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Department of Defense Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Department Employees.

March 01, 1977

SECRETARY BROWN. Mr. President, on behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, both civilians and those in the Armed Forces of the United States, it's a great pleasure to welcome you to the Pentagon. And you can tell from your reception, it's a great pleasure for them, too.

This building was completed in 1943, in the record time of 16 months, just as you were entering courses in the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Both you and the building have come a long way since then. [Laughter]

Mr. President, nowhere in Government or anywhere else will you find a more dedicated and able group of people than those in this Department. I am proud to work with them and honored to introduce you to them.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

When I retired from the Navy, I was a lieutenant. And it's very nice to come back to the Pentagon and know that I'm the senior officer here. [Laughter]

I found that in my new position as Commander in Chief that there is no uniform allowance, that the pay is, I think, very good, and the base quarters where my family lives are completely adequate.

I want to thank all of you who served with me for giving me a chance--along with other Americans who had confidence in me--to serve in this position of leadership.


There is no other department in Government which consistently demonstrates such a superb level of courage and dedication and, quite often, personal sacrifice. I know from my own military experience how important it is to those of us who are responsible for our Nation's existence and safety to be able to dedicate, if necessary, our own lives for our country.

But it also naturally follows that we, who have been and are serving in the Armed Forces, are the most deeply committed to peace. Ours are the families who suffer first, and have in times of war. And for that reason, we now commit our lives to ensuring that our Nation is strong enough to ensure peace, that the world realizes our dedication to military strength, and we also recognize that to the degree that the American people are compatible with our Government policies, international affairs, and military capability, that our strength is enhanced.

Our will must be unshakable. Our dedication to the principles of democracy and human freedom must never be in doubt. Our loyalty to our allies must never be changed in any way, and our communication with them must be constant.

When the President of the United States or the Secretary of State speaks to the world without the comprehension or understanding or open support of the Congress or the American people, we speak with a hollow voice. And it's only when the world knows that our Nation is indeed united that our strength can be exerted in a proper and effective way.

I know that we have many challenges in the future. I don't fear those challenges. No one in our country has traveled in the last 2 years more than I have, nor met with more groups, nor heard more advice, nor answered more questions, nor been able in any better way to assess what the American people are, what we stand for, to understand our problems, our concerns, our fears, our prejudices, our competence, our compatibility with one another, any better than I.

And because of my sure sense of the strength of America, our natural resources, tremendous land areas, water resources, access to the oceans, but above all, the character of the American people, I feel sure that our strength will be adequate.

I think all of you know, as well as I do, that there is always a limited amount of financial capability for any nation to provide for military weapons and the personnel to use those weapons if necessary. But within that limit, there is always an opportunity for us to use those limited resources in the most efficient and effective and predictable way. And that's a challenge to us all.

But whatever might come in the future while I'm President, while Harold Brown is here as your Secretary, and General Brown and the Joint Chiefs are working with us, we will assure the American people with and through you that our military strength and our capability to defend freedom will be second to none in all the world. And you can depend on that.

The last point I would make before I answer some questions is this: We're partners, and every one of you is important in the process of ensuring our Nation's safety. Whether you've been here to work 40 years or, like myself, not much more than a month, we instantly share responsibility. And I hope that every one of you will reassess what you are presently doing in your own assignment and how you might do it better, how you might preserve the aspects of your career that is being used in the most effective and optimum way, and not ever be reticent to suggest change when the change would be an improvement.

I think there is a growing realization of that determination. Our country has been through difficult times in the last few years--with an unpopular war in Vietnam and Cambodia, with the Watergate revelations bringing disgrace on the White House itself, with doubt being cast on the legality of operations within our intelligence community and within the FBI itself. But I think we've weathered those challenges to our American system of government, because the unchanging character of the American people was there. And when public officials have made a mistake, we've always been able to fall back on the honesty and integrity and the truthfulness and the dedication of the widely varying and different kinds of people who comprise our great Nation.

I feel very strongly and personally the responsibility on my shoulders as a leader of our country, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. I'll do the best I can not ever to disappoint you in any way.

And I think that we have now a good working relationship among the major departments of Government--the Department of the Treasury, Office of Management and Budget, State Department, Defense Department, and others--so that we need not have any concern about disagreements or schisms that separate us, one from another.

We have a sense of open debate about controversial measures--which weapons systems should come first, the rate of production of it, from the change of research and development to actual production, the placement of our forces. But these things are resolved as it ought to be in a democracy.

So, I just want to say in closing that I join with you today in a rededication of my own commitment to serve the people of our country, along with you, and to make sure that we never disappoint those who put their trust in us.

And now, I'd like to answer some questions, if you have them for me.



Q. Mr. President, as our Commander in Chief, I'm sure you're concerned over the recent efforts to organize the military under a union. Other than legislation, what incentives do you intend to pursue with Congress to counter this effort to unionize the military?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, my own opinion, which is strongly held, is that it would not be advisable to have the military personnel unionized. And I think, because of my own public expression of concern, this might have a beneficial effect. Other than my opinion as expressed, the support that I would hope to engender among the American people for this position, those matters, combined with the congressional action if necessary, would be adequate.

I don't know of any strong move in that direction. And I believe that most of the leaders of national and international labor unions agree. I've never had any of those leaders approach me with the intention of going forward with this effort.

I know it has been discussed in isolated areas and by some responsible people, but I think the national leaders, even in the labor movement, have no commitment to this proposition.


Q. Mr. President, sir, what changes to the military retirement system, if any, will your administration be proposing to the Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know yet. The Secretary of Defense, along with the Joint Chiefs and myself and others, will be reassessing both military pay and other privileges and also the retirement systems. There are some inadequacies in fair treatment of those who serve the Federal Government in the retirement pay system. And I've been particularly concerned at the excessive retirement benefits that are available to those who served in the military, who then retire and get full-time jobs working for the Government itself. This is too expensive.

My own guess is that there will be a commission established by the Secretary of Defense, and with my help, to go into the whole question of pay and retirement to be sure that we don't go back on commitments that have been made to those who enlisted in the Armed Forces and, also, that it be controlled in the future.

Under present circumstances, by the end of this century, our ability to defend our Nation might very well be sapped away by excessive personnel costs.

So, how to balance fairness on the one hand among those who presently serve and an end to the almost uncontrollable and rapid increase in retirement benefits, will be the challenge for us all.

So, I would guess that a so-called blue ribbon commission, established by the Secretary of Defense and myself, would make a complete study of this, receive testimony and advice from those who are concerned, and then make a recommendation to the Congress.

Is that correct, Harold?


THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. Thank you.


Q. Mr. President, I'd like to follow up on the unionization question that was asked earlier.

Are you in favor of, and would you sponsor legislation which would prohibit new membership in so-called servicemen's unions? And do you feel such legislation would be constitutional?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know how to answer that question about constitutionality. I'm not a lawyer. That always get applause. I don't know why. [Laughter]

I don't know how to answer your question about specifics on legislation. I have no intention at this time to introduce any legislation of that nature. And whether it would be constitutional, I don't know.

Q. So you feel, then, at this time, that such legislation is not necessary?

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.


Q. Mr. President, I can recall reading in the papers a few months ago where the previous administration congratulated New York officials, Mayor Beame and Governor Carey, on the strong measures and controls they had taken regarding the New York financial crisis, and it appeared New York was on the way to recovery. Yet in the last few weeks, even in today's Washington Post, it appears to me that New York is on the brink of bankruptcy. Can you elaborate on the financial crisis of New York and, if they are in such dire straits, will the Federal Government bail them out?

THE PRESIDENT. There is an even bigger story in the New York Times. [Laughter]

The Congress has authorized the Federal Government, in effect, to make temporary loans to the city of New York to meet its varying financial obligations during the course of the fiscal years. As you undoubtedly know, income to a local or State government is cyclical. It comes in at certain times of the year when expenditures are fairly uniform. And that's the limit of the authority that the Federal Government now has--to tide New York over for just a few months at the time when receipts are low and expenditures are high. But there has to be an assurance under the present law that New York City is financially sound.

There was a request made over the weekend by Mayor Beame and others for the Federal Government to make a temporary loan in excess of $200 million to tide New York over in a present crisis, primarily because the New York banks and the New York labor unions, with their retirement fund, were not able to work out an agreement with Mayor Beame and Governor Carey on long-range financing.

My own inclination is that New York City, the State, the banks, and the labor organizations will have to deal with the long-range financial problems of New York first, and without Federal participation. We will make available a continuation of the temporary loans. And although this authority expires very quickly, I would be in favor of extending the time period for these temporary loans over a longer period of time, maybe 5 or 6 years.1

1 Later in the day, the White House Press Office released the following statement:

The President has stated many times, as he did today, that he is in favor of the concept of extending Federal seasonal loans to New York City beyond the expiration of the present seasonal loan program, which ends June 30, 1978.

The city, of course, must comply with the terms of the credit agreement concerning each seasonal loan granted under the present program. The President was not referring to the current city loan request.

My own guess is that with tight constraints on the city of New York, the evolution of its budget, and the handling of expenditures, that this crisis can be weathered.

We have done several other things indirectly which obviously helped New York City and other cities. The economic stimulus package of $31 billion, roughly, for a 2-year period, has a major portion of it allocated for improving the ghetto areas where poverty exists--better housing programs, public works projects, public service employment, and an overall economic stimulation.

And I think that the Congress and my own Executive administration is dedicated to the proposition that these benefits, which are financial, ought to be concentrated to a maximum degree in areas that are in greatest financial need.

So, whenever we do anything to help urban America or poverty-stricken America, we do help New York City. But the financial structure that I've described is primarily one of responsibility for the city, the State, the New York banks, the New York labor unions. The Federal Government's role will necessarily be minor, but ought to be extended over a longer period of time than the previous commitment.

Q. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. That's all I know about the subject. Maybe a little more than that, you know.

Q. Mr. President?


Q. I have a question you can answer.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, ma'am.


Q. Can we look forward to a more honest and aboveboard merit promotion system for the lower grades, GS-8 and below?

THE PRESIDENT. The answer is yes. I have spent a good bit of time the last 2 weeks looking over the civil service leadership problems. I've read the testimony that's been presented to the congressional committees, and we are now in the process of choosing the Civil Service Commission board of directors. And I think I can assure you that one of the primary prerequisites for my selection of anyone to serve on those boards will be honesty, integrity and, also, a willingness, even an eagerness, to let the civil service employees know what present and future plans for personnel management might be. I also have a responsibility, as you can well understand, to be sure that we have professionally competent people.

I'm particularly concerned about the concept of equal employment opportunities. In many instances in the past, civil service tests or regulations have either deliberately or inadvertently been part of the discriminatory obstacles that women and minority groups have to overcome. So those are the factors that will be involved. But I think integrity and openness, as you've described, would be two of the major ones as I make these appointments.

I will not delay the appointments any longer than necessary for me to choose the right people. I've already decided the ones that I will interview and, after I've talked to them about these issues, the nominations which are my responsibility will be made.

Q. Thank you, sir.

Q. Mr. President?



Q. We have one Member of Congress who is, in my opinion, perhaps a little overzealous in his attacks on the military establishment.

THE PRESIDENT. You're lucky if it's just one. [Laughter]

Q. Just one that is overzealous.


Q. I'm referring, of course, to Representative Les Aspin. I'm tired about reading in the newspapers, with all due respect, about his latest charges and findings about military inefficiency and its abundant benefits.

Is there anything you can do in your office, Mr. President, to perhaps counsel the Representative from Wisconsin, that he might find other avenues of communication? [Laughter]

Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. I want to thank you for that question--[laughter]-- which I don't intend to answer directly. But I would like to say--

Q. You just answered it.

THE PRESIDENT. I would like to say this: I mentioned earlier, the problem that was brought on our country by an unpopular war. And as an aftermath of that, there has .been, I think, a deterioration in the esteem of military personnel among American citizens. I feel, as President, a direct responsibility to do all I can to honor the military persons and those who serve in the Defense Department in every possible way and to let our people know the truth; and that is, that we depend upon you, that the Nation depends on you, and that the heroism is still there, the dedication is still there, the self-sacrifice is still there, and that military persons were not responsible for the mistakes that have been made in the past in unpopular wars.

And I believe that all of you can help, as well. When there is a mistake made, in my opinion, it ought to be faced squarely. When there has been waste and inefficiency, which exists in all branches of the Federal Government and all State governments, it ought to be rooted out when detected. And we ought not ever to be fearful about criticism or disclosure when it's legitimate. But we ought not ever to be reticent or timid in defending ourselves when the criticism is not justified.

Now, this is a free country. And I was attacked and criticized much more as a candidate for President even than the circumstances you've just described. We're in it together, and we'll just have to deal with it together.

I think the American people have confidence in us, and I'm going to do my part to keep it that way. I know all the submariners will do the same.


Q. Mr. President, my question relates to the Federal career civil servant. Unfortunately, in the last few years, it seems to become common for us in the career service to hear our own leaders describe us as inefficient and wasteful, and the image of the bloated bureaucrat who sucks the Public Treasury dry and produces nothing is heard:

And it's been demoralizing for the Federal civil servant. The fact of the matter is that, by and large, the Federal civil servant is one of the best educated, most patriotic, most community- and civic-minded person, wherever he is in this land.

Why is it that we don't hear more from our bosses, our leaders, defending us in public forums and not just here, today, but in press conferences, so that we don't feel that we're not recognized and appreciated?

THE PRESIDENT. I noticed one of the attributions that you didn't mention was modesty. [Laughter]

Sometimes it is overlooked that people like myself, who have had varied careers in the military, in business, in agriculture, or in State and local government, and who comes to the Washington scene--we come and go, and we quite often are the ones, the political leaders, who shape the attitude of American people.

You who are professionals have one life to live, one career to give to our country. And I know from experience in dealing with the civil servants in Georgia, as Governor for 4 years, as a member of the legislature for two terms, how dedicated the average civil servant is. It's a very rare person who doesn't want to do a better job of defending our Nation, of educating children, caring for the ill, building highways. And sometimes the confusion of the bureaucracy and the lack of cooperation among leaders at the Cabinet level prevent the proper expenditure of your lives in public service.

I'm the one responsible for the complexity of the Federal bureaucratic structure. And when there is not a clear delineation of authority and a clear assignment of responsibility, when there is overlap between your own job and others in the Government whom you never see, this makes your life less meaningful and your ability to serve less effective.

So, I have the greatest possible admiration for those of you who have been willing to give your own lives in civilian or military service for the defense of our country. And I'll try to do everything I can in the next 4 years to make sure that you are able, within the Federal Government structure, to make your careers more effective.

I also have on many occasions and will, even with increased frequency in the future, point out this fact to the American people. I appreciate what you do, and I want to make that clear to everyone.

Q. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. I'll take a couple more questions, and then I'll have to go.


Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President.

When you granted amnesty to those individuals in the Vietnam era, how can you justify, in the event of another major conflict, that individuals would join, adhere to draft policies, or remain in the active military service? Also, sir, how can you expect members already in the military to remain in service in that event with the cutback in military benefits and education?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I know that my own position on granting a pardon to the violators of the Selective Service laws during the Vietnam conflict was not a popular decision for many Americans to accept. But I don't believe that the patriotism of American service men and women, now or in the future, is predicated on whether or not the pardon was granted.

And I believe that we can count on the full support of Americans in time of trial or time of danger to defend our country. My own son went to Vietnam. He served there voluntarily and came back home. I served in two wars. And I believe that in the future, we can count on American citizens to serve their country without any doubt.

I have also a historical perspective about this question. I come from the South. I know at the end of the War Between the States, there was a sense of forgiveness for those who had been not loyal to our country in the past, and this same thing occurred after other wars as well.

I also felt that those who had left our country during the Vietnam war and had been living overseas for 10, 12, 15 years, had been punished enough. It was a matter of judgment. I made my judgment clear during the campaign. I never misled anyone. I made the major announcement of my plan to grant this pardon at an American Legion convention in Seattle, perhaps one of the most antagonistic audiences that I could have chosen. But I didn't want to mislead anyone about it, and I was elected either because of it or in spite of it.

Now, the other consideration for those who have been guilty of military offenses will be handled completely within the Department of Defense. The Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, and their representatives are trying to deal with other violators of military regulations and laws on an individual case basis. This was another part of my commitment to the American people during the campaign.

I don't have any apology to make about it. I made my decision clear before the election. The first week I was in office, I carried out my commitment. And I believe that the patriotism and support of the American Government and its people, in times of crisis in the future, will be met by courageous people as they have been in the past, regardless of what my decision was on the pardon question.


Q. Mr. President, my question is sort of related to this, but my question concerns more the Guard and the Reserve and the readiness of this country and it's defense.

The statement has been made that we are some 800,000 people short, within the active force in the Reserves. My question, sir, involves the reinstitution of the draft. I'd like to know how you feel about this position in light of the costliness of the all-volunteer force and the fact that there are incentives underway and studies underway to determine other ways, incentive-wise, of increasing the strength of the Guard and the Reserve.

Do you see us eventually going back to a draft for either the active force or the Guard and the Reserve, or both?

THE PRESIDENT. That's a decision that has not yet been made, whether to change back to an active draft for our country. At the present time, I have no intentions of going back to a mandatory draft law. We have a constant concern about the weakness of recruitment, particularly for the Reserve forces.

Secretary Brown and the Joint Chiefs and others are now assessing the effectiveness of present recruiting efforts and whether or not we can meet the needs of our Nation's defense.

As I've said many times during the campaign, if it ever becomes obvious to me and to the military leaders who serve with me that we cannot adequately provide for the defense of our country without a draft, I would not hesitate to recommend such a change to the Congress to call for a draft law. I think if it should be considered in the future, my own inclination would be to make it much more comprehensive in the future, not to permit exceptions for those who are wealthy or who are college students, to make it all inclusive and to make sure that it's fair.

But to recapitulate my answer, at the present time, we are not contemplating such a move. We are assessing the situation constantly. If it becomes necessary, I would not hesitate to recommend it.

Let me close by saying this: I don't claim to know all the answers about personnel matters nor about defense matters. I'm eager to learn. And know that from this group assembled here and those others who work in this great Department throughout the world, there is not only a deep dedication to serve but also an inclination to make our service more effective.

And if I can just leave one thought with you at the conclusion of my brief visit to the Pentagon, it's that we are partners together in restoring the legitimate and deserved stature and esteem that ought always to be recognized among those who serve in the military. And also, it's important for us to constantly explore better ways to ensure world peace.

I think that the character of our country has got to demonstrate in government, as accurately as possible, the character of our people. I think our people are dedicated to the proposition of equality, of liberty, of justice, of decency, of truth, of respect for human beings' rights, and a constant and unswerving commitment to human courage.

And to me, the military has always been almost completely pure in insisting on those characteristics. I was deeply impressed, also, when we had a reception my first day or two in the White House for representatives of the military-enlisted leaders, up through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense.

We met with many groups in those first 2 days--politicians in and out of office, diplomatic officials, and others--and I was deeply impressed, as the military representatives came by, at the unbelievable number who said, "Mr. President, I'm praying for you," or, "God be with you," or some other demonstration of a deep religious commitment.

Well, I just want to be sure that as President, as a human being with weaknesses and acknowledged inabilities, that I can do a good job. I'll do the best I can not ever to disappoint you.

And I know that, based on your past record and your constant commitment, you will never disappoint me or the American people as we try to exemplify the finest aspects of the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. in the Inner Court at the Pentagon.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Defense 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/242861

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