Gerald R. Ford photo

Remarks by the Vice President at the National Governors' Conference Winter Meeting

March 06, 1974

Governor Evans, distinguished governors and guests, at the outset let me say I appreciated the opportunity, Dan, to hear your able and comprehensive report as Chairman of the Governors' Conference.

Now this is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the nation's governors to Washington since taking on the responsibilities of being an instant Vice President. It is an honor and a pleasure for me to do so, and my wife Betty and I look forward to seeing all of you and your wives at the White House tomorrow evening.

However, I will say I am not or no Jerry come lately in the matter of meeting with governors. I have been doing it for years on my own initiative as well as at your own kind invitation, and I have never failed to learn from you or to benefit from exchanging ideas with you whether they had to do with defending your states from the outrageous intrusions of the federal government, or sharing with you an appropriate amount of federal revenue.

As a member of Congress, and as Minority Leader of the House, my door has always been open for the past 25 years and I like to think that my ears have been open and my mind has been open as well.

I admit, of course, to certain prejudices of long standing. One of those prejudices is that local people can solve local problems better, and with less waste, than the people in Washington, however well meaning, and whatever party the federal overseers may be. [Applause.] I am here this morning not only to welcome you, but to reassure you that I have not changed that conviction now that I have one foot in the Executive Branch as well as one foot in the Legislative Branch.

One thing I have learned since assuming this new job is that although most people think that the Vice President has major and prime responsibility in the Executive Branch, I want to assure you that I get my pay from the United States Senate.

I still believe that you governors can solve state problems better than any federal bureaucrat in Washington, even a half bureaucrat like the Vice President. So I still feel very much among friends. I have had the good fortune of meeting with a number of you individually--since taking my new job--either here or during brief visits to your respective states, and I appreciate your collective and individual hospitality.

After reading the election returns this morning, I obviously intend to give this bipartisan audience a thoroughly non-partisan speech. I only hope that your sense of hospitality prevents me or you, I should say, from drawing any conclusion from the fact that I have campaigned recently in Cincinnati but not in California.

Seriously in my conversations with several governors since becoming Vice President, I am very much aware that the uppermost question on your minds with respect to me is what my role, my responsibility, will be with respect to you and to other state and local officials. As far as I am concerned, I have always had an open door policy as a congressman, as minority leader, and my door is still open as Vice President.

Yesterday, before coming to this meeting, I sat down with President Nixon and we talked for some time about my future relations with the governors, and the importance we both attach to this channel for cooperation and communication.

During my confirmation, I told the Senate committee that I will always uphold the truth, and an intelligent compromise. I said that truth is the glue that holds government together, and that compromise is the oil that makes government go. I am determined that we should not experience even temporary shortages in either of these essential ingredients.

The President and I see eye to eye on the key role of governors in the federal system. You are closer to the people who elected you; you are the leaders we rely upon in our government of restoring power to the people and reducing reliance on Washington.

As he has, from the very first day I became Vice President, the President has reiterated that, "Jerry, my door is always open to you." The President went on to say that he wanted me to have the same access he has with the Domestic Council and OMB in keeping with my duties as Vice President, and Vice Chairman of the Domestic Council. He very carefully pointed out, in the context of any involvement in inter-governmental relations, that both of these staffs will be as fully accessible and responsive to me as they are to him.

I told the President that I propose to tell you that just as his door is open to me my door is always open to you individually and collectively. My door will be open on a non-partisan basis. I welcome your ideas with regard to the region or the politics of the governor--without regard to the region or the politics of the governor. You, in the 50 states, are governing America and I hope and wish to be accessible to America.

I would hope we can discuss policies and their formation at their very earliest stage. The federal/state relationship must be a two way street. Just as I intend to be a ready conciliator, and a calm communicator between the White House and Capital Hill, I now offer you my personal attention and personal assistance.

It is true that I am new in this office, but I have had experience in tackling the problems of state and federal relations. I believe we can deal with directness and candor in the mutual awareness of our differences, but also in our common duty to the people of this great Republic.

As Minority Leader of the House, I supported the President's effort to achieve a new kind of federalism. I felt the time had come to reverse the trend toward a massive federal bureaucracy, and to start moving power out of Washington and back to the states, and to the people where they live, and work, and pay their taxes.

The new federalism, as you well know, takes into account the necessary federal functions required for a nation of 211,000,000 people, but just like the federalism of the nation's founders we seek new ways of letting people have a more direct say in deciding the needs and the priorities of the 50 states.

When I was in the Congress, we achieved the passage of general revenue sharing, and I was pleased to hear Governor Dan Evans report on the record of general revenue sharing. In my opinion, this represents a major domestic legacy. General revenue sharing has already put $11 billion of new money to work in the many units of state and local government.

I am proud of this achievement because I vividly recall the effective teamwork and support by you governors which was required to make Congress move away from the old categorical trend towards more flexible funding.

Fortunately for the 211,000,000 people, for the 50 states, and the innumerable local units of government, the new federalism is now a reality.

Now, if I might, let me discuss with you briefly another new responsibility that has just been given me that of Chairman of a special committee of the Domestic Council on the right of privacy. This has, I think, a special relevance to you as governors and to state government.

This committee is made up of the Secretaries of the Treasury, Defense, Commerce, Labor, HEW and the Attorney General. The six Cabinet offices most immediately concerned with privacy questions, plus the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, and the Directors of OMB, Telecommunications Policy and Consumer Affairs with the Executive Office of the President plus myself. The President announced this in a radio address two weeks ago.

He chose me as Chairman, I guess, because my own privacy has just been investigated more thoroughly than anybody since Eve ate the apple. I have never been one to duck debate, and since my right to debate has been sharply curtailed as Presiding Officer of the United States Senate, may I use this forum to express my disappointment that my oId friend from Michigan, Senator Phil Hart, chose on the basis of equal time to make a partisan network reply to the President's privacy speech last Saturday on behalf of the majority leadership of the Congress.

I say this not on the basis of what the Senator said. He may be surprised to know that I have read his full speech, as well as the President's, and I find much in both that I can agree with. There is, indeed, a great deal of similarity but because in moving to establish common sense safeguards for the fundamental rights of privacy I don't think we have the time for politiking, or the leisure to look back and tally up abuses which have been perpetrated in the past during this administration or that administration, or by this or that official, high or low.

My privacy committee is not going to compile lists of privacy horror stories, and apportion blame over four year periods of post war history. Neither am I going to cover up or make smoke screens for anything or for anybody.

What we are going to do, as long as I am Chairman, is to try and put a stop to unwarranted future invasions of individual privacy by the federal government or its agents, period. Our mandate is not just for another leisurely study. We have been given four months to come up with recommendations for action. I do not yet know enough about the subject to pop off with any profound conclusions but I promise you, here and now, this is going to be very serious business and by no means a narrow or politically partisan one.

The real bulwark of our privacy is, of course, in the Bill of Rights. These were added as the first ten amendments to the Constitution at the insistence of the governors and the legislatures of the thirteen original states as a condition of ratification. Thus it was from the states that the right of privacy, and other inalienable rights of individuals, came and it is still in the states that they must be safeguarded. So I appeal to you as governors to help me in this job in insuring the privacy of every American.

I do not want this to get started as a partison venture. While the Domestic Council is composed, to be sure, of Presidential appointees I can assure you that a broad spectrum of views on the subject already exists there. But I intend to solicit an even broader expression of opinion as I do from you governors from city and county officials; labor unions; business organizations; the academic community and the news media. Yes, even from the ivory tower intellectual establishments, as well as from the western and southern and midwestern intellectual establishments.

Preservation of the right to privacy is not merely a federal problem. It has certainly been complicated by the immense growth of federal power, and its concentration here in Washington. The remedy will not be found by more federal interference in the guise of policing against abuse. Much of the remedy, in my opinion, must be found at the state level and in this I ask your help again individually and collectively.

Among my prejudices which I previously acknowledged is an old fashioned prejudice in favor of the decent law abiding, hard working, long suffering, taxpayer. We must be careful to insure that it is his and her privacy we protect and not that-and I emphasize not that--of criminals, kidnappers and hijackers.

You governors, as the chief law enforcement officers of this nation, can help us maintain perspective in this regard. I am aware that much federal legislation has been proposed in this area. As a matter of fact, the Attorney General testified last week before a house subcommittee of the Committee on Judiciary on rather comprehensive legislative proposals.

There have been some excellent studies, one by the Department of HEW, and recommendations made in the past by this and other administrations. But I believe in looking forward rather than backward. I don't believe in replaying last Saturday's game, but in concentrating on the next one. I believe we must keep control of the ball.

One real danger lies in control of the computer system that now contains the names of over 150,000,000 Americans in computer banks located across the country. Even the best intentioned government bureaucracies thrive on information collection. That information is now stored in over 7,000 government computers.

Since there is no way to install a conscience in each computer, we must develop safeguards that prevent computers from becoming robots that deprive us of our essential liberties. The record keeping systems, unfortunately, affect people more than people can affect the systems.

Our committee will build on the excellent work already carried out. We will seek responsible views from every quarter in our society, and I sincerely invite the governors to designate an appropriate liaison group to work with us.

I respectfully urge you as chief executives of your own states to consider instituting similar studies at the state level. Some states are already working on this project.

Key areas of concern are the collection, storage, and use of personal data. We will examine how the federal establishment collects information on individuals, and how that information is protected or not protected. Also procedures to permit citizens to inspect and to correct data held by private or by public organizations. The regulation of the use and the dissemination of mailing lists, and ways that we can safeguard personal information against improper alteration or disclosure.

When government must intervene in the lives of people, it is the state and the local government which is usually in the best position to judge its limits.

As governors, you also amass data. That data brings with it a serious responsibility to guard against abuses, and I think this emphasizes the need for us to work together.

By mid summer of 1974, our committee will begin to provide a series of proposals of direct enforcible measures including regulations, executive actions, policy changes, legislation where necessary and voluntary restraints.

I welcome your cooperation in this agenda for action on privacy, and I look forward to working together with you in many other areas that have too long gone neglected. We must, together, harvest the resources and the skills, and the resolve of America, so that our public existence as a nation as well as our private existence as individuals will flourish.

I have faith in this nation; in its people; in its governors; in its administrators; in its legislators, and I hope that as our cooperation and our friendship develop I will continue to merit your trust. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

Gerald R. Ford, Remarks by the Vice President at the National Governors' Conference Winter Meeting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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