture in Washington. Unless the law is changed, a thousand years later those reports will still be coming in. I am sure you see a lot of them. I want to have an analysis so that I can go back to Congress, to the Agricultural Committee and others, and say these are the reports that we don't think we need anymore. Maybe in one piece of legislation we can eliminate those unnecessary reports.

I don't like to see State officials, local officials, business people, farmers bogged down making reports to us. I particularly don't like to see your time taken up with the collection, dissemination, analysis, and collation of material that comes out of those reports. It is not necessary.

We certainly don't need to have personal data coming into the Agriculture Department if the same exact data is coming into HEW or HUD. I think this would free you to deal more directly with people that depend upon you for Government services and not just have you transferring paper back and forth among yourselves or between you and people who are aggravated by it and are obviously not aided by it.

I am really sincere about this request, and I am determined to correct it. It is not a transient idea of mine. I consider my word of honor is at stake. I intend to do something about it. I hope you will help me with it.

Let me say this in closing: We have all got a tremendous opportunity given to us to serve in the Government of the greatest nation on Earth. There ought to be a complete, intimate, trustful relationship between the people of our country and the Federal Government employees. I am one of them.

That relationship, when it is damaged, almost invariably has been hurt by Presidents, Cabinet members, and in some instances by Members of Congress.

It is very seldom your responsibility or your fault, but quite often, if the President or Cabinet officers or Congress takes an attitude, that attitude percolates down to the home demonstration agent, to the county agent, to the experiment stations, to the forestry personnel and others.

I just want to make sure that all of us reassess our attitude toward Government service. We are not any better than anyone else. I am no better than you. We don't know all the answers. We are nobody's boss. We are servants. We are also partners.

I cannot succeed as President unless you help me succeed. You cannot succeed as public servants either, unless you have my support and my cooperation.

So it's a partnership. I will do the best I can not to let you down.

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BERGLAND. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the Patio Area at the Department of Agriculture.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Agriculture Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Department Employees Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244049

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