Let’s look more at administration in terms of the organization of the National Park Service. As I understand, you did institute a number of reorganizations.
Well, they’ve got a movie on that. You ought to get the movie. Harpers Ferry [Center] made it, for the party they gave me when I got fired. It was titled “Reorganization.” And it shows me walking down the hall and every door I entered was a reorganization.
You created some new offices, like the Office of Urban Affairs, a law enforcement office in the headquarters. If you want to talk specifics, that’s fine, but I’m also interested in just what your guiding principle was in reorganizing. How were you framing that? What in general were you hoping to accomplish by reorganizing various elements of the Park Service headquarters specifically?
Well, I was trying to respond to what I perceived to be the need of the organization to respond to an urban society, and the requirements of that urban society. At the same time I was trying to maintain or recover the vibrancy and the youth of the National Park Service in its innovative years following its establishment and in the 1930s. And I allude to that in that paper [reference to Hartzog’s memo, “Supplemental Remarks”] I gave you. Those were the two most innovative periods in the history of the Park Service, after its establishment in 1917 and then in 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt reorganized government and made government responsive to the Great Depression and the needs of the population. I was trying to recapture that vitality.
I was trying to respond to what I perceived to be a new challenge, at the same time to recapture the vitality that no longer seemed to be there. And I don’t know that the philosophy of it was more profound than that.
That’s just what you’ve been describing though. That really was your overarching [philosophy].
You spoke a little in our previous interview about what you perceived as the appropriate role for superintendents and giving superintendents more authority. What about the role of regional offices? Would you describe how you viewed the role of regional offices?
Yes. The regional office was my management center for the concentration of parks with instructions that it was to monitor what was going on in the big parks, but it was to provide supplemental service and assistance to the small areas that didn’t have the same level of professional expertise as Yellowstone did. As a matter of fact, when I found that the regions were not uniformly doing that,… I even organized state offices so that we limited the authority of the regional director in supervising the superintendents. I put them under a state director with the idea of giving them the additional professional support they needed. So the regional office performed an essential function in my concept of organization. Its role was to encourage and to promote and assist the small area that didn’t have the same level of professional support.
We spent some time talking about cultural resources and historic sites, but we didn’t get to natural resources. Before we talk a little bit about that, I’d be interested in hearing you talk about how you balanced your attention to cultural resource issues with attention to natural resource issues.
I don’t think I divided it. I thought I had two of the most competent people in our organization to head each of these areas. [For natural resources] I was fortunate to get our first chief scientist, Starker Leopold, who was the son of the famous Aldo Leopold, and [for cultural resources] Ernest Connally, who was a professor of the history of architecture at the University of Illinois, [to head the new Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation]. I felt those were pretty capable people to advise me in those two areas, so I tried not to be the onsite manager, except for personnel and budget and legislation. Then I wanted to know what was happening. If I knew what was happening in operations evaluation then I was comfortable with letting other people do the work.
What was the impact of Starker Leopold’s report?
Oh, it was fabulous. It changed the whole attitude about natural history management in the Park Service.…When I came to the Park Service as director, we had a $12,000 budget for research. One of the recommendations of the Leopold committee was we had to revitalize the research program of the National Park Service. So I went to see the chairman of our [House Committee on] Appropriations Subcommittee [on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies], Mike [Rep. Michael J.] Kirwan, who was a very powerful member of the legislature, and about whom I write significantly in my book. Mike was a great friend of parks. He was a great personal friend of my predecessor, Connie Wirth. With Wirth’s ideas and his power he implemented Mission 66 after World War II.
I said to him, “Mr. Chairman, I got this report. The secretary has approved it and directed me to do something about research.” And he sat and looked at me very intently as I’m looking at you and he said, “Research.” Put his hand on his chin and he said, “Research.” He said, “George, that’s what NIH [National Institutes of Health] does. What the hell are you doing it for?” And that was my response from the Congress on research.
Faced with that I came back and I said, “You know, we’re never going to get that money. We’ve got to change the concept.” And we did. We changed it to resource studies. I went back to see him and I said, “You know, we’re not going to do research, but we’ve got these fantastic resources and we’ve got to study to see what’s going on out there.” “All right,” he said, so he funded resource studies.
The Congress went even further with me. While we were going in this period of expansion and innovation, they agreed that I could withhold from the appropriation an administrative reserve to solve immediate problems that came up. And I did. I withheld 5 percent of my appropriation, which I controlled. That’s how I moved change in the National Park System. When I wanted something changed and called a superintendent and said, “I’d like it changed,” the first thing he did was look at it and say, “I don’t have any money.” My response was, “If you would like to implement this change, tell me how much you think it will cost you and I will give you the money, and I will put it in your budget next year.” And then I got change done. I got a lot of work done through that reserve. That money funded the innovative programs for serving people, Summer in the Parks, Parks for All Seasons, Living History [program], all of those things that went to make our parks responsive to an urban environment came out of that reserve.
In an earlier interview, you talked about Congress’s tendency to support existing programs. They were much more hesitant to support innovations. Was that [administrative reserve] a way of accommodating that fact?
Absolutely. That was. I mean the innovation of my getting Summer in the Parks started with Mrs. [Julia Butler] Hansen. I took her to lunch for the sole purpose of getting her to agree to landscape the block behind the Civil Service building, which was brand new, in accordance with Mrs. Johnson’s beautification program. So after lunch I had the [park] police officer drive us by there and I said to her, “Madame Chairman, this is what Mrs. Johnson would like to have landscaped this spring, and I need so many hundred thousands for it.” She looked at me and she said, “George, I’ve given Lady Bird all of the money I’m going to give her this year, so you can forget it.”
At which point I said to the park policeman, “Take me to Lincoln Park.” That’s that little park east of the National Capitol with the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune in it. And fortunately for me it was a nice, warm day, and little children were all over the street playing basketball. The park was disheveled, unkempt, a first-class mess. He slowed down, in some cases had to stop for them to retrieve their ball as he drove us around the park. As he got around on the other side, I said to her, “Madame Chairman, what would you think about doing something about this?” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Getting those youngsters off the street and in that park.” She said, “If you’ve got a program to do that I’ll finance it.” I said, “I’ve got one. It’s called Summer in the Parks.” She said, “How much?” I said, “$275,000.” She said, “I’ll add it.” With that she gave me $275,000 to start Summer in the Parks, and that
summer we put 300,000 of those children in the parks. For less than $1.00 a piece we got them off the street instead of feeding them to the drug and crime mills of the District of Columbia.