Jimmy Carter photo

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

February 09, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. It is probably going to be difficult to hear in here, and I will try to keep my--you can't hear? Very good. Let me go ahead.

I am glad to be over here with you. I understand that I am the first President who ever has had a chance to visit the Labor Department. And I was, as you know, unemployed 3 or 4 months ago, and now I have got a good job.

I know you will do a good enough job so that I won't have to come back. Maybe at the end of 4 years I will be back to get you to help me again, or maybe 8 years-I am not sure yet. [Laughter]

I have been looking forward to having a chance to say just a few words to you and then to spend a few minutes answering questions that you might have to propose to me.


As you know, your Department is at the heart of the possible solution to some of the most serious problems that afflict our Nation. We have got more than 7 1/2 million people out of work who are actively looking for jobs, and you are the ones-just less than 15,000 employees in this Department, most outside of Washington, D.C.--who are responsible for being the bridge between discouragement and despair and poverty and dependence on the one hand, and pride and security and productivity and enjoyment of life on the other. And although many things might look to you, here in this huge building in Washington, as impersonal, the people who look to you for help have real hopes.

How you and Ray Marshall and the other leaders perform your jobs will have a great impact on the consciousness of America and on its strength in the future. For many people, your Department is the connecting link with government, and in the employment security agencies and your relationships with training programs, Job Corps, and other things, you represent our country.

It is very difficult for me to have personal contact with very many people except through the news media, but you and others who work with you 'have that direct personal contact.

I want to say one other thing. We need to have an aggressive, constant search for a better way to deliver those services. And just because there has been some policy in effect for the last 5 or 10 or 50 years is no reason why we should honor it, unless it is the best policy.

I can see this is a remarkably diverse group--[laughter]--quite young, on the average, and a lot of women, a lot of minority groups. You bring to government a sensitivity that quite often has been missing. But this is a recent development, and when you superimpose young people who are innovative and aggressive, no matter how many years they might have lived, on a government structure that is embedded in concrete and can't be changed, it circumvents the hope that people have in us. So, I want you to be aggressive and dynamic and individualistic and working as a team.

I am no better qualified than you are to address the problems of our country. We are partners in a process. And as we go through the next few months with the reorganization effort, I don't want any of you to be afraid of change, because I hope, working closely with you, to bring about a structure of government--the evolution of regulations and policies and guidelines and purposes and instructions and an organizational setup--to make your one life--like mine, which is very valuable in the eyes of God--be meaningful, because each career represented here can either be fruitful or it can be wasted.

I know that all of you quite often work at some financial sacrifice in the Federal Government structure. I want to be sure that every year that you and I spend in government is spent well. I am not going to impose on you from above some instant change that might disrupt your life and make your effectiveness lessened. I want the ideas that come to me to originate with you. And all of my Cabinet members, including Ray Marshall, understand that. So, don't be fearful of change. The change will be initiated by you and will let you do a better job.

I also want us to realize that we are no better than anyone else. Just because I am President and because you work for the Federal Government or hold, even, an exalted job, doesn't make you any better than the unemployed American in Dallas, Texas, that you serve. But quite often, without our knowing about it, people who are not so fortunate as we have a great fear of those who work for the Federal Government. It is almost as though our own Government is our enemy or is foreign to our lives.

I want to be sure that there is always a willingness on your part to reach out and say, "I am here to give you a helping hand," not "I am here to enforce a regulation that changes your life against your wishes."

We are here to serve and not to be served. And we are not masters of anyone, for we represent a government that wants to make other people more independent, more free, more able to make the most of their own talents and abilities.

That is all I have to say to you. Now I want to answer some questions. I see a hand up over here. I hope I can hear the question.



Q. Do you propose any changes for day care?

THE PRESIDENT. On day care?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. As you may or may not know, I have been a Governor for 4 years, and I have tried as best I could to provide adequate day care services for our people. We, by the 1st of May, will evolve a comprehensive reform recommendation, relating to the broad range of welfare. And I believe that adequate day care centers, with a reasonable ratio between attendance and children being served, can provide a crucial element in the ability of able-bodied Americans to find fruitful work and not be tied to the home.

If the day care services are too costly, or if the regulations imposed on the day care structure are too strict, it is cheaper just to pay a mother to stay home and take care of her own children.

So, the practical interrelationship between the Federal Government, the State, and local governments and private day care centers is one that requires a great deal of study. But I favor strongly the day care system in our country. As you know, Vice President Mondale was a leader in the Congress in this field, and he and I together have had long discussions about this. And if we can make the day care system practical and not too costly, I believe it will be a very strong and increasingly important component part of an overall welfare system that gets people off dependence on Government and back to work.


Q. How do you feel about flexi-time in Government?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not familiar-what is that? [Laughter] The question asked of me is, "How do you feel about flexi-time in Government? I am new around here. [Laughter]

I think, though, that we will have to start pursuing new ideas of that kind for several reasons. One is to get maximum benefit from the heat and energy sources that we utilize and, also, to give families a little more flexibility in their own structure. So the basic concept is one that I think is worthy of attention. If you have specific ideas, you might give them to Secretary Marshall. And as we put forward our approach on reorganization, on energy conservation and, also, on transportation, welfare, this kind of concept would cover a broad range of opportunities. I don't know the answer to your question, but that is the best comment I can make.


Q. Your rebate proposal, which is part of the economic stimulus package, is designed to help the economy as a whole. But how can you assure that that money will not go into paying heating bills?

THE PRESIDENT. The question was, my rebate proposal, which is part of the economic stimulus package, is designed to help the economy as a whole. How can I assure that that money will not go into paying heating bills? Is that correct?

I don't want to insure that the money does not go into heating bills. I have no reason to oppose that rebate going to pay for heating bills or other bills incurred.

Of course, when you do that, that releases other money to be used to buy products that have been manufactured or assembled. But the point of the rebate itself, which, as you know, is a small portion of their overall package--less than one-third--is to have a very early stimulus for the economy. Most of the effort that goes into the economic stimulus will come through your Department .and the Department of Commerce. But there is no way that we can get a large quantity of money into the economy by, perhaps, April, other than to give a flat rebate to the people which would, for a $10,000-income family with four people, amount to about a 30-percent rebate for the income taxes that they would have paid for last year.

So, if the families use that money to buy food or to buy clothing or to make the down payment on an automobile or to pay the heating bill, I have no fear about the prospect of that happening and would not try, to prevent it.



Q. Could you comment in regard to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Let me take off my coat. [Laughter] It is not because of the question. It is because of the temperature. [Laughter]

I think that of all the beneficial legislation that has been passed by the Congress in recent years, the one that has the best prospect of improving the lives of American workers and the one that had the most adverse acceptance has been the OSHA program.

I have seen this as a businessman. I have seen it as a businessman, and I have seen it as a candidate for 2 years, and I have seen it as Governor of a State. And I believe that the OSHA program can be both well administered and well accepted by the business and the labor community.

We need to have, though, some sensitive approach at the delivery end of the OSHA program, with a minimum number of regulations, a maximum amount of common sense, a maximum amount of input in regional hearings or discussion or forums around the country. And both the new Administrator of the OSHA program and Secretary Marshall and I have already discussed this question.

But I think OSHA can be a great program. The concept is good. I intend to enforce the law rigidly, but I also hope that we can have an acceptance of the OSHA program by the business community. But there would be no backing down on the concept or the purpose of the law concerning OSHA. I just want to make sure that it is administered with a maximum amount of support from labor and of industry.


Q. Can you comment about the monetary policy being combined with the fiscal plan?

THE PRESIDENT. As you know--the question is about the monetary policy to be combined with the fiscal plan--there are three entities in the Federal Government that can have impact on the monetary policies of our Government. One is the Federal Reserve Bank Board, headed by Dr. Burns. As you know, he is quite conservative, and he wants to make sure that there is an even flow of new money coming into the economy, ranging from 5 percent to roughly 7 percent to 7.5 percent, and he has the ability to open or close those gates to let money flow into the economy. He has shown a strong inclination to work closely with me and the Secretary of the Treasury and others.

The second control of the monetary supply in this country comes from the President and the Cabinet officers who evolve the budget for the year. Increased spending by the Federal Government could obviously increase the flow of money into the financial structure of our Nation. And the other source of control, obviously, is the Congress, with the package of tax rebates and other changes in the tax laws, and so forth.

So, those three have to be intermeshed to a maximum degree. I hope that we could maintain roughly the monetary supply levels that have been maintained in recent months, and that we can have above and beyond that, the stimulus of roughly $15.5 billion per year for the next 2 years in our extra program to the Congress.

I might point out that that is just about 1 percent of the gross national product of our Nation, and I think any extra stimulus above that 1 percent would be inflationary in character. I believe it's about a good balance.

But obviously, they are interrelated, and I and the Congress have about two-thirds of the control over the monetary system. I would say the Federal Reserve Board has the other one-third.


Q. Do you have any comments on management by objective?

THE PRESIDENT. Management by objective? It is hard for me to answer your question well without knowing what management by objective means. But I will do my best. [Laughter]

We will initiate this year, in preparation of the 1979 fiscal year budget, a new system called zero-based budgeting. This is a very good management system with which I am familiar. We had it for 4 years in Georgia. What it does, it strips down your department's activities every year to zero. You start from scratch. Just because something has been there 20 or 30 years doesn't mean that it is sacred and won't be reassessed. And you have new programs each time, compared with the old programs already in existence, arranged in an order of priority, so what money is allotted to the Labor Department would be spent for the most needed programs for the coming year.

The second thing it does is it lets employees deep within the department have an input into the budgetary system each year. If you would analyze what you do, or your supervisor will analyze what their people do, quite deeply within the department on a one-page form, and make beneficial suggestions, and then that comes on up step-by-step to the department level, and then, ultimately, to me and the Office of Management and Budget.

What this does, in effect, is establishes management by objective. You, your Secretary and I decide jointly what we hope the Labor Department will accomplish, and that is our ultimate objective or goal.

Some of those things can be accomplished at the end of 1 year, some 5 years, some 10 years. And after those objectives are delineated and decided upon, they are made public to the Nation, mostly through my statements or your Secretary's statements--sometimes Congress--and then we prepare the budget in order to accomplish those goals.

So, management by objective as I have just defined it will be part of the administration that I will head.


Q. Mr. President, do you have any specific plans for reorganizing the Labor Department that you want to tell us about today?

THE PRESIDENT. No. [Laughter] The question was, do I have any specific plans for reorganizing the Labor Department that I want to tell you about today. And the answer is no. We won't come up with any comprehensive reorganization plan for the Labor Department without you being intimately involved in the process. We are not going to try to get off in a corner somewhere and devise something and spring it on you.


Q. Mr. President, what do you think about the relationships that exist between the labor unions and management within the Department of Labor itself?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is one that I am not prepared to answer--how do I feel about the relationships, I guess that presently exist, between the labor unions and management within the Labor Department itself.

I know that there have been disagreements, and I am not familiar with the points for debate and am not prepared to answer that question.

But I know that Secretary Marshall is a kind of Secretary of Labor who has been out in the field, in factories, working with people who have legitimate grievances. He is an extremely good negotiator who combines that with the practical knowledge of the problems of working people. And I believe that you will find, without casting any criticism on previous Cabinet officers over here, that he will be one of the best qualified to understand your point of view. And to the extent that your point of view is compatible with my point of view, I am sure he will do a good job. I don't know the details.


Q. Mr. President, what are your plans for requiring that the Secretary of Labor read the regulations that are promulgated by this Department and that the regulations, as prepared, are signed by the person responsible for their preparation?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is a very good one that I anticipated hearing. [Laughter] He said what are my plans for requiring that the Secretary of Labor read the regulations that are promulgated by this Department and that the regulations, as prepared, are signed by the person responsible for their preparation?

I am very serious about cutting down on the excess regulations issued, and I am also very serious about making sure that when the regulations are written, that I and the people who have to follow them can understand them.

I have already asked all the Cabinet officers to personally read the regulations that are promulgated by the department. It might take all their weekends for a while. I don't object to that.

I think after a while, if the Secretaries themselves know what is going forward from their department, they can make sure, first of all, that it represents the proper philosophy that's part of the department's attitudes; secondly, that they are not excessive or too complicated.

Also, I believe that a lot of people--as is the case when I issue a proclamation-a lot of people are involved in the preparation of it. But someone who is responsible for, say, OSHA, when that regulation is promulgated, ought to put their name on it. They are responsible for the language involved. They are responsible for the attitude expressed in the regulation, and they are responsible to the Secretary if the regulations are too voluminous that it takes up his whole weekend to read them.

By the way, I had a meeting this morning with my own staff, with key members of the congressional committee, like Government Operations and others, to try to simplify the laws that relate to the regulation-writing process. And I hope that all of us can work together to make sure that the regulations are minimal, clear, well written, and accurately express the philosophy of the department.

Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. No. The question is we have, obviously, a need to issue regulations and instructions and interpretations of laws.

I am not trying to abolish the preparation of regulations. But the only reason that you prepare a regulation is that it be enlightening to the people who have to comply; that it be a directive to your own field workers to require conformity with Federal law and, also, uniformity of administration around the country; and, also, so that those people's lives who are touched by the regulation are treated fairly; and it's the intent of myself and Congress to carry it out.

So, I think it is a very good move to minimize the volume of regulations, to make sure they are written clearly, and to make sure they are compatible with the intent of Congress and your leaders and my own. But I don't want to eliminate all regulations, obviously. I just want to make sure that those that are issued carry out those purposes.



Q. Mr. President, when will the new director of OSHA be named?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is, when will the new director of OSHA be named? Within the next week; she has already been chosen.


Q. Mr. President, how do you eliminate the conflict between the Government requiring information on which to base proper decisions, and the overburdening of business leaders and others in the preparation of reports?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is, how do you eliminate the conflict between the Government requiring information on which to base proper decisions, and the overburdening of business leaders and others in the preparation of reports.

That's compatible with my concern about excessive paperwork that originates with the Government. In many instances, there is a possibility that several departments might share one form report that comes from, say, a small businessman like myself. There is no reason why HEW, HUD, Commerce, Labor, for instance, can't get together over a period of the next few months, prescribe one form that might be submitted to you either annually or quarterly, and let the form be such that the different departments can get a copy of it. But if the businessman has to prepare each individual form different months of the year, it creates an extraordinary amount of work on them and an aggravation that makes sure that they don't do a good job in the preparation of that information.

Also, I think it is good for us to reassess the actual need for information that comes in from around the country. A lot of information that I have to fill out at Carters Warehouse, I would doubt ever is looked at when it gets to Washington. But 20 years ago, there may have been a real need for it, for instance, during the Second World War, during the Korean war. But I think we need to reassess the amount of information that is requested to make sure that the information is not .duplicated among departments and also make sure that information that you got last quarter, which doesn't change, is not required every quarter of every year. This is a very tedious process.

And I might say one other thing. Talking about regulations and about reports from around the country, I am not the proper person to decide what information is needed, and I am not the proper person to decide what goes into a regulation. The best persons able to do that are the ones who presently fill out the forms or prepare the forms to be filled out by the business people and the ones who write the regulations.

I would hate for there to be a difference of opinion between you and me on that subject. And I hope that you will join in the spirit of the suggested change to make your own jobs easier and to make the information derived from around the country more accurate.

Now, I get most of my assessment of the labor market, the number of unemployed, how well the product of training schools, colleges, high schools are matched with jobs available, from you. And to the extent that that information is accurate, I can make a proper decision about what to do in the future of our country. But I don't want you to feel that you and I have a battle going on, with you continuing to write regulations the way they have been written and me trying to change you. I would hope that those who are expert in the field would provide the answers to the difficult questions that I am not prepared to answer now.

Maybe one more question. Yes, sir?


Q. Mr. President, what are your views about the role to be played by the States in carrying out the functions of this Department?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is, what are my views about the role to be played by the States in carrying out the functions of this Department--I guess, in almost every aspect of its work?

My own inclination is to shift as much responsibility as possible to the States and local governments, but to provide conformity and continuity and direction from the Federal Government. Now, this is something that can be done and on a shared basis.

I am going to work very closely with all the Governors of our Nation. Later on this month, Ray Marshall and I will be meeting with all 50 Governors, and we will seek advice from the Governors about what role they would like to play. If we consider it to be feasible within the bounds of equity and fairness and uniformity, we will work to make sure they can carry out these roles. But I would reserve the right to make that decision as President, and of course, we will have to work closely with the Congress.

So, as a general rule, what the local and State governments can do effectively, I am prepared to let them do it. Ray Marshall and I and the Congress will make the ultimate decisions, but we will seek advice from the Governors as to how to proceed. This month will be our first meeting with all 50 Governors, I think on the 28th day of February.

Let me say in closing that I don't claim to know all the answers. I have only been on this job less than 3 weeks. I have got a lot to learn. And I consider that you and I, no matter if you have just been here 3 weeks or 30 years, are partners. You are just as important for the proper functioning of our Government and the attitude of our people toward our Nation's Government as I 'am. And I hope that you would feel that I am sincere in this statement.

I mean what I say. And if there is a special problem that you have, I hope that you will let those problems be felt. Ray Marshall is a man in whom I have complete confidence. I believe that the main reason that I chose him above many other people who were available for the job was because of his intimate knowledge of the special attitudes and problems of working people of the Nation, both those who are employed and those who are unemployed.

I would consider it a major test of his ability, how well he is able to serve the needs of those, like yourselves, who work directly under him. And if he can't extract from you an optimum amount of contribution, compatible with your ability and talent, then he and I both will have failed.

So, we are eager to hear from you, and all the changes that might be in concept form for the next few months will be derived primarily from you. Be aggressive about it. Be innovative about it. Preserve what is right and fair and that works, and I think you will find that working conditions will be good and that you and I both can do a good job, maybe make the people of this country proud for a change.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1: 42 p.m. in the auditorium at the Department of Labor.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Labor 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/243869

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