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Department of the Interior - Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Department Employees

February 18, 1977

SECRETARY ANDRUS. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning, fellow employees of the Department of the Interior. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce to you the man who won the hearts and the votes of America because he cared about America. He cares about the people. He cares about the environment. He cares about the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, everybody.

Well, first of all, it is a great pleasure to be over here because, as I told a group outside, if I had my choice of any Cabinet post, I would prefer to be Secretary of the Interior. That is why I chose my best friend to be in this job. But between the Cabinet and the White House, I would choose the White House.


I don't think anything has been more reassuring to me nor more gratifying than my trips to meet with the distinguished public servants of our major departments. And concentrated within your own Department here is a focusing of inherent, very difficult questions that must be addressed now and in the future: how to preserve and still use the precious resources with which our Nation has been blessed; how to deal with humanitarian concerns of American Indians and others; how to preserve the beauty of nature and enjoyment of human beings in a time of recreation; how to inventory what we have now and what we might have in the future; how to deal with the growing questions of energy, of conservation; and how to make sure that we don't destroy what is so precious to us all because of the pressure of transient needs.

Every one of those items that I mentioned, and there could be many more, require a great deal of common sense, technical knowledge, experience, and ability and sensitivity, and that is why to me it is so exciting to observe the present and future status of that decisionmaking process within your own Department.

I have traveled perhaps as much as anyone has ever done in my own campaign for President the last 2 years. I have seen the beauty of America, and I have seen the gratifying achievements of our country, and I have seen the challenges and disappointments of our Nation as well. And I want to be sure that you feel an intense and personal partnership with me and with Cecil Andrus as we make decisions for which you are directly responsible.

I don't claim to know all the answers. I have been on the job still not quite a month. I've got a lot to learn. I want to do a good job, and I think the degree to which I am successful will depend upon you and your attitude about your opportunity for service to our country.

I am grateful to be President, but I am no better than any one of you, and I feel such an intense sense of partnership. I need your advice and your counsel and your criticisms, and I need for you always to feel that by the avenue from you to me is not one that is blocked by bureaucratic structure. It is time for change. I want to be sure that our Government is more economical and efficient, better organized, better administered, more competent. At the same time, I want to make sure that our Government is closer to the people and more sensitive to their needs; that we can correct a sense of fear or despair or alienation or disappointment or prejudice or hatred, and substitute for those characteristics the national inclination of the people of this country.

We have been through hard times in the last number of years both economically and politically. Most of the mistakes that have been made were not made by you, and they were not made by the vast majority of the American people. But we who serve in Government, no matter if we have been here a month or 40 years, no matter if we are a brand new filing clerk or President of the United States, we are, to the people of our country, the Government. And to the extent that we serve them well, our people will be proud of their own Nation as exemplified by the Government. To the extent that we fail, we create a very devastating chasm between people in a democracy and the government that should be of the people.

I want to be sure that we elevate substantially the status of concern of American Indians. And I believe that we ought to have the status in the bureaucracy in 'our Nation at least at the Assistant Secretary level. And I believe that this is a change that can very well be made.

I want to be sure that in the future our National Park System doesn't suffer any more from a lack of maintenance and upkeep and proper allocation of funds, and also from a proper allocation of personnel services. And we have been working very closely, Cecil Andrus and I, with Ray Marshall and others to make sure, as we consummate the economic stimulus package, that additional work opportunities might be granted within the National Park System. We are just exploring the broad reaches of Alaska, where the most beautiful scenery on Earth exists. We want to make sure that it is never destroyed, but we also want to make sure that the American people have a chance to enjoy it.

I think we will see in the next few weeks a strip mining bill passed finally. We know that we need to protect the mountainsides of Appalachia and the West as we mine for coal, but the hard-rock mining is also a great problem. And I don't want to see America's beauty destroyed in compliance with the hope for additional profits from those who in the past have not been adequately sensitive to our needs.

I want to be sure also that this Department, which has such a complete knowledge, is intimately involved in the evolution of a national energy policy. We are the only developed nation in the world that doesn't have a long-range policy on the utilization and preservation of energy resources, and by April 20 we hope to come out with a comprehensive proposal for the first time. And obviously this, at the present time, is the most important agency of all in that respect.

Dr. Schlesinger and Cecil Andrus have spent hours delineating properly the responsibilities as they relate to energy. We anticipate the .creation of a new energy department and we will make this proposal to the Congress no later than the first of March.

I am interested, as a businessman and as an ancient scientist, in the proper management of my own responsibilities and in the reorganization of the Government and the preparation of zero-base budgeting techniques, personnel management, electronic data processing. I want to make sure that we make it easier for you to expend your own professional careers in a much more effective way.

This will involve you directly, and it is very important that you respond in an attitude of enthusiasm and vision. If things of the past have been good, let's preserve them. If there is a better way to do things for the people of this country, let's not be reluctant to change.

In the area of water resources, the construction of dams, and other projects, I want to be sure that in the future these projects are assessed on the basis of modem economic circumstances and that we inject into the process of authorization for existing and future projects the very important characteristic of conservation and environmental quality. I hope that we can start a program which is similar to the one that I had in Georgia, called the Heritage Trust, to inventory the precious places in our country in a systematic way and to move working with private and local and State agencies to establish those that are of highest priority, and to make sure that they are preserved for future generations.

I could go on and on listing things that come to my mind as I stand here about the responsibilities of your own Department. But I think in order to make this meeting more productive for you and more enjoyable for me, I won't continue with other remarks, except I would ask you now if you have any questions that you would like to ask me. Cecil Andrus is close and I will let him answer the questions that I can't answer myself.

Does anyone have a question?



Q. Most deaf people are very interested in the TV call-in program, which allows for a jab at you. How do you feel about using Channel 21 for that purpose? [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. Very fine, thank you. [The President communicated in sign language.] Just so you don't confuse me with Nelson Rockefeller, that means I love you. [Laughter]

When I have made by inauguration speeches and when I have been around to visit with the departments, I have always requested through my staff that interpreters might be present to speak to those who are deaf.

I think that perhaps in response to your question I could direct a letter to the leaders of all the television networks in the country and ask them to make a special effort in the future to open up to the deaf people of our country a way to understand the program. So, before the day is over, this letter will be in the mail to those network executives.


Q. Mr. President, the 94th Congress passed a bill, H.R. 5465, which provided for early retirement of non-Indian Bureau of Indian Affairs employees. The major objective of that legislation was to allow the Indian people to more fully direct the operations of the key governmental activities which so vitally affects their daily lives. This legislation, supported by the National Congress of American Indians and Indian tribes throughout the country, was vetoed by President Ford.

Mr. President, that bill has been reintroduced already in the 95th Congress as S. 666. Mr. President, will you support passage of that legislation and will you sign it into law if it is passed by the Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not familiar with the legislation. But I will say this: My strong inclination is to make sure that we have more native Americans occupying high positions of authority within the Government and in the administration, particularly of the affairs of American Indians themselves. If the legislation is designed so that there is no punitive aspect for those who are not Indians who have been in these positions, I would certainly favor it and also sign it.

One of the campaign commitments that I made was that in the filling of top positions that I would be sure that those who are responsible for Indian affairs would be either American Indians or recognized nationally by the American Indian tribe leaders, who are the spokesmen for the Indian people, as being thoroughly conversant with Indian problems and completely dedicated to their solution. I would hope that we could establish a major position even more exalted in importance within this Department for Indian affairs.

So, with' that one caveat, that we can't be punitive to those who have been in the Federal Government for a long time, I would favor the bill, and I believe that I would sign it.

If you will let me have a chance to read it, I will get the answer back to Cecil Andrus for you specifically. I just hate to say yes glibly when I haven't read the legislation itself.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Jimmy McGee, the Safety Manager from the Fish and Wildlife Service. I have a question and also a concern, not only my own but for all of my fellow safety managers throughout the Interior and United States Government.

You are aware of the existing legislation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Executive orders from your predecessor have made great strides to bringing safety and health to our Federal employees. However, my concern is, I felt that in the last 4 years, we reached a plateau and what is necessary is more stringent direction from you to the heads of all Government agencies and to their operating top management making them aware of their responsibility and accountability for the safety and health of our fellow employees. However, along with that must come the necessary manpower ceilings and. funding necessary to abate these hazardous health and safety hazards throughout the Government.

Do you plan to address the safety and health movement within the Government, and can we expect additional support and funds to abate these unsafe and unhealthful conditions?

THE PRESIDENT. I have already had a meeting with Secretary of HEW, Mr. Califano, and with the woman whom he has chosen to administer the OSHA program. I believe that this is one of the better programs that the Congress has ever passed and has been put into effect in our country. It has been circumvented to some degree in its effectiveness by the building up of animosities and a state of combat between many employers who are concerned about their employees on the one hand and the field administrators of the OSHA program on the other hand.

One of the things I have already directed the future OSHA administrator to do is to have hearings around our country to let employers and employees come and express their dissatisfaction and their recommendations for improvement in the administration of this worthwhile program.

This would also, obviously, apply to Federal employees as well. If we can get a spirit of enthusiasm and cooperation on the part of the employers instead of a feeling of obstinacy and animosity on their parts, I believe that it will take much fewer administrators and much less regulation promulgation to accomplish the same ends.

So, I hope to accomplish your goals, provide better protection for Federal and other employees with lesser amount of ill-advised pressure because of the detailed administration of this program. I believe that this is a good hope and Joe Califano and the future administrator both agree with me.

I have also met with groups of business people. And I think that their receptivity to the OSHA concepts will be a major factor in its enforcement in the future. And I believe that the same aspects of support that in the past have sometimes been missing from Federal employers, from the Secretary level on down, would greatly minimize the need for pressure.

So, what I am saying is that with the existing program, which is good, better cooperation from employers and employees can make the administration easier, more effective for a given level of cost and personnel focusing.


Q. Mr. President, can you please tell me how the figure $50 was decided upon for the tax rebate, and when can we expect to receive the check?

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. Well, I understand that if you make more than $25,000 you are not going to get the $50 refund, so you might miss out on it. I will explain it very quickly to you.

We tried to assess first of all whether or not we needed to stimulate our economy. And the almost unanimous decision by economists and myself was yes. Because we are in a state of stagnation at this time, we have a very high level of unemployment, about 8 percent, the last quarter we only had a 3 percent increase in our gross national product on an annual basis, and we've had inflation hanging at 5 percent or more for a number of years. So in order to get our economy off dead center and moving again in a healthy way, we decided that we need some economic stimulation.

The second decision was how much. We decided that a $30 billion stimulation package was about right. We very carefully wanted it to be consistent and predictable. So, we decided about $15 billion in 1977 fiscal year, and the 1978 fiscal year would be better, instead of concentrating it all in one year. Next, we tried to figure out how, with the inertia of programs and the difficulty of getting them built up rapidly, we could give that much stimulation this year.

The only feasible way that I know is a direct tax rebate. And the amount that we decided on was about $12 billion, I think $11.7 billion. When that amount of money is divided among those who pay taxes and who receive AFDC payments, who are veterans who have been deprived in the past, it works out to about $50 per person.

Most people get the $50 per person or some will get less if their incomes are very high. It depends on when the Congress passes the law as to when you will get the check. If the Congress should pass the law prior to the end of this month, then the checks could go out no later than April. If the law is passed next month, then the checks will go out in May.

That is as quickly as the computers can be assessed and the envelopes can be addressed and the checks can be printed. But I think this will give us a very good reduction in our income taxes. I computed for my fireside chat that an average family in this country making $10,000 a year would have their 1976 taxes reduced by this mechanism--about 30 percent. So, a 30-percent tax reduction for last year is a very healthy stimulation for our economy. And the permanent tax changes that we propose means that your this year's taxes, if you are in that $10,000 bracket, will be reduced about 20 percent.

I favor this tax reduction effort on a one-shot, stimulative basis with a tax rebate and also on a continuing basis with simplicity and more fairness in the income tax structure. By the end of September this year we will have ready for the Congress a comprehensive revision of our entire income tax code which will make it simpler and also more fair. But we want to do it in a hurry and that is why the $50 rebate figure came into being.


Q. Mr. President, there have been considerable discussions about centralizing the equal opportunity effort into one large agency. We would like to know what considerations has your administration given to this proposal and, more importantly, what do you feel will be the thrust of equal opportunity during your administration?

THE PRESIDENT. At the present time, we have, I believe, seven agencies in the Federal Government responsible for equal opportunity. They are fragmented; they are not well administered; and they have been ineffective. I believe very deeply in the concept of equal opportunity. I don't think anyone ought to be cheated because they happen to be black or Indian or speak a .foreign language or because they are a woman. And I feel a direct responsibility on my shoulders to take leadership in this effort.

At the top management level, as you probably have observed, we have made excellent progress. Some of the departments of Government have also made excellent progress in the past. There will be more in the future. But I would put this as one of my first proposals under reorganization authority to bring those enforcement agencies together.

We now have more than 130,000 back. logged cases resulting from complaints about discrimination. It takes an average of about 3 years to bring one case to a decision point and, as you well can see, by the end of 3 years the employee may have changed jobs, the witnesses have moved off to another community, and there is just a breakdown in the administration of this law.

So, along with reorganization of my own agency, the Executive Office Building, and a few others, this will be at the top of my list for a clarification of responsibility. And I will try to appoint someone to head up the EEOG or whatever agency does derive from this reorganization who will be as dedicated as I am to ensuring that discrimination is ended in our Government.


Q. Mr. President, I am with the National Park Service. In your speech I heard you say that Alaska has one of the most beautiful parks, so on behalf of all the employees of the Prince William Forest Park I would like to extend to you an invitation to the second most beautiful park.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. I wouldn't want to put Alaska ahead of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. But I think, of all the untapped places in the world, there is no place more beautiful than Alaska. I think that obviously is an oversimplification in describing the beauty of our Nation because every single aspect of our Nation that has been preserved by this Department is precious. And the marshlands of Georgia and the Rocky Mountains and the other parks that we have are equally as important, but in the unexplored regions of human enjoyment, I think Alaska is a precious possession.


Q. I would like to ask you how do you feel about the Middle East situation, and do you think that peace will ever come? The reason I am asking is because I have faith in your administration after hearing the news this morning about you cutting the CIA money from King Hussein.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. Well, I don't want to mislead you in thinking that I, as President, or anyone else who would be in the White House, can resolve the Middle Eastern question simply or quickly. It is a very complicated problem. It has been there for years and years, more than 30 years, and the differences of opinion are deep.

We don't want to try to exert an improper, outside pressure on the nations of the Middle East to resolve their differences for them. Even if we had the political and military means to do this, it would be an uneasy peace and a temporary circumstance, so the only way to do it is to have it done among those who live there.

As you know, I have just dispatched Secretary Vance to go to the Middle East. He has already talked to Mr. Rabin, yesterday he was with Mr. Sadat. He will go to Syria. He will go to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, and to Lebanon very quickly, and then come back to report to me on what the prospects are for a common agreement on questions that so far have not yet been resolved.

I would hope that later on this year that we could reconvene those parties at Geneva. The Soviet Union and our country will be cochairmen of that conference. Based on, I hope, a mutual search for peace among those nations, we might be the stimulating factor that could bring about a resolution of the questions.

I am very deeply dedicated to this. I think that, because of the intense interest in solving the Middle Eastern question, this might be the good year for it. But I cannot predict with any assurance that we will be successful. I put in a lot of my own personal time in studying the questions that have been raised. Every day when I get back a report from Secretary Vance by cable, I very carefully have my staff log the attitudes of the different leaders who represent their nations to see if I can understand compatibility among them and what the remaining differences might be.

The last point I would like to make is this: We are inviting the leaders of the Middle Eastern nations to come over here to our country this year as soon as possible to discuss those problems directly with me as President. I think, whether or not we deserve such a position, our own country has got to be the focal point for the resolution of many of these differences.

This is not something that I have caused, but it is an attitude that exists among the leaders of Egypt and Israel and Syria and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Lebanon. They look to us to be kind of a place through which they can channel ideas and through which we might act as a mediator. But the major responsibility is among the people who live there. We will do the best we can. This year is the brightest hope for peace that I remember. And although I can't guarantee any success, it is a major priority for us, for our potential adversaries like the Soviet Union, and for the whole world, because the Middle Eastern situation could explode at any time in the future, and I want to be sure that we do our best to avoid such a consequence.


Q. Mr. President, I am with the International Data Analysis Section of the Bureau of Mines. In your plans to reorganize the Government, do you contemplate simply a Department of Energy or is it to be a Department of Energy and Natural Resources, and if it is to be a Department of Energy and Natural Resources, what impact would this have on the Interior Department?

Also, in many countries in Latin America and around the world, natural resources under the ground and offshore belong to all of the people. They are considered a national patrimony or Patrimonium nationale. Do you feel it would be necessary to have a similar law in this country which would guarantee more effective control over our natural resources and more assurance that we would have environmental control?

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. We will present to the Congress and to the American public by the end of this month our proposals on the future Department of Energy. My inclination is that it be a Department of Energy. The Congress may decide to name it differently. The basic thrust of this new department will be to make long-range plans and policies for the utilization of energy resources which are now under the control of the Department of the Interior. Those policies and plans would be approved by me, by Dr. Schlesinger, by Cecil Andrus, and then the actual leasing of lands or undersea areas would be decided by the Department of the Interior.

I don't think it is appropriate, nor am I qualified at this point, to spell out in any detail the division of responsibility that will exist between Interior and Energy, but I can tell you that the agreement has been reached harmoniously by Dr. Schlesinger and Cecil Andrus. And I believe that you will be pleased when you see the results of our deliberations.

As far as the public ownership of lands and areas of special importance, as you know, our Federal Government owns a great quantity of land in this Nation already. Many of the people of the States also have control over natural areas. The marshlands of Georgia, for instance-about 600,000 acres are owned by the people of Georgia. And even though the Federal Government has no interest in them, legally speaking, it is a joint protective capability that we share between the Federal and State governments. I hope that we can extend this protective capability by the Heritage Trust program that I've just described to you, where precious land areas, whether they be important archaeologically or geologically, or because it is a natural area or because of some other historic reason, might be acquired by the Federal Government, starting with the ones of highest priority first, the ones that are most in danger of being destroyed, and then working down the list as funds become available.

So, the concept of ownership as you have described suits me fine. I think the mechanisms that I've described to you will be adequate. But I think you need not be concerned about the reorganization proposal. It will be a good move in the right direction, but I think that Secretary Andrus can vouch for the fact that the integrity of the Interior Department and your ability to protect these precious resources will be preserved when our proposal goes to the Congress.

I have been told that this is all the questions I can answer. As you probably have noticed, I don't claim to know answers to all the questions. I think they range in such a broad spectrum, all the way from public ownership of lands that we don't now control to the right of deaf people to see and understand a program on television.

I have been impressed since I have been in office, now for almost a month, with the tremendous strength of this country. I have also been impressed with the need for a close relationship between myself and you. I can't do anything alone. And to the extent that I fail to tap the tremendous reservoir of ability and talent and experience that exists among you, I can't be successful.

I want to be a good President. I want you to feel supportive of the proposals that we put forward, but I particularly understand that, unless you are involved in the preparation of those proposals, they don't deserve your full support and that we will be making a very serious mistake. So, I want our Government to be well managed. I want it to be open. I want it to be sensitive. But I want us also to leave this meeting at least with a sense of equal partnership among you and me, your Secretary and others.

I believe in that way we can guarantee that our own public service will be a major factor in the proper governance of the most beautiful and the best nation on Earth.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:20 a.m. in the Department's auditorium conference hall, after touring the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Jimmy Carter, Department of the Interior - 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/242570

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