Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Meeting With the Heads of Independent Regulatory Agencies.

December 03, 1963


I know I need not attempt to convey my sense of loss or my sense of burden in these sorrowful times. Our Nation and our Government and you have lost a great leader, but the Nation must move on and this Government must serve the Nation's progress.

I asked you to come here this afternoon for two principal purposes:

First, I want to convey my deep sense of reliance upon you and your agencies in discharging the responsibilities which have been thrust upon me.

Second, I want to make it clear that in regard to the regulatory field, the work John F. Kennedy had begun is work that I intend to continue.

By experience and by temperament and by intellect and by instinct, John F. Kennedy brought to this office the abiding conviction that one of the most important areas of unfinished business on the agenda of American Government lies in the concept and the conduct and the conscience of the regulatory function. He knew, as he said, that your responsibilities permeate every sphere and almost every activity of national life. He understood very precisely and very wisely that if we were to get America moving again, the performance of your agencies would be a vital and very decisive factor.

In one of his earliest messages to the Congress, President Kennedy said, and I quote: "The preservation of a balanced, competitive economy is never an easy task, but it should not be made more difficult by administrative delays which place unnecessary obstacles in the path of natural growth or by administrative incompetence that has a like effect."

All of you know, as I know, that President Kennedy did not speak from weariness over the long battles to protect the public interest. The public interest never had a more fearless or a more tireless champion; but for himself and for his generation and for his time, President Kennedy expressed the weariness that Americans feel for another battle--the battle against substitution of Government's interest for the public interest.

Much too much of our peoples' time and talent and energies are absorbed by the routine demands of government when it should be dedicated to the greater and better service of government. A moving and progressive society finds oppressive, distracting, irritating, and ultimately intolerable the heavy hand of complacent and static regulation.

I do not imply, as President Kennedy did not imply, criticism. I greatly respect that fine spirit of selflessness and thankless service which motivates each of you and the career staffs of your agencies. From long association and personal acquaintance, I think I know how difficult and demanding are the tasks that you face in attempting as you so often must to sail unchartered seas and steer your course by nearly starless skies.

I speak not in a spirit of criticism but in a spirit of challenge today. You and I and the Congress and the people and all the special constituencies of your agencies are challenged today to reexamine and to reassess and to reevaluate the regulatory role. We are challenged to elevate our sights, to measure our performance by quality rather than quantity; to concern ourselves with new areas of cooperation before we concern ourselves with new areas of control; to take pride in how much we do rather than how much there is to do.

The affairs of a demanding world permit us far too little time for thoughtful reflection on whether our own house is in order, but the objectives we seek demand for their success that we be sure of our internal strength and the workings of our system. We cannot permit self-created obstacles to stand in our path or self-made weights to burden our shoulders as we go forth to meet the great destiny that history has set for us.

John F. Kennedy took up the challenge and we will not lay it down. He wanted America to move and America to grow and, above all, America to succeed. He wanted the people to have from the Government which serves them a standard of excellence which would inspire their confidence instead of provoking their carping which would justify their faith instead of evoking their fear.

This is the work that he has begun and this is the work that we will continue.

You may know and your colleagues may know and your staffs may know that we will be attentive to your work. We will be appreciative of your problems. We will expect excellence of you in the confidence that it is present to be given. We will stand right with you to the last when you are right. You will know from us first and directly when we think of it otherwise.

I know the pressures that you feel and the duties you must discharge. When those pressures are honorable, respect them; when they are not, reject them. Accord to the honorable citizen of honest purpose the full respect and honor that he is due, but let the venal and the self-seeking and the tawdry and the tainted fear to enter your building and fear even more to knock on your door.

You men are a very special group that have been assembled here this evening. You hold a great power but, more than that, you hold a great and noble trust. I believe and, yes, I know, that you will honor that trust by seeking greatness in your own efforts and by manifesting nobility in your own conduct; and if you do, that man that looks down upon us from heaven this evening will be proud that you came his way.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 5 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Meeting With the Heads of Independent Regulatory Agencies. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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