Jimmy Carter photo

Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Department Employees

February 16, 1977

SECRETARY CALIFANO. It's a great privilege for me to stand here today.

A President's mind must deal with many, many problems--nuclear disarmament, economic problems. And this President's mind does--brilliantly.

But this President's heart, his heart from the moment I met with him in New Hampshire, in August, until our meetings yesterday--I know one thing: His heart will always be at HEW, with what you're doing and trying to do.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure and honor for me to be over here with you, because you and your predecessors have helped to a great degree to shape my own life.

I've had a chance, the last 2 years, to travel around our Nation, perhaps more than any other person in history in a 2-year period, to talk some, but to listen a lot. And I've seen the tremendous impact that can be derived from this Department on our people's lives, because of your own professional competence, your experience, your intelligence and, above all, your compassion and your love for other people. To me, the success or failure of my own administration depends upon you and others who work in the health and education and welfare and other related fields.


The human relationship with God, with our fellow human beings, and with our institutions, is the basis on which a democracy is founded. We believe in individuality and, as one of my favorite philosophers said--Kierkegaard--"Every person is an individual. Every person is different, with different yearnings, and disappointments, hopes and dreams and aspirations, fears, prejudices, and needs. And if we treat people as statistics or as homogeneous bodies, even though we know they're in need, then we will have failed." But to the extent that we can let Government have a heart and a helping hand, that sense will be derived from your own Department here.

We've got a lot of changes that can be made. At the same time, we've got a lot of good things we need to preserve. And that careful balancing between an aggressive, constant striving for better Government ought not ever to stand in our way. If things that you observe can be made better, let's don't hesitate to make the changes.

I think the country is ready for a better, more comprehensive approach under the generic name of welfare. Welfare, to me, is not charity. Welfare, to me, is an interest in individual human beings, to let them stand on their own feet to the extent they are able to meet their own needs, to be proud, to have self-respect, and to feel that the services that we deliver to them are not handed down from a position of authority or superiority to an inferior, but handed as though we were the servants dealing with people who have let it be possible for us to serve.

I would like to make sure that we eliminate as much as possible, the artificial divisions within government in dealing with a single human being. In Georgia, I tried to have a one-door policy, so that if a family had a need, they wouldn't have to search among all the various little, tiny, individualistic bureaucracies that existed in Georgia government, but would have one contact to government who cared about the family.

And the reason I met Joe Califano for the first time in my life, for an extended visit last August, was to ask him to help) me understand how every aspect of government impacted either beneficially or adversely on the American family structure. That has got to be the basis of government. And to the extent that we can strengthen that interrelationship among people who naturally, through blood relationships, or otherwise, care for one another, it will make our own jobs more effective. It will also cut down on the burden that's placed on government.

I believe in Joe Califano. Those among you, and I would think it would be almost unanimous, who saw the tremendous-[applause]--who saw the tremendous thrust of Lyndon Johnson's administration, know that most of those programs designed to help the poor and the inarticulate and the timid and the black and the foreign language-speaking American, came from the mind and heart of Joe Califano.

I was particularly eager for him to head this Department as we face a new day. We're going to move aggressively on many programs that are dear to your own hearts--the comprehensive welfare reform, dealing with other related departments not in a separated fashion, but a cohesive fashion, trying to reduce the bureaucratic obstacles to the personal relationship with people who need our help. We're going to move very aggressively to cut down the abuses in Medicaid, Medicare; add some structure and some permanence to the resolution of the problems that face the financing of social security.

But all these complicated questions cannot be resolved by me as a President, by Joe Califano as a Cabinet member-they have to be resolved by you.

And as we seek authority to reorganize our government structure, that authority would never make your own professions less viable. No one will be discharged as a result of reorganization. No one will lose your seniority or pay status. And the ideas that eventually will be consummated by final decisions made by me and the Congress will originate among you.

Presidents, as you know, come and go. Cabinet Secretaries come and go. But the professional, competent civil servants are the ones who provide the stability, the integrity, the usefulness, and the accomplishments to government. And I want every change that's made to be designed to let your own professional careers be more effective, and to let the one life that you and I have to live on Earth be expended in a maximum, beneficial way toward others.

I hope that you won't be reticent and that you will join with me and Joe Califano and many others to make these changes in a careful, methodical, but aggressive fashion to let our own service be more beneficial.

A couple of other points very quickly, and then I'll answer a few questions.

We have, I think, a good attitude among the people of our country toward our own administration. I'm going to put into effect for the 1979 fiscal year budget preparation a new concept called zero-base budgeting. I've used it for 4 years in Georgia. It works. It does two things, among others. One is it assesses for the limited amount of money we have to spend, all programs on the basis of priority, whether they've been in effect $ years or 20 years or 50 years, or whether they'll go into effect for the first time next year. Nothing that's been established in the past will any longer be sacred or hidden when the budget for next fiscal year is evolved.

And we can be sure to the maximum extent that human beings can perform, that when we spend the limited human and financial resources of our Nation in fiscal year '79, that they'll be spent in the most effective way.

The second thing that zero-base budgeting does for you is to let you be part of the evolutionary process. The decisions will no longer be made in OMB and the White House or in the Secretary's office here. The decisions will be made by you and with a one-page, one-side-of-one-sheet-of-paper analysis of what your own functions are, the number of people involved, the amount' of money to be spent. We'll ask you how can you do your job better; what ought to be expanded; what ought to be phased out; what ought to be maintained as it is. I think this will go a long way to making sure that we do have an effective government.

One final point. I have a great respect for you and for the work that this Department has done. I've issued a directive today that might be somewhat controversial. And last week, you know, I asked that the people who prepare regulations read them and sign them so that we know who's responsible. I've asked Secretary Califano to read all the regulations that you write, personally. It might take the whole weekend--[laughter]--I don't object to that. But I think at least for a few weeks, the Cabinet officers themselves ought to be aware of the simplicity of regulations, the brevity of regulations, the elimination of unnecessary regulations, so that the people that have to carry them out can perform better.

And I've also asked all the members of the Cabinet with a letter today--that they haven't received yet--to cut down on the number of reports required to come in to the Federal Government.

I think that HEW has approximately 800 different repetitive reports required from American people. And I would like for all of you to join with Secretary Califano in deciding which ones of those reports are still needed, which ones can be simplified, which ones can be combined with other departmental reports, and give me that analysis by the end of March. And I hope that you will be very aggressive in doing this.

I think that if we can get rid of the unnecessary paper work and division and compartmentalization of your lives, we can all let the people have more confidence in us and make sure that our public service is more effective for them.

Perhaps now you'd like to ask me a few questions. I'll try to be brief with my answers.


Q. Do your efforts, obviously to reach the people, include a personal commitment for the Federal Government to remove architectural and transportation barriers?

THE PRESIDENT. The question was about removing architectural or transportation barriers. I presume you mean to handicapped people.

Yes. We did this in Georgia. As you know, it's a very difficult thing and an extremely expensive thing to try to undo the .existing structural characteristics of buildings. But I think that within the bounds of common sense and, certainly, with tight constraints on future designs, we could make major steps forward, far exceeding what has been done in the past.

We did this in our own State of Georgia. We were recognized as, I think, the outstanding State in this respect.

And the answer is yes, but within the bounds of common sense. I can't go down and tear out all the elevator shafts and all of the structural arrangements that exist in public buildings all over the Nation. I don't think you'd want me to do that. But within those bounds, we will.

Q. We could start making them now if we design for the future.

THE PRESIDENT. Absolutely.


Q. The role of the Federal worker, I would think, would be very important in carrying out the program. One thing that keeps depressing us is a continuing policy of downgrades and RIF's [reductions in force]. Is this going to be stopped? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I see. I'm not familiar with the question but I presume--and you correct me if I am wrong--Joe points out to me there is an analysis going on now, within the Civil Service administration, of increasing proportions of civil servants who occupy the higher grade levels, kind of grade creep. Is that what you're talking about?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't give you the answer. I would guess, though, that there would be a constant reassessment of the percentage of people who occupy the different pay-grade levels. And if there has been an abuse in the past, it will be corrected in the future. I can't promise you that nobody will be changed in their temporary status down to a lower status as we make these adjustments.

The reason I feel very easy about saying that nobody will be fired or reduced in grade level or pay status because of reorganization is that I intend to do it through normal attrition. And I don't know if you realize it or not, but on an average in our Government, we have about a 10-percent attrition rate per year. In other words, at the end of every year, we've had at least 10 percent of our people who have resigned or retired or who have been transferred because of their own initiative. And how to make flexible the assignment of personnel within that 10 percent is very easy. Over a 4-year period of time, it is compounded, of course; that's 40 percent of the people who change their status on their own initiative.

So, I would hope that we could accommodate the problems with past abuses of grade creep and also accommodate the changes that you advocate and that I agree on, on reorganization within the constraints of normal attrition, so that I don't disturb your lives and your status as a Government employee.


Q. Mr. President, when do you intend to appoint a Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs? And, coupled with that question, when do you intend to submit legislation to the Hill to establish an independent consumer agency?

THE PRESIDENT. The legislation to establish an independent consumer protection agency is already there. I favor it strongly and will use all my influence as President to get the agency established.

As far as appointing a Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs, if I do that, it would be on a temporary basis and would exist within the White House only until we could get the consumer protection agency established by law.


Q. Mr. President, do you have a timetable for and a phased approach--or do you advocate a phased approach to national health insurance?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is do I have a timetable for, and do I favor a phased approach for national health insurance. The answer is yes, I have a timetable and a phased approach.

I made a speech on this subject to the black medical students convention last March. And I would like to ask Secretary Califano to get a copy of the speech and make it available to you and to others who have an interest in it.

We do need to move on national health care in a phased basis. I would say the first thing we need to do---and Joe and I have already talked about this extensively --is to assess what we presently spend on health care. There are some abuses in Medicaid and Medicare. I think there is a rapidly increasing cost for both hospital and physicians' care that's unwarranted.

We need to have an additional emphasis on prevention of disease. We talked yesterday at length, Secretary Califano and I did, about child disease immunizations and the searching out of young children who need outpatient care as a first step. And what I'd like to do is, before the end of this year, to have clear in my mind and, hopefully, clear in yours, a year-by-year progression toward a complete comprehensive health care system.

I think that the cost of it has got to be very carefully assessed. We'll have to have some tradeoffs about what ought to be put into it and not. But I want everybody, by the end of this year, 'to understand the major steps and the time schedule and the best estimates of costs of a move toward comprehensive health care.


Q. How do you feel about complete home rule for the District of Columbia and what do you intend to do about the $10 million request that was cut by President Ford?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is what I feel about complete home rule for the District of Columbia and what do I feel about the $10 million request that was cut by President Ford.

I'm not familiar with the $10 million request. It hasn't got to me. I presume it's in the hands of the Office of Management and Budget now. So I can't answer your question about that.

I've never taken a position on the complete home rule, at least as far as the District of Columbia becoming a State. During the campaign, I did say that I thought the interference of the Federal Government, including the President, in the internal affairs of the District of Columbia's government ought to be minimal.

There are some responsibilities that I have, established by law, that I would have no objection to removing. I have no inclination, as President, to be burdened with making decisions about, say, the hospital care in the District of Columbia. And also, I would like to see the voting rights of the District of Columbia in the Congress increased. Whether to go as far as statehood for the District of Columbia, I doubt the advisability of that.


Q This upcoming reorganization that's coming--what do you see for various training programs like the management intern program--[inaudible]? Where will these be fit in in the new reorganization, and what will these programs be?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is, where would the training programs and others fit into the departmental structure after reorganization?

I don't know how to answer those questions. We are now working on three major reorganization questions. One is to get the authority from the Congress to reorganize; secondly, to establish a new Department of Energy. And we are also working on the first proposal, if we get the reorganization authority, and that would start with the Executive Office of the President. This is such a vast bureaucracy that is built up around the White House itself, and because I have authority over it already, we are already beginning that.

But we have not gone into any detailed analysis of interdepartmental structure, within the departments, and we've not gone into any major study yet about moving agencies among departments, except in the field of energy.

Now, I have had the Secretary of Interior and Dr. Schlesinger, representing the energy question, work together. I believe they pretty well resolved all the differences between them. And we will go to the Congress before the end of this month, by the first of March, with a separate piece of legislation on energy, on an energy department.

But I can't answer questions about the internal structure of departments. We just haven't worked on that yet.


Q. Mr. President, as a person who was born in Savannah--[laughter]--I feel deeply about your great commitment to people and to civil rights and equal employment opportunity. I think this group and I would be greatly privileged to hear you make a statement in terms of the commitment of the Federal Government to enforce equal employment opportunity, civil rights, so that all people will have an opportunity to walk with God.

THE PRESIDENT. I'll try to answer that question.

I believe we now have seven different agencies responsible for equal employment opportunity in the Federal Government. There is a backlog of more than 125,000 cases. The average time for the resolution of a case is about 3 years.

And I intend to make this one of my major and early responsibilities when I get reorganization authority, to bring some order out of this chaos to be sure that we eliminate, once and for all, discrimination against any human being because of their sex or because of their race or religious commitments.

Secondly, I'm committed, because of political promises and also because of deep personal feelings, to complete equality of opportunity in our Nation, to the elimination of discrimination in our schools, and to the rigid enforcement of all Federal laws. There will never be any attempt made while I'm President to weaken the basic provisions or the detailed provisions of the great civil rights acts that have been passed in years gone by.

So, my commitment to you is total. I think there has been some beginnings of a move in the right direction. I don't know the latest statistics because they are improving every day. But the last time I had a press conference, I got a report from my staff. In the top administrative positions-Assistant Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, and Secretaries--in the major departments headed by Cabinet members, under the Ford administration, which was, I think, a fairly good one on this subject, we had, I think, nine of those key positions filled by women. Now we have 29. And the number is growing every day. And we had double the number of blacks; we had triple the number of Spanish-speaking Americans. This is just a start.

Over a period of my own administration, I want to be sure that our commitment to equal employment opportunity is profound and that it covers every level of government and that I assume, on a continuing basis, that leadership role from the White House.

Q. What about the Indians? For 15 years, they were the only race completely denied all social security benefits in New Mexico and Arizona---[inaudible].

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, ma'am. She said make sure I don't forget the Indians, and I certainly won't.


Q. Does your administration favor the Federal funding of day care centers for Federal employees?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the question is, does my administration favor the Federal funding of day care centers for Federal employees?

I think that I would have to answer no. I don't see why we should single out Federal employees as the only group in the Nation who would uniquely be provided with day care services. I think Federal employees ought to be treated the same as other employees in private life.


Q. Can I follow up on the downgrading question--[inaudible]--the Republican administration on civil servants.

The Department itself says that 35 percent of Department employees will be downgraded. That percentage is even higher right now. It was the last attempt. It is now going on.

Ex-Secretary Mathews, before he left, realized the tremendous burdens that is caused on the bureaucracy and the ability for him to carry out his program. He has sent a letter to the Civil Service Commission recommending legislation which would protect all incumbents in their position. When they left, then the position would accede to the position that it was reclassified as.

Could you support legislation like that?

THE PRESIDENT. If you don't mind, for a moment, let me ask Secretary Califano for his assessment of that question.

SECRETARY CALIFANO. Let me say that I, Mr. President, am looking at this, and I will look at what Secretary Mathews did and what he recommended and will consult with the Civil Service Commission, especially when you have put your own people in the Civil Service Commission.

THE PRESIDENT. Let me add just a little more to that. My own inclination is to handle it, as you have described, through normal attrition or through a delayed future promotion. I really hate to see people who have been promoted or placed in a position in good faith, demoted or moved, with damage to their lives and to their career and to their families.

So, within the constraints that Secretary Califano has said, that I don't have complete authority over it, we will try to accommodate this correction of what's called grade creep through attrition and through some freezing of promotions until the ratios are corrected.

Did I answer your question?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. The gentleman with the cane.


Q. Mr. President, could you outline what plans you have to include more disabled Americans in the top level decisionmaking process, especially within HEW, focusing, say, on the areas of civil rights for the handicapped and affirmative action for the handicapped?

THE PRESIDENT. Secretary Califano and I have been discussing this. I wanted to get the latest status. He has offered to a blind person a very high position in the Department. He's still waiting to get a response from that offer. And he's just told me that if the particular person who has been offered the job refuses, then a handicapped person will fill that major vacancy.

I think, obviously, it ought not to be confined to just one position. But I think he's talking about a very high position.

Yes? Did somebody over here on the right call me? [Laughter]

Go ahead, I'll listen.


Q. Mr. President, I would just like to ask you whether or not you're aware that sometimes the Federal employee gets the blame because some of our legislative people come directly to the Federal Government and ask questions that they know as well as we that they need to go to their State agencies about--the problem being they don't want to say no on their own stationery, so they allow us to do it.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I do realize that. [Laughter]

One of the things that I hope to put into effect is a much more beneficial use of what's now called the Federal Information Centers. This is udder the GSA now, I believe.

When I was Governor of Georgia, we put in a system called tie-line. We got a grant from HEW to do it. [Laughter] It worked out very fine. I think we only got $120,000, but we added a lot of local and State money to it. And what we put into effect, that we're trying now to emulate for the Federal Government, is one telephone number that can be used by anybody in--I'll just refer to Georgia for a while--to Georgia, and they can call this number collect--it's a WATS number. We had, I think, 25 or 30 very competent people there to answer the phone.

And if they had a complaint or criticism or just a question or suggestion, while they held onto the phone, we would tie them in to either the State agency or to the Member of Congress or to the Federal agency involved with their question. And they didn't have to make two telephone calls. They didn't have to remember but one telephone number.

We now have 40 of those Federal Information Centers around the Nation that are not being used with any degree of effectiveness at this point, compared to what they could be. And I hope to have a similar circumstance, problem corrected at the Federal level. We are doing a study of that now.

Bert Lance's department, OMB, and also a young man on my staff, Greg Schneiders, is making a study of these Information Centers. Many questions can be answered without coming to you for a negative response.

I know that there are some things that can be done by me, as President, to acquaint people with the limitations of government. One of the things that constantly impresses itself on my consciousness is the need to tell the American people the truth.

There are some things the Government can do. There are some things the Government cannot do. And we're experimenting in the early stages of my own administration. I've had one fireside chat. I'm going to have press conferences at least twice every month. On the 5th of March, I believe, I'm going to spend 2 hours in the Oval Office with Walter Cronkite, answering call-in questions from around the Nation. And we will probably experiment with a few other things until we decide what's the best way to let the American people know what Government can do.

But it's not fair to put on your Department the responsibility of telling people no, repeatedly, because there is an unwarranted build-up of expectation among people about services that just can't be delivered. So, if you could let me have your suggestions about how this can be corrected, through Secretary Califano or directly, I would appreciate it.

But I want to level with the American people, tell them the truth, tell them what we can do, tell them what we can't do, in a continual effort to let them be part of government.

Maybe one more question.


Q. There seems to be a trend right now to be responsive across the whole Nation. Would you be in support of new legislation or present legislation that is now in support of a culturally responsive education process?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm not sure if I know what you mean by culturally responsible. [Laughter]

Q. When you make references to minorities, I don't like the term "minority." I would prefer the term "ethnic."

THE PRESIDENT. I understand. What I said earlier about Kierkegaard's statement that every man is an exception, every woman is an exception, is obviously applicable to your question. It's a serious mistake to treat minority groups as a homogeneous body. Their ethnic characteristics ought to be preserved. They ought to be a source of pride. And I think this is one of the things that makes our Nation a great one.

As I said many times during the campaign-and I think it's a vivid indication of what I mean--the United States derives its strength from the diversity of the people who live here. And nobody could stand on this stage and look at this audience without being impressed with that fact.

But we're not a melting pot. A melting pot is a place where you put a lot of different ingredients and eventually they blend in together and become all the same. I look on our country as more of a beautiful mosaic, with different kinds of people involved in freedom, individuality, pride, cooperation, understanding, searching for answers to difficult questions in their own way, each contributing, hopefully, the strongest single characteristic of their background and heritage and special sensitivity to a common purpose.

I think the preservation of the delineation among our people on an ethnic basis is very, very precious. And I'm going to try to preserve those differences.

Let me just say in closing this: I like to answer questions. I enjoy it. I've spent the last 2 years doing it. The main thing is not for me to teach you but to learn from you. And the kinds of questions that you ask me, quite often I can't answer well. I don't claim to know all the answers. I'm new on the job. I've only been there 3 weeks so far. [Laughter]

I need you to help me. We're all in it together. I'm no better than any of you. I recognize that I ought to be not "First Boss" but "First Servant."

And if there is one department that can be an extension of my deep and sincere concern about American people-those who are needy, those who've been ignored, those who've sometimes been despised and who felt the isolation of helplessness and despair--it's you.

But I'm not going to leave you alone to deal with those special needs. And I hope that you won't leave me alone. There have been times in the past when this Department has not received an adequate concern and support from the White House. That will never be the case while I'm there.

And I want you to be aggressive in letting me have your suggestions and your tough criticisms. I don't object to that, because only in that way can I reexamine my own mistaken positions and do a better job for you.

I'm very grateful that you've let me come and interrupt your workday. [Laughter] I'll try not to let it happen too often. But I've enjoyed it very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:49 a.m. in the cafeteria at the Office of Education building of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Prior to his remarks, he toured a day care center at the Department.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare 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/243981

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