Is one of the things that you’re talking about a level of mutual respect between the political appointees and the careerists? Earlier you talked about what is clearly your great respect for the legislative process.
But also the political appointees respecting the expertise and experience of the careerists, is that part of it?
And the career guy respecting the process by which this [political] guy got his job. This guy has some access to the president of the United States, who has been selected by the people of the United States for four years to be the chief of their government. He is the guy, and he has chosen this man or this woman to be his representative for this segment of that responsibility. So this is a presidential appointee and he’s entitled to a lot of deference and a lot of respect. [But] he can’t make you violate the law, and he’s not an excuse for abusing your authority.
I was impressed when [Walter] Hickel became my secretary. I wrote a memorandum for him that outlined how he wanted the Park Service run. And I gave it to him. He invited me to ride to the Hill with him one afternoon. I had the draft and I took it with me and we got in the backseat, and Carl McMurray, his chief of staff, was in the front seat. Hickel started reading this thing and his face lit up like a candle. I’ve never seen a man who was reading something and every word you could tell was penetrating and shedding new light that he had never seen before. He read it, and he handed the first page to McMurray, and the second one, and the third one, and when he finished he said, “This is wonderful. The only thing I want changed is I don’t want you contracting out campground operations,” because I had started doing that because of the shortage of personnel. “I think the Park Service ought to continue to operate its own campgrounds. So you change that one sentence, and I’ll sign it.”
He said to McMurray, “Carl, as soon as I sign this memorandum, I want every agency in this department to write me a similar memorandum for how we’re going to manage them.” Of course it never happened. He never followed through. Most of why this occurs is that the political bureaucrat is so insecure as to what he wants to achieve that he will not write down what his vision is. And the career bureaucrat is so enmeshed in his bureaucracy and in his awe of the new political leadership that he will not volunteer to say to him, “Here is an idea that you might want to consider for your leadership.” Help him get over that mountain. The political appointee is just as insecure in his job as the career bureaucrat is in his, because he can fire you. In most career appointments he [the political appointee] can’t fire you, but he can move you out of that job in 90 days to Timbuktu if he wants to.
But the whole thing is, once he’s been there for two weeks he [the appointee] has got enough smarts to know that you can send him down so many dead-end roads that he’ll never find his way back. So I mean both have got their own advantages. They just don’t ever sit down and talk about how they are going to get the president’s job done. I think it’s the greatest tragedy of government that every president, when he comes in, doesn’t say to every cabinet officer, “In ninety days I want you to report to my chief of staff that you have an understanding with each agency in your department about how it is to be run for the next four years.”
Those cabinet officers, in my judgment, are equally uninformed. They have walked into a department the dimensions of which are enlightening to them every day. The most experience that they’ve had is (if they have practiced law in Washington) they know generally this area of that department’s responsibility. But they have no comprehension of the totality of the authority that they now have….
There is no superior in the White House or the departments who will say to the political appointees in the agencies, “How are we going to run this agency?” “How are we going to run it?” “What do we want to achieve?” “What are our objectives?” If he would just understand that he has a reservoir of talent that is incomparable to anything that he’s ever known in his life, no matter where else he’s been. Whether it’s academia, or business, or anywhere, I’ll put the government employee up against [people in any of these areas] for intelligence, for commitment, for ability, for vision, for insight, whatever category you want to evaluate…. I’ll take the government employee with me and put him beside anything that you’ve ever experienced. It is the most incomparable pool of talent, and they [the political appointees] let it go to waste by stupid damned arguments over, “We’re going to do this and we’re not going to do that.”
That was my biggest problem with new assistant secretaries, getting them to understand that if they wanted to move a mountain all they had to do was call me and I had people skilled in moving mountains. If they wanted to build a new vision, all they had to do was call me. I had people skilled in that, too, and they were all their people. They’re your people. They’re not my people. They’re your people. They work for the government. They work for the taxpayers. Now if you’re going to run a donnybrook, don’t call me, because I haven’t got anybody who runs donnybrooks.
When you were talking earlier, it did sound as though you had learned a lot during your earlier positions with the Park Service, things that really benefited your operations as director.
No question about it. And that experience in St. Louis was so illuminating, because Mayor Ray Tucker and I sat down and we understood, could see. Howard Baker took me down and introduced me to the mayor as the new superintendent. We had a nice discussion and that’s where I was advised that the relocation of the railroad track was to be under way by July 1, in my meeting with the mayor. I was scared beyond my intelligence to learn that, because here I was finding out stuff that I had never even dreamed about.
When that meeting was over and Howard left town the next day, the first call I made was to the mayor’s office, to go over and sit down and talk with him. That’s when we had a great conversation. I told him who I was. “I’m a country boy from South Carolina,” I said. “I know the bureaucratic game from square one, but I know nothing about big city politics.” That’s when he made that great statement. He said, “We’ve got a winner. You handle the paper and I’ll take care of the politics,” and that’s the way we worked it. I’d call his office and say, “This is a political game and I can’t move it.” And boy, he moved it.