Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Convention of the National Association of Postmasters.

September 28, 1968

Mr. Chairman, General Donaldson, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

Some people think of the Federal Government as residing at the White House or under the great dome of the Capitol in Washington. To them it sounds very simple to take all those "bureaucrats' briefcases" and throw them in the Potomac River.

But, really, only about 10 percent of all the Federal employees actually work on the banks of the Potomac. Nearly 90 percent of the men and women who do the daily work of our people as Federal servants are outside of Washington in the cities and towns spread out across the 50 States of this great Nation.

So it would be quite some trick to throw their briefcases into the Potomac. And I really doubt if their neighbors--the people who live and work along beside them every day--would think much of anyone who tried to do that.

In a great many of those cities and towns, the most important Federal official is their postmaster. To millions of Americans, you postmasters are the American Government. You are involved in almost every aspect of its management, from the control of one-man and one-woman offices to the direction of large, complex organizations with thousands of employees.

But your chores don't end there. You are an accountant for Government property. You are a registrar of aliens.

You are a bond salesman and a tax collector.

You post the help-wanted notices of the civil service, and the wanted notices of the FBI.

You even operate an art gallery that they refer to as "most wanted men."

So you are the key men and women, not only in providing a very basic, essential service, but in giving leadership to our communities and giving efficiency to our people.

This morning I want to spend a few moments with you discussing some of the achievements and some of the challenges of leadership during these last few years.

Since I came into office, I have devoted literally hundreds of hours--most every weekend--to the search for leaders, men and women in Federal service, men and women from State and city governments, men and women from the universities of the land, men and women who were capable of even greater responsibilities than they were already carrying--leaders and potential leaders in private life, in business, in labor, in the professions, in education--who might be persuaded to give their country their talents for public service at least for a few years.

I have spent so much time in this search because I know that the quality of Government is completely dependent upon two things:

--the efficiency and the responsiveness of public institutions, and

--the character and the intellect of public servants.

There may have been a time when the country could get by with public officials who worked half-days at half-speed and whose greatest output of energy came in watching the clock, but that was a long, long time ago.

In this age, where public needs have so multiplied and our awareness of these needs has so deepened, we just cannot afford people in positions of leadership who sought out the Government as a place to retire at 30.

We must attract the best--and I honestly believe we are doing so. We must provide a career service that will retain them in public life--and not make them subject to dismissal at the whim of some politician--and I believe we are doing so.

I have applied a single test to the selections I have made for high Government office. That test is quality:

--quality in educational achievement,

--quality in professional experience,

--quality in character and integrity.

Because quality has been my standard, I have turned again and again to the ranks of the career service to meet that standard.

Forty-five percent of the 582 persons that I have named to major executive positions-the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission informs me--45 percent of the total, have been drawn from professional careers in the Federal career service.

One hundred and thirty of these appointees have come from the career service with which you are identified--the civil service. Another 98--from the Foreign Service--have been named to represent our country abroad as ambassadors. Thirty-three others from the legislative staff and the military have taken positions of very high responsibility in the Government.

These people come from all of the States. They represent all our racial and ethnic groups. They have served several Presidents in a variety of programs.

I told one goodby yesterday who had served the Government for over 50 years, and he hadn't missed that many days work in all the 50 years.

The other 55 percent of my appointees have come from outside the Government. For some, the challenge of Federal service came as an opportunity to cap a lifetime of activity in other vital fields, and still serve their country. Such a man is Russell Wiggins, whom I named only yesterday, the distinguished editor of the Washington Post, who accepted appointment as our Representative to the United Nations.

For others, joining the Federal team offered an opportunity to return to their country some measure of what their country had done for them.

There were others who saw that their country needed their talent and experience if it was to meet its urgent social needs. Some of you may remember an automobile executive who came to Washington some years ago and announced that he didn't care much for kennel dogs. And by that he meant people who were mired in the misery of hard-core unemployment. Well, that was 15 years ago, and I am so pleased that the times have changed.

Last year, other executives from that same automobile industry came to the aid of their Government. Dozens of talented men like Henry Ford and Leo Beebe came here and took on the job of finding hundreds of thousands of jobs for those unfortunate, hard-core unemployed.

Now, I believe that represents progress. That represents the kind of progress and the social consciousness that we want in American industry.

All over this Nation, the leading cities of this land, the leading industrial executives, and the leading labor leaders joined together to try to help their more unfortunate brother who had been ill-trained or ill-equipped, ill-housed, or ill-prepared for a job, and helped him to prepare for one, and then helped him to get one after he prepared.

So I say that this represents progress in the lives of a great many poor fathers and their families, and in the Government itself. For the Government has something now, I think, that it lacked a few years ago--the ability and the desire to cure and not to conceal the sufferings of millions of our people.

We have pulled back the cord and the curtain that may have hidden from our eyes some of the unpleasant facts of economic life in this country. We are facing up to them and trying to do something about them.

As a result, there is great restlessness and a great urge to get ahead and to do the job quicker. And it can't be done too soon.

Government can use a great many more men like Russell Wiggins, Leo Beebe, Henry Ford, and leaders of labor who have come to help us, and hundreds like them from the corporations and from the campuses and from the unions.

It can use men and women who have not yet reached the pinnacle of their careers. Industry, too, can profit from the experience and the judgment of career Government servants. That is why, upon the recommendation of some of the members of the Cabinet, and the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, some of the young men who had been brought into the Government as White House Fellows and others, that I established only last week--and Mr. Boyd, one of the young members of our Cabinet, and Mr. McPherson briefed on this down at San Antonio---a panel on executive interchange. That is to find ways for middle-management people in industry to come into Government for a few years, and for people at a similar level in Government to go to industry and work for the same period.

The old days when the responsibilities of Government and industry were sharply separate are gone and are over. Men in Government today know that America's great human needs just cannot be met by Government action alone. Men in industry know that they cannot prosper in a land that is torn by strife and in a land that is divided by despair and hate.

We must work together--to heal and to build our country--and to do that, the first thing we must do is to try to understand each other better.

Our goal should be the same, all of us: a prosperous, a peaceful, and a just America. If we are going to have a pie that is large enough to provide the resources for education and health, for public services and national defense, we must have an oven that is big enough to bake it--and that means that we must have a strong and an expanding economy.

If business is to provide a livelihood for our growing population, and if it is to return a profit to its owners, it must operate in conditions of public order, and it must find more and more consumers for its products. That means that it must help to create an America of justice and an America of opportunity for every citizen, regardless of his race, region, or religion.

I believe that there is a great deal of understanding on these matters between the senior officials of Government and of industry today.

I remember the time when we talked about the economic royalists from State to State, and when the midgets sat on Mr. Morgan's knee.

But this understanding that exists today has not come about because one has "sold out" to the other. Neither one is in the other's saddle. It has come about, I think, because men in both public and private life understand that America's problems, as well as America's opportunities, are much greater than their own parochial interests.

I believe that we shall see more and more interchange between people of responsibility in public and in private life. I am happy to say that in the 5 years that I have occupied the Presidency, I can count on one hand the men in industry and labor, and the professions and education, who have been unwilling to listen and to try to cooperate with the policies of their country. We have come time and time again into the same room with leaders of business, labor, and the professions and reasoned with one another.

I believe that the old myths of the selfish entrepreneur with his eye on the cash register, and of the slow-moving bureaucrat with his eye on the clock have begun to die out in this country. And I think the sooner they die out the better for all of us.

I have been in the Federal Government now for more than 35 years, and for nearly 5 years now have held this office. I have had the magnificent opportunity to observe our wonderful Federal establishment as it changed in order to meet new challenges.

I have seen people come into Government to do jobs that Jim Farley never dreamed of back in the thirties: the systems analysts, the child health specialists, the preschool planners, the job training experts, the space scientists, the water and the air pollution engineers.

I have seen this Government begin to become increasingly efficient. I have seen it begin to modernize, mechanize, and computerize. I have seen it also begin to become, I am proud to say, color blind. I have seen it come to reward men and women on the basis of their skills, and not their politics, their color, their national background, or their religion.

I am proud of that, and I am proud that I can say that I have had a little part in it.

But I came out here not to say that, but to say that you have had a great part in it, and I thank you, all of you, for what you have done.

If I had one last instruction to send down the line as President, it might be this:

Never grow smug. Never close your eyes and your ears to the needs of your people. Never believe that you have become efficient enough. Try to grow out of every job you have. Try to be too big for every assignment given you. Never believe that the perquisites of office entitle you ever to run roughshod over the people you serve. If you have to open a window, or unlock a door, or go and deliver a message of an emergency nature to some neighbor, try to find ways to do it and do it pleasantly. In all you do, please strive to make our people proud that they are served by men and women such as the postmasters of the United States.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:55 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel before a group of 2,500 postmasters from throughout the United States. In his opening words he referred to Thomas P. Costin, Jr., president of the National Association of Postmasters and chairman of the convention, and Jesse M. Donaldson, former Postmaster General. During his remarks the President referred to, among others, Henry Ford II and Leo C. Beebe, chairman and executive vice chairman of the National Alliance of Businessmen, Alan S. Boyd, Secretary of Transportation, Harry C. McPherson, Jr., Special Counsel to the President, and James A. Farley, former Postmaster General.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Convention of the National Association of Postmasters. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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