Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

May 04, 1978

Held in Portland, Oregon

THE PRESIDENT. Good evening, everybody.

First of all, let me say that it's a great pleasure to be back here in Portland. I've come west on this trip to talk about the most pressing issues that we've faced-energy and environment, urban policy, agriculture, jobs, inflation, criminal justice, tax reform—and also to listen to what westerners have to say. Our national agenda is a full one. We have a lot to discuss and a lot to do.


One of the things at the very top of that list is making our Government work better. Reform of the civil service is the single most important step that we can take to ensure that the Government does what it's supposed to do meet the needs of the American people with a minimum of waste and a maximum of efficiency.

We all want a government that is worthy of confidence and respect. That's what civil service reform is all about. Westerners have an extra stake in the efficiency of the civil service in the Federal Government, because the Federal Government plays a larger role in the life of this region than perhaps in any other. For example, the amount of public land in the West gives you a special stake in Federal decisions in the way they are implemented.

Since so many critical decisions are made in Washington, and Washington is physically remote from the West, responsiveness of our Government depends upon the ability to learn your needs and to give them a full and a fair consideration. A government whose capital is a whole continent away has to be that much more alert and responsive and competent.

Two months ago, I submitted to the Congress a comprehensive program of reform for the civil service. My aim has been to clear a path for honest, hardworking, and industrious civil servants, and to give them the tools to get the job done.

I want to reward competence and dedication. I want to clear out the incompetence and the unresponsiveness that cheat the American taxpayer and give all governments a bad name. And I want to make government more effective by establishing clear assignments of responsibility and authority.

We need to put the work ethic back in public service, and we need to put merit back in the merit system.

We are trying to do that in a way that honors and protects every Federal employee's rights, while giving managers in the Federal Government the authority that they need to do their job.

It's virtually impossible now to discipline those Federal employees who fail to perform. This is an issue of efficiency and good management, but it goes beyond that. It's also an issue of the performance and the vigor, the very life of our democratic system.

I think the American people in the West and all across the country are going to be watching how the Congress handles this very difficult but very important assignment to reform the bureaucracy of our Government, the keystone of which is to make the civil service work better.

Mr. Cadera.



Q. Mr. President, Jim Cadera, the Oregonian. Soon you will receive recommendations from your staff on implementation of your proposal to increase lumber supplies by cutting more public and private timber. Will you allow a variance from the policy of even-flow in national forest timber harvesting if it is recommended? And I have a followup.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, what I am interested in, first of all, is to sustain the rate of harvest for our national forests on a constant basis in the years ahead. I would not want to have a crash program to harvest too much timber at this time. We now waste probably 6 billion board-feet of timber every year. So, we want to improve the efficiency of harvesting the public lands timber that we have now. We also want to make sure that after the logs are harvested, that the output of them is increased in efficiency, and we want to assess whether or not we need to improve or increase the harvesting on private and State lands.

But no matter what the recommendations are to me, I would increase production only to the extent that we could do this and have a constant future of sustained production in our national forests.


Q. Will you order the Office of Management and Budget to increase Forest Service job ceilings to allow intensive management and dramatically increase timber harvesting?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's one of the things that we'll be addressing within the next few weeks. We have, in the past, been putting out for sale 11, 12 billion boardfeet of lumber per year. And if there is a decision made to increase this harvest rate and to sustain our permanent harvest capability, then it might call for additional forest personnel. But I think, in any instance, what personnel we have working in our national forest needs to do a better job to enhance production of the forests that we have. There are about, I think, 300,000 acres of national forests in Oregon, Governor Straub told me, which was over-harvested in the past, which is now relatively nonproductive. This kind of over-harvesting in past years needs to be corrected. So, to improve the efficiency of production of the acres we have is a very important element, and it may take more personnel. If so, I would not hesitate to put them to work.


Q. Mr. President, have you resolved the IRS audit of your 1975 income taxes, and did you have to pay income taxes in 1977 and, if so, how much?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I had to pay income tax in 1977. I don't remember the exact figure, but it was a substantial amount. The 1975 audit, so far as I know, has not yet been completed. The last time I heard about it, the prospect was that it would be accurate within a couple hundred dollars.


Q. Mr. President, Boyd Levet, KGW, Portland. Federal officials tell us that there will be no permanent nuclear waste disposal program until the middle 1980's. Nuclear plants across the Nation will have filled their temporary storage facilities by then. What do you propose to do in the interim, and would you impose a storage site on a State that decided that it did not want to have a storage site?

THE PRESIDENT. We've had nuclear power for peaceful purposes now for more than 30 years. And I think you know that in addition to that, we've had the production of atomic materials for weapons even earlier. There never has yet been a workable Federal policy for disposing of nuclear wastes on a permanent basis in Richland, Washington, for instance, where early supplies were produced.

I visited there often while I was in the Navy, and the underground storage there has sprung some leaks in recent years that have been detected.

We are now looking into the prospect of storing nuclear wastes in underground caverns which are, perhaps, saltdome-type enclosures in some parts of the central Southwest.

We have also many commercial producers of atomic power who store their own spent nuclear fuel rods in various kinds of enclosures, both on the surface of the ground, in water tanks, and also buried underneath the surface of the ground.

By the end of this year, Dr. James Schlesinger will present to me a comprehensive proposal for a permanent waste disposal plan.

And to answer the last part of your question, I would not try to store nuclear wastes on any private lands in a State where opposition existed. There may be some very large military areas owned by the Federal Government where storage would be proper, and where there may be some opposition in a State. But we are trying to work that out now. One of the places we are looking at, for instance, is in New Mexico, and the process is including close consultations with local and State officials. It's a difficult problem that has not been resolved anywhere in the world yet.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Pat Wilkins from KATU, here in Portland. I would also like to ask a question about nuclear power, but it goes beyond the storage of nuclear waste.

I'm told by antinuclear groups here that their national goal is to shirt clown all nuclear plants. The tactic so far has been the same tactic that was used to shut down the Vietnam war—civil disobedience. Now, so far as our Trojan nuclear plant is concerned, that has so far resulted in about 200 arrests, and the consequent legal costs threaten to break the back of the tiny county trying the cases against them.

Now, more than that, the issue of nuclear power seems to be enlarging into an issue that could be seriously divisive for the people of the country as a whole. What I would like to know is, is this in your thinking, and do you have a plan to cope with such possibility?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our national policy is to permit planning, siting, and construction of nuclear powerplants. Obviously, this is a decision to be made by local and State officials. I think when I ran for President in 1976, there were referenda on the ballots in 22 States of varying forms to restrict the production of nuclear power in those States. In almost every instance, those referenda were voted down by the people who were residents of that area.

We have, I think, some very good existing regulations which protect the public from the siting of nuclear powerplants in places that are dangerous. And I believe that the best solution to this problem is for people to abide by the law and for the local or State governments and people, through referenda, to decide whether they want nuclear powerplants there.

Obviously, the State legislatures could pass a law prohibiting it. When I was Governor of Georgia, I did approve the construction of a nuclear powerplant in Georgia. It was located in a place that was acceptable to the environmentalists, of which I considered myself to be one. So, I think the best way to handle it is for people to abide by the law, let local and State officials work out the location of powerplants, and if people object to their being constructed at all, through the legislative process or through referenda, to prohibit their construction in a State.


Q. Mr. President, concerning your trip out here to the Western States and the upcoming congressional campaign, some Democrats have been quoted as saying you may prove more a liability than an asset in the upcoming campaign. Assuming you disagree with that, sir, how do you respond, and how active will you be in the congressional campaign?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if I bad beard that from any Democrat, which I haven't, I would certainly not require them to attend the political rallies and the events in which I participate. I have no control over Members of the Congress. But I've never heard one say that. As a matter of fact, hardly a day goes by that some Members of the Congress—Governors don't request that I go with them to campaign in their States. I've been in two States so • far already on the trip; one in Colorado, where there was a very strong and constructive relationship between me and the congressional delegations, some of whom were running for reelection, the Governors involved, and I think there's a very warm reception for me also.

So, I feel very good about the trip; don't think I'm a political handicap for Democrats who are running for office. If any of them think so, then their proximity to me is a voluntary matter.


Q. Connie Thompson with KOMO Television in Seattle, Washington. With growing pressure on your administration not to drastically reform the Nation's water policy, and also in light of the critical water supply picture, what, or how much of a reform do you plan to make in the Nation's water policy? What would be the reasons for any changes in your earlier plan for reform in that policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Long before I became President, there was a growing series of conflicts in this country concerning the use of water—conflicts between native Americans and white Americans; conflicts between environmentalists and those who desire increased power production from damming up free-flowing streams; conflicts between agricultural users, primarily for irrigation, and the producers of minerals and, particularly, fuel, like coal—and many of these longstanding disputes had begun to reach a crisis stage, resulting in interminable lawsuits, divisiveness, arguments, debates. And also, there had never been created in our country a comprehensive water policy that was evolved through close consultation among those conflicting groups.

We had never, either, had a way for Governors, mayors, Members of Congress, the President, the Cabinet, to consult with one another, to say, this is what we hope to do in the future with the water supplies that we have. And we've never had a way to set priorities on the expenditure of Federal and .other funds.

Quite often we have approved, in the Congress, dams and other water projects that had a very low benefit-cost ratio. Sometimes they cost much more than the total benefits ever to be derived from a water project, because a Member of Congress had enough seniority or influence or the patience to wait for his or her project to get to the top of the list and be financed with public funds. There's a limited amount of money that can be spent for these very expensive water projects. And I want to be sure that when we do approve a project—and there will be many approved, I'm sure, in the future under my administration and others-that the most needed projects are the ones that get funded first, and that we don't continue to waste money on projects that are not needed and that are wasteful and, sometimes, even dangerous.

So, I think the evolution of the water policy is a very constructive thing. It's long overdue. We will have the water policy options presented to me when I get back to Washington. This next week my own staff and Secretary Andrus will be meeting with the staff, Members of Congress, and also the Governors, and the following week I will meet with the Western Governors. And then I will make a decision on what the water policy of our country should be. Many of those decisions will have to later be considered by Congress.

But I think the whole process is a very constructive one, long overdue, badly needed, to be sure we do harness water and use water to the best advantage in the future, protecting the interests of the people who are involved.


Q. Are you willing to compromise on the number of warplanes you propose to sell to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in order to achieve congressional approval of those sales? And the second part of my question is, do you see the same linkage between Saudi Arabian support of the American dollar and oil prices that Sheik Yamani did last week when he looked at the sale?

THE PRESIDENT. I think Sheik Yamani has recently denied saying what was reported from him about a close interconnection between continued involvement with the American dollar and friendship between Saudi Arabia and the United States and the sale of warplanes to Saudi Arabia. I think he's denied that.

I think the proposals that we have made to Congress—to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel for warplanes—ought not to be changed at all, and I hope and expect that the Congress will approve this proposal as we submitted it.

Obviously, there will be a lot of hard work to be done in the Congress. We'll be presenting testimony to the House committee on the 8th and 9th of May—and we've also testified yesterday for 6 or 7 hours in the Senate committee. I think we will win tills proposal because it's right, it's good for our country, very badly needed.

One of the most crucial elements of a permanent maintenance of peace in the Middle East and the security of Israel is for us to have a relationship with the moderate Arab nations, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where they depend upon us to keep our word and where there is a clear recognition of the friendship and mutual trust between our countries.

We have provided these planes for Saudi Arabia, not to attack Israel; they are a defensive type of airplanes. And the Saudis have ordered configuration or appurtenances on the planes, fittings on the planes that are defensive in nature. So, they are designed and needed to defend Saudi Arabia. I see no reason to change any of those proposals.


Q. Mr. President, Ted Natt of the Daily News in Longview, Washington. Today there was more bad news about the economy. The wholesale price index went up a larger than usual amount. Do you have a point in your mind beyond which you'll take stronger action on inflation than you've taken thus far and, if so, what is it, where is that point?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't intend to impose wage and price controls. We are consulting now with labor and business leaders to get them to reduce their rate of increase of both wages and prices below what they did the last 2 years. We call that deceleration of inflation. And I'm going to be very strict in vetoing any proposals that the Congress makes that would increase the deficit that we already face for next year's fiscal budget, 1979.

My own admonitions to the American people—I spoke to the lawyers today and asked them to hold down their rate of fee increases. They have increased professional fees, maybe news people included, in the last 5 years, even more than oil prices have gone up. And so, I think that this is going to be a matter for all Americans to address. Everyone wants other people to be the ones to take action to hold down inflation, to hold down wages, to hold down prices, but it is going to have to be a common effort. And I'll do everything I can within the power of the Presidency to hold down the inflation rate.

A year ago, my primary consideration was putting American people back to work. And the Congress rallied with me, the American people, the private business sector rallied with me, and we've had remarkable success in the last 15 months in bringing the unemployment rate down.

We added more than 4 million jobs last year. I think the unemployment rate. in Oregon went down 3 full percentage points. And now we're going to address the same degree of determination to holding down the inflation rate without abandoning our effort to further reduce the unemployment rate.

Q. Mr. President, to follow that up, if I may: General Motors' response to your deceleration program was to announce an average increase of about $100 on each, or most, new model lines. A.T.&T.'s response, with estimated profits this year of $5 to $6 billion, was a statement by Chairman deButts that A.T.&T. probably would need a rate increase this year. And the response of several unions has been that they do, indeed, consider the coal settlement as a pattern for wage increases next year of 10, 12, or 13 percent.

In the light of that, what possible assurance can you give the American people that there is going to be any progress in fighting inflation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't guarantee success. The only thing I can do is the best effort in my power. I can't mandate action by those people involved. That's not compatible with what I've heard from Tom Murphy, who is head of General Motors, or Mr. deButts, who's head of A.T.&T. My hope is still that from the automobile manufacturers—Ford, General Motors, and others—that they will hold their price increases below the 6 percent average for the last 2 years.

And we have two major labor settlements this year, as you know—railroads and Post Office employees.

We're going to do the best we can—I, Bob Strauss, and others—to hold down those wage settlements below the average that they got for the last 2 years on a nationwide wage-rate basis. And I believe we have a good chance to succeed. But it's going to take the concerted effort of all Americans to hold down the inflation rate. It's not something that government can do by itself. It's not something that one labor union can do by itself, nor one major corporation.

There's a common goal that we share not only with Americans but also with other countries. But it's a top priority in my economic package this year to hold down the inflation rate, and I hope that we'll have equal success as we did with unemployment last year.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Randy Lewis, KEDO Radio in Longview, Washington. You mentioned native Americans a while ago. And that brings me to a question that's quite serious in the State of Washington, where there is growing resentment toward some land claims that native Americans are making, claiming treaty rights. There's also resentment that the Federal Government is taking an active role in supporting these land claims against the property rights of non-Indians. Are you aware of this feeling, and do you think there is a reassessment of this Federal role needed?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I'm aware of the feeling, of course. As you know, the disputes between native Indians and other Americans have been growing in recent years, primarily through the Federal courts. The ruling in this area concerning harvesting of fish between Indians and other Americans has been one of great importance to me and, I know, of high interest to all the people in this area.

We've had our Secretaries of Interior and Commerce working with the Department of Justice, trying to evolve a compromise between Indians and other Americans to try to take this case out of court.

We had a similar case that came to a head in Maine. I appointed Judge William Gunter to work out a compromise between the Indians and other residents in that area, and, hopefully, we can reach a solution there.

The Federal Government is charged with the responsibility of representing the Indian claims. Secretary Cecil Andrus, Department of Interior, is in the audience here.

And this creates an additional problem for us, but what we want is fairness and equity between native Americans and others. The case is not one that I can resolve from the White House. We can use our good offices as an intermediary, sometimes add negotiating services, and the members of my Cabinet can work with all elements involved. But even then, we have to get permission from the judges in the Federal courts to intercede, even to that degree.

Congress has acted in several instances with legislation which I have signed into law. But it's a longstanding problem. It's one that I hope we can resolve in the next few years. There are high disputes on both sides, and great quantities of money involved. It's a serious problem, one that we did not create, but it's been growing in importance for decades.

That's about the best answer I can give you. I don't know an easy answer to it.


Q. What is your view, Mr. President, of the South African military action against Angola taken today, and what can the United States do in this case?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our Congress and my predecessor in the White House finally reached an agreement that we would not intercede in Angola, a decision with which I agree. We are not about to send American troops to Angola to participate in a war in that western African country.

We want to see peace maintained. There have been so-called UNITA forces under Savimbe, operating in the southeastern part of Angola ever since the last war a couple of years ago. President Neto, who heads up the government in Angola, has been quite concerned about this. There are about 20,000 Cubans, also, in Angola supporting the Neto government.

Savimbe has denied to some of the European leaders with whom I've talked any supply of weapons or supply or other armaments from South Africa. I think he does get supplies from some other sources, not from us. But we have no intention to intercede in any war in Angola.


Q. Mr. President, Don Porter, KGW TV News, here in Portland. Sir, before you arrived much was written and said and made of the fact you are perceived by critics to have been unresponsive to problems of the West. Today, there's a new national poll that shows only 29 percent of those questioned think you are doing a good or excellent job as President. Presumably, you don't agree with these perceptions. My question is, do you think these perceptions hamper you in what you are trying to accomplish, and if so, do you have plans to try to counter them?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, one of the ways to counter them is to come to places where my policies might 'be in dispute or misunderstood and try to clarify the issues that are very difficult to solve and which involve not only me but involve the Congress, the Governors, mayors, and private citizens of our Nation.

We have addressed some issues that are very difficult to resolve. The unemployment rate was very high, the inflation rate was very high, the growth in our country was quite low and disturbing. We didn't have a strong enough relationship with the countries of Africa and Europe. The Middle East dispute has been going on for 30 years. We needed very badly and still need to have a SALT agreement with the Soviet Union. And we had been negotiating on the Panama Canal treaties for 14 years before I became President.

And we've tried to address these issues as strongly and as openly and as aggressively as is humanly capable to do. In addition to that, we've tried to bring some order out of chaos of some of the problems in the Federal Government—with welfare reform, the creation of a Department of Energy, to have a comprehensive energy policy for the first time, to put the civil service back in the proper working order, and all of these 'things cause some disturbance in the political structure of our country.

I feel very sure that almost all of the attempts that we have made are in the best interests of the American people. And I believe that as they are understood, that the present low rating in the polls will be improving. So, I am hopeful that my popularity in the polls will go up. I think any politician would feel the same, but I'm satisfied with the administration's progress so far. I've also found a very good reception on this trip to the West—better, I might say, than the last time I was out here.

Let me get Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News].


Q. Mr. President, this week you and some members of your administration have indicated there is not a new SALT compromise reached when Secretary Vance was in Moscow. Could you tell us what the United States has on the negotiating table in terms of SALT negotiations and whether the chances are better than remote that you and President Brezhnev would meet this summer?

THE PRESIDENT. We have not discussed any time for President Brezhnev to come here to the United States to meet with me. We extended him an invitation in the early days of my administration, because the last visit had been by President Ford to Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. I think the essence of it is that he is likely to come over here when we see a SALT agreement imminent, so that he and I, perhaps, can resolve the last, very few remaining issues that the negotiators can't resolve themselves.

Our determination is that any SALT agreement would protect the ability of the United States to defend itself against any conceivable attack. We would also insist upon the maintenance of equivalent capability, destructive power, between the nuclear armaments of our country and the Soviet Union. And on top of that, any SALT agreement would have to provide for adequate proof, verifiability of the other nation carrying out the terms of the agreement.

This is a very complicated subject. We have made a lot of progress in the last year, and my hope is that we can reach an agreement this year. But there are still several issues that have not been resolved.

Q. Have you put number figures, can you put number figures on what the United States is proposing at this point?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think the American proposal has been revealed 4 or 5 months ago with the number of MIRV's that can be kept, the number of landbased missiles that can be kept by each side, and the total number of missiles of all kinds that can be kept. That's our proposal, but we've not reached agreement on all those matters, because they are interrelated. Any yielding on our part involving one of those figures would have to result in an equivalent advantage to our country by the Soviets yielding on a comparable figure.

We have not reached any point yet for revealing the details of our recent discussions with the Soviet Union.

HELEN THOMAS [United Press International]. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Carter's thirty-first news conference began at 7:30 p.m. in the Ballroom at the Portland Hilton Hotel. It was broadcast live on radio and television.

Jimmy Carter, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245668

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