Jimmy Carter photo

Department of Housing and Urban Development Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Department Employees.

February 10, 1977

SECRETARY HARRIS. Mr. President, welcome to HUD.

I've been here slightly under 3 weeks, and this is a great group. We are delighted that you share our commitment to revitalizing the cities and the housing of the low and moderate income in this country.

We hope, Mr. President, that this is but the first of many visits during your 8 years in office.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. Thank you. Well, Pat, just coincidentally, I've been here a little less than 3 weeks, also. [Laughter] We're going to need all of you to help us newcomers do a good job in Government.

I think this is an agency which is one of the newest, but which also has the greatest potential to let people in our Nation know that the Government really cares about them.

I was over yesterday to the Commerce Department, and a man named Dr. John Taylor, in the Statistical Division, introduced me, who had gone to work in the Commerce Department in 1929. He was finishing 48 years of service this year.


The continuity of government is something that's ever present on my mind. As I walk into the rooms and into the halls of the White House where great Presidents of the past have been, I have a sense of history. I also have a sense of crisis and challenge and disappointment, but, at the same time, a realization that the American people have always been strong enough to compensate for mistakes that are often made by leaders of our Government.

As all of you know, in the last few years there have been disappointments and and embarrassments and, sometimes, even shame, brought about not through any fault of your own--the professional, qualified civil servants of our Nation--but by political leaders in making judgments concerning Vietnam and Cambodia and Watergate and the CIA revelations and the FBI violations of the law.

Well, I think it's time for us to realize, too, that our Government is a good government. It represents accurately, when we do our best, what the American people are and what the American people would like to be.

And instead of being an embarrassment and a source of alienation, I hope that in the next few years, that we can provide a sense of inspiration, a legitimate hope, and a sense of partnership and mutual appreciation between Pat Harris and myself and you on the one hand, and the American people on the other.

I doubt that anyone has ever conducted the kind of campaign for President that I've experienced in the last 2 or more years--constant walking the streets, meeting people in their homes, standing in factory shift lines, listening to injured citizens, visiting abandoned homes, deteriorating neighborhoods, hopeless people in a nation that's economically the strongest on Earth.

And I hope to do all I can to repair the suffering and to answer the difficult questions and to separate what's good in our Government and ought to be preserved from what is not good in our Government and ought to be changed.

I'm not afraid of change. I know you aren't either. You work in a department that's constantly probing ways of correction of mistakes of the past.

I'm no better than you are, and Patricia Harris is no better than you are. And none of us in this enormous room are any better than the people that we serve. But sometimes government officials, including, obviously, the President, are tempted to think that we have a position of leadership because we deserve it. And we therefore take a position that those that we serve don't have the last voice, that their claims are not legitimate, and that we ought to ignore their criticisms and suggestions.

This Department and the employees in it, both in Washington and outside of Washington, have a nationwide sense of what our country's problems might be and how they might be resolved.

We have an opportunity to make those beneficial changes in the organizational structure of the Government itself and in the efficiency and capability and sensitivity with which authorized services are delivered. But it's a human thing. It's not an autocratic thing. It's not a bureaucratic thing. It's not derived by regulations or guidelines. It's not derived by a sense of superiority. It can only be sensed by you, and it only can be served by recognizing the human needs that exist.

I want to make sure that you feel a partnership with me. We're going to get authority, I believe, to reorganize our own Government. It will be done with your full participation.

No Federal employee will be discharged because .of reorganization. No Federal employee-none will be demoted because of reorganization. There might be some who need to transfer people from one job to another without any loss in your pay ,or seniority status. If you have to be transferred to another different job, you will be given training to meet the needs of that new job, commensurate with your ability, at the Government's expense. There may be occasions when those vacancies exist that won't immediately be filled.

But what we want to do through this whole process is have a melding of a partnership between you and me, through the Cabinet officers, of course, to make your lives more meaningful.

Presidents come and go--4 years at a time. So do Secretaries of major Departments. But the professionals like yourselves stay here.

I know that I have had and, perhaps, even will have, different careers to pursue. You have one basic career, and you serve the Government quite often in a sacrificial way. Just wanting to have people live in better homes and live in better communities-it's a very worthy pursuit.

I want to make sure that whatever I do as President of .our country in changing the structure or the priorities in our Government, it makes your lives and your professions more meaningful. If I fail in that, then I've not only insulted you and your integrity as an individual, but I've also caused to suffer the people who elected me to office and whom I love very deeply--as do you. So, this has got to be a common pursuit. We've got many broad, multiagency problems.

One announcement that was made today concerns an organization committed to the saving of energy. Vice President Mondale will be a cochairman, along with former President Ford, and this will permeate the entire country. It will require some sacrifices among people. Particularly, if we are not wise, those sacrifices will be exaggerated. But if homes are properly insulated, which is a highly labor-intensive effort, then the suffering can be minimized, and the waste of energy and the waste of money and the waste of human resources can be minimized as well.

It costs $1.50 a barrel to save oil. It costs $15 a barrel to use oil. And if there is one agency in Government that can be responsible for the saving of more energy, it's you. So, just because James Schlesinger is responsible for energy in general, detracts in no way from your direct, personal responsibility to join in this effort on a nationwide basis.

You might be interested in knowing that Saudi Arabia has come forward to offer to help finance this citizens-type effort, along with Israel, and along with the consumer groups, along with the business groups, along with the Governors, along with the oil companies. It's to the advantage of all of us to save energy. You have such a tremendous opportunity to restore confidence in Government and to participate in an exciting administration that all of us, I think, can be bound together through that hope and anticipation of success.

I'm going to make mistakes. I don't claim to know all the answers. But the success of my own administration--and I'm determined that it will be successful-depends on you. And if I should fail, to a major degree it will be because I failed to tap the tremendous capabilities, intelligence, experience, and commitment that exists among you all.

I also consider myself responsible for your happiness and for your well-being and for your realization of a fruitful career expended. And I want to be sure that we have that sense.

I want to also spend this next few minutes answering your questions about my own responsibilities to you, and how we might share those responsibilities. And if you have questions now, we have 5 or 10 minutes. If I can't answer them, I'll ask Patricia Harris to do the answering for me.



Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. The question is, in my reorganization plans for the Federal Government, do I see the creation of any super-type Cabinet agency that might change the existing status?

No. The only agency that I can see at this point that might be created new would be a department of energy. This would not come under the reorganization authority that we've already asked the Congress to give to me. The creation of a new energy department would be initiated by full-type legislation. It will be presented to the Congress before or by the 1st of March, and many of the functions that presently exist in other agencies of Government--possibly the FPC, possibly EPA, possibly ERDA, some elements within Interior--will be transferred into the new department of energy. But that would require separate legislation that would not come under the reorganization authority that I've asked the Congress to give to me.


Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. The question is, the Secretary of Agriculture, Bob Bergland, has asked all his employees to justify their jobs by describing to him what their function is and what they achieve while serving the Government.

I did not instruct him to do that. I have no complaint against his proposal. That would be something for Pat Harris to decide in your Department. But let me say this: Along with government reorganization will come another mechanism which will, in effect, do what he has proposed in a generic way. And that's the creation of a new kind of budgeting.

While I was Governor of Georgia for 4 years, we had what we call zero-based budgeting. The 1979 fiscal year budget, which is the next one, will be prepared using zero-based budgeting. What it does is to start from scratch every year, and whether a program has been in existence 50 years or 5 years or for the first time next year, those programs will be put in an order of priority.

Every program will be reassessed every year. Not only that, but the process uses a one-page form, one side of one sheet of paper. It's filled out by people deep within the department at the supervisory level, maybe sometimes having only 5 to 20 employees. They describe, or you describe-you can use a ballpoint pen if you want to, or you can type it; it's a very simple form--"This is what I have to contribute. This is the number of people who work under me. This is the amount of money I spend every year. This is how much I will need next year and in the year after next. These are my suggestions for a better and more fruitful performance in government."

And then that proposal comes in to their supervisor, and it works all the way up to Pat Harris, and she arranges those proposals or functions in an order of priority. That is the way the budgets function. But it does two things: Every year, it reassesses what the Government does, and every year it gives you a chance to participate in the preparation of next year's priority programs and next year's budget.

It also gives you a good opportunity, almost a required opportunity, to give your suggestions for which phases might be eliminated, which ones might be increased, which ones might be changed in form to make them more efficient.


Q. .[Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the requirements, first of all, from the Government, on the quality of housing, would be a major contribution to the required insulation of homes.

Secondly, the giving of benefits and low interest rates would be another contributing factor to better insulation of homes. That would exist in Government loans and also in loans from private banks within which the Government was not even involved. Some banks in this country now, particularly in the State of Washington and others, have already begun to give loans to homes with lower interest rates if they would implement very simple, energy-saving commitments in the construction of a new home or the repair of an existing home.

This has not, obviously, been worked out in detail. As I said before, James Schlesinger will be working with me, with Pat Harris and many others, including yourselves, to evolve a comprehensive policy.

But I would say that the major thrust of a new energy proposal will be conservation. We now import about 10 million barrels of oil a day. We now waste energy equivalent to 10 million barrels a day. That can be eliminated. And this is a very serious problem for us all. Just reducing the thermostat 65 degrees, which I notice--[laughter]--I know, I know. Just reducing the thermostat to 65 degrees will save enough natural gas in our Nation to meet half the shortage that we've experienced in the last 2 or 3 weeks. So, conservation will be the keystone of a new energy policy.

But it will be fully debated and fully distributed to everyone by April 20, at which time we'll also have legislation being prepared to go directly to the Congress.


Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. Fine. Do you want to ask the other question, too? I will answer both.

Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. I am probably going to have to go to someone else. Is that your favorite? I will answer one. The question was, am I going to pursue the concept that was very important in previous years, of trying to provide low-income housing to people both for ownership and for rent--I guess, both single-family dwellings and multiple-family dwellings. The answer is yes. I see this as a very great need.

We also, of course, want to continue with section 8 and other programs, and also the 202 programs for senior citizens. [ think it needs to be a broad-based approach to enhancement of housing ownership and rent.

When I resigned from the Navy, for instance, in 1953, I had three sons. The oldest one was just starting in the first grade. I didn't have any money. I came back to Plains, Georgia, and I lived in a Government housing project. My rent was $31 a month. [Laughter] I started a business. I didn't have any employees except myself. And the first year, I didn't make enough money to pay my rent. And the second year, my wife went to work with me. And in the third year, I hired my first employee. But had I not had that Government housing to start my own family life, I would have been in very desperate straits.

So, I know from personal experience what it did mean to me. I know what it means to many people who are not nearly so fortunate as I am now. And the responsibility for delivering that housing to homeowners is your own.

Now, we've had bad experience in the past with some of the housing programs that Congress promulgated to alleviate these problems. Part of the fault was in a lack of enthusiasm from the White House. That will not be a problem in the future.


Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. The question was--I won't give the preamble--since bureaucrats don't last forever, is there any plan being made for college students to come into the Government just during the summer to learn about Government, to try themselves out, and see if they want a future career in Government in the future? Is that basically your question?

Q. Yes, that is what we have in mind.

THE PRESIDENT. This was done, again, while I was Governor. We had a small government, comparatively speaking, but we brought about 600 or 700 college students per year into the State government for 3 months at a time. They worked in very responsible jobs for that 3 months, in all facets of government life. They were paid a very small amount of money, but they got college credit, in many instances, if they were college students.

We also brought in college-age young people who did not attend college, and they were paid a higher salary for doing the same work. But we derived many very fine, permanent public servants from that program that we would not have gotten otherwise. And I think this is a good approach. As a matter of fact, one of my college interns in those days is a special assistant to Cecil Andrus in the Interior Department.

And this is the kind of program that I think can be very good. It gives also a chance to fill in some of the gaps during major vacation time, and it also brings some fresh and new ideas into an agency or a branch of an agency from the college age students who are going to come and go.

And we always asked them as they left to give us a brief summary of some beneficial suggestions that they had to improve the agency within which they had worked temporarily. And those were assessed by the department head, and quite often they were very valuable to the government.

So, yes, I think the concept that's now described in the White House Intern program, ought to be throughout the entire Government--and will.


Q. .[Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. The question was about establishing a Cabinet post for EEO. I don't intend to do that, but I do have an awareness of the problem that we see. Now this is typical of what we need to do about reorganization.

I believe we have seven different Federal Government agencies responsible for equal employment opportunities, and none of them function as effectively as they should. We are making some progress in providing opportunities for women and minority groups where they did not exist before. We haven't been fully successful, but I think we've made a good start.

But I'd like to bring those agencies together in a much more cohesive form. We now have a backlog, so that if you have a legitimate complaint--either in government or private industry--about discrimination, it takes an average of 3 years now before a determination of that case can be completed. And in the meantime, of course, that employee who may have been suffering may have moved somewhere else. All the witnesses that knew about the original circumstances have gone, and most of the cases are resolved just by the withdrawal of the original complaint.

But I think if we can bring some renewed strength into the equal employment opportunity field, that it will help.

I might add one other thing. I have tried to do this at the top levels of Government. At the executive level, the top five grades in the Cabinet-led Departments, we have more than tripled the number of women employed under the last administration, which was the highest up until then. We had 9 women; we now have 29 women in the executive levels. We have doubled the number of black citizens from 8 to 16. We've tripled the number of Spanish-speaking citizens, and we're only twothirds of the way through.

So, we'll set a good example, and I hope that all of you will help with this very serious problem. It's not easy to change the way of habit that's existed for many, many years, but we're trying. And I see, in looking across this group, that a great deal of progress has already been made in HUD. We hope to equal this progress in the other departments.

Q. Bravo!

Q. No!

THE PRESIDENT. I heard some "noes." Not enough progress; we've got to make some more.


Q. .[Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. I got a question the other day--I think at the Labor Department-about flexi-time. I don't know the answer to that yet. I think that this is going to be a part of the energy policy proposal. As you know, it's much more efficient in the conservation of energy if there is a stretching-out of employee attendance or presence within a building. And it also is becoming more and more of a problem in holding families together to have some flexibility in the times that people work.

I don't know the answer to that. That will address itself primarily to the Secretaries at the Cabinet level. But I think the concept is a good one.

I might add one other thing that just came to mind. I have asked my own White House staff, and I've also asked Pat Harris and the other Cabinet members to protect the integrity of their own family. I think it's very important that all of us in Government not forget that no matter how dedicated we might be and how eager to perform well, that we need a stable family life to make us better servants of the people.

So, those of you who are living in sin, I hope you'll get married. [Laughter] Those of you who have left your spouses, go back home. And those of you who don't remember your children's names, get reacquainted.

But I think it's very important that we have stable family lives. And I am serious about that.


Q. .[Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, this was a question that was raised yesterday, too, about the Civil Service policies being one of the causes of discrimination against women and minority groups. This is quite often the case.

It's a case in State government, because most of the entrance examinations for service in government, most of the examinations required for promotion are prepared by white men for white men. And quite often--I didn't believe this when I first became Governor, but they came and brought me some of the entrance examinations, for instance, for Georgia State Patrol. And just because of the wording of the questions, it made it almost impossible, for instance, for a young black man to qualify to serve in the Georgia State Patrol.

And you see what is inadvertent or accidental discrimination, then you start searching for a way to be fair. We want to be fair.

If you have an occasion to witness an actual incident where it might be improved to eliminate discrimination, I hope you'll bring that to the attention of Pat Harris, and I'm sure she'll bring it to my attention. She's very forceful about doing that.

Maybe one more question.


Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. The question was, would I favor withdrawing the tax deductions and substitute tax credits? Yes, I favor that move. In the economic stimulus proposal that we presented to the Congress, there is a permanent change in the Tax Code that will give a standard deduction. That will provide simplicity quite different from your 1976 income tax return, which you've already seen.. It will provide a very simple, single computation for 75 percent of all the taxpayers in the Nation.

The next move will be comprehensive income tax reform. This will be headed by the Secretary of the Treasury, Mike Blumenthal. And before the end of this year, we will be ready to recommend to the Congress a comprehensive, overall tax reform proposal. Surely, one of those proposals will be to give a standard credit on your income tax to be paid, and not the standard deductions. As you know, the difference is that the standard deduction helps much more the very high-income families, while credit--this is where you deduct so many dollars for the income tax you owe--is of much more benefit to those who make low incomes. So, this will certainly be part of the overall tax package.

We thought about doing it in the economic stimulus package, but we couldn't afford it. The standard deduction costs about $4 billion. If you are a family that earns about $10,000 a year, that will be about a 30-percent refund to you with that saving, and a $50 refund. And the permanent tax reductions that I referred to will be almost that much on a permanent basis. Yes, we are going to shift away from the regressive tax structure to a much more fair one for the low- and middle-income taxpayers in this country.

Let me say this inclosing--I don't have time for other questions--it's a great honor for me to have a chance to come and meet with you. I have the highest respect for you, and I have the deepest appreciation for what you've meant to our Government. I believe that I have had a chance in the last 3 or 4 months, to search through tens of thousands of people that I thought were the best qualified persons in this Nation to serve with me in the Cabinet. There is no doubt in my mind that I've Chosen the best person. that I know to serve as Secretary of HUD.

She's going to make some mistakes, and so am I. And I hope that you, who have been here a long time, who know more about this Department than I will ever know, will assess my weaknesses and even Pat Harris' weaknesses and not take advantage of your knowledge to criticize and to separate you from us. But I hope that you might do an extra amount of thinking and work to supplement my weaknesses and hers, to make sure that we have a well-coordinated effort to make HUD an effective Department.

There have been a lot of criticisms of the Housing and Urban Development Department. I think some of them are justified. Part of them have been derived from constantly changing policies and procedures and guidelines and regulations and laws. Many of them have caused you to be frustrated and disappointed.

I hope that we can provide long-range policies that are predictable and fair and that we can carry out. I can promise you that most of those policies will be derived not from the White House, but from you, yourselves. And I hope you will feel an integral commitment to join with me and Pat Harris and others, in making possible a restoration of the esteem which your own work has deserved, but which your Department quite often has not earned or realized.

So, we're in it together. We are partners serving the people in the finest government on. Earth.

I'll try to do the best I can to be a good President. I know that you will join me in realizing the hopes of the American people.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2: 20 p.m. in the cafeteria at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Housing and Urban Development 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/244257

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