Shirley Sears Chater. SSA History Archives.
This an oral history interview in the SSA Oral History Collection. The interviewee is SSA Commissioner Shirley S. Chater.The interviewer is Larry DeWitt, SSA Historian.This interview took place on 01/16/97 in the Commissioner's Office at SSA Headquarters in Baltimore.
Interviewer: Commissioner, could we start by having you describe a little bit for us the process that one goes through when you are offered the job of Commissioner and the confirmation process, the visits you make to Capital Hill and just the whole process of becoming Commissioner. How does that work? Can you tell us a little bit of how it worked in your case?
Chater: It’s a very exciting prospect to be called and invited to come and work in the government and I think everyone of us who has received one of those phone calls felt especially pleased that we were selected to at least consider a position.
Once I thought about it, I think my first step was to be present in Washington. I was invited to come and meet with some of the personnel in the Department of Health and Human Services. I met specifically, with Donna Shalala, who is the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and some of her key staff members who talked to me about how big the organization was and what its budget was and how many people we had working for Social Security and some of the issues that were before the Agency both present and in the future. And all of that enabled me to make a decision based on some early exploration about whether this was the right job for me.
After you say, "yes," of course, there are lots of appointments that you really, that one probably doesn't think about. I guess my first appointment after that was a meeting with White House Personnel where I was questioned about my background, my interest in the position and also questions that pertained to anything that might come up in my past history that would embarrass the government or embarrass the White House or most particularly the President.
And so it causes you to think back over your entire life about what you did and what you didn't do and you have to answer questions about having paid income taxes and so on.
So all of that took place, and that was followed by my decision to say, "yes” and “I’m very much looking forward to doing that." And then, of course, you have things to do back home, like tell your own Board of Regents, at the University in my case, that I was thinking of a government position.
Shortly after the initial conversations, which I believe came in the Spring of 1993, I was invited then to come to Washington as a consultant. One can't become the Commissioner without confirmation by the Senate. So I came as a consultant for the months during the summer. During which time I had the distinct pleasure of filling out all those forms.
Unfortunately, they don't tell you in the beginning that you've got several sets of forms to fill out and by the time you've filled out the first set it’s too late to back out. But the forms have everything on them about you plus all of your financial information so they are tedious and there have been many discussions among my colleagues and me about how awful it is to have to fill all of those out. But, never the less, they are required and you can understand why, because we want to avoid conflicts of interest.
And then came the actual confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. The staff at Social Security Administration, of course, had by this time briefed me on major issues and had prepared me well. That confirmation went well. I had my Texas Senators introduce me and they, because they knew me in Texas, made some very nice introductions. Then the hearing went well and the Committee voted and so I was indeed, confirmed.
Later, Secretary Shalala had a swearing-in ceremony in her office--almost immediately thereafter--so that I could become the official Commissioner and begin to sign papers and so on.
We then scheduled another swearing-in ceremony sometime later, so that we could have that at the Baltimore headquarters office so that our own employees could be present and participate in the swearing-in ceremony and reception that followed.
Interviewer: Could I ask you one other thing about courtesy visits to members of Congress on Capital Hill? Did you go through a round of those, was that important? Did that happen in your case?
Chater: Yes, I made many visits to the Hill, mostly to the members of Congress who served on the various Social Security committees and most especially to the Senate Finance Committee which was, of course, the Committee to plan the confirmation hearing and to actually vote on my candidacy.
I met everyone one-on-one, and it was mostly a get to know you situation, and we discussed some issues of Social Security, but it was mostly a get acquainted session.
Interviewer: On the question of issues or goals and agenda, as you came to the job, did Secretary Shalala or the White House or yourself have a set agenda that you wanted to accomplish before you as you came in? Were there discussions of that kind, "Here’s what we hope you will do in your first year or whatever?"
Chater: Neither the White House nor the Department of Health and Human Services handed me a specific agenda, but both the White House and the Secretary made it very clear that there was a great deal of support for Social Security, that this was indeed the best loved domestic program, and that we would all work together to do what we could to maintain the program in the best possible way.
The Secretary had some ideas that, not just Social Security, but other agencies in government as well, needed to streamline, to reexamine its vision, its mission, to take a look at the way we carried out our mission. That seemed to be a goal for every Federal Agency, mostly because of the President and the Vice President’s agenda on reinventing government.
So there was this overall notion that to come into Social Security and to take a look at how it was structured and how we did our business was important, and particularly at this time. And, of course, as you know, we’ve done that.
Interviewer: Okay. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to come to SSA as a Commissioner coming from the "outside" what your first impressions were and what struck you; was it a culture shock in any way? Tell us what it was like to arrive as a new Commissioner and a political appointee.
Chater: The size is, of course, so different from any other organization in the outside world that I am sure that must be a surprise to anyone. Social Security is one of the largest organizations in government with sixty-five thousand employees and to try to think how one might communicate with sixty-five thousand employees was a first consideration that I had.
I have always been very keen on communicating with the employees in whatever size the organization is, and just the idea of how we would do that for so many employees was difficult to think about. Nevertheless, as you know, we decided to do Commissioner’s Broadcasts, the use of e-mail, and the use of our satellite technology to be able to talk to people all over the agency. So it turned out not to be an insurmountable problem.
But the other overwhelming impression that I had, almost from the very first day, has to do with the employees. I really have never met a group of more committed and dedicated employees in any position that I have ever held.
I have often felt that the employees at Social Security are a self selected group of people who come here because they want to work with people. And they do; and they do it with a great deal of care and concern. I was initially struck by that and that impression is still with me as I leave the agency.
Interviewer: Good. How about problems or pressing needs or things that we needed to do right away? Were there any that particularly stood out? I know that I want to ask you in a minute about your three key goals for the agency. But before you formulated those three broad goals did you have any immediate issues that you had to deal with when you got here?
Chater: One immediate realization I would say, has to do with resources. I was astonished that the administrative overhead cost of running the Social Security Administration was about one percent and that remains so today. It just seemed to me that one percent was an indication of too few resources to do the monumental amount of work that needs to be done. That was a first impression. My first impression was how to get more resources.
But the second impression, that came very shortly thereafter, had to do with a whole reinventing government goal of the Clinton Administration. And so it became very clear, very early, that there would be no more resources. And, that all government agencies were being asked to reinvent what we do and how we do it. And so I adopted that as an opportunity to impress upon the Agency that we really needed to examine what we do and how we do it and to look and see how we can do things differently and become more efficient and more economical in our approach.
So those were initial impressions that have stayed with me throughout the entire Administration during these three and a half years.
Interviewer: Okay. Let’s talk about your three key goals for the Agency that you eventually articulated, which were, of course, to provide world-class service, rebuild public confidence in Social Security and provide a supportive work environment for employees. Tell us a little bit of how you came to those goals and what they meant to you and how we’ve done during your tenure on those three goals--in broad terms.
Chater: Well, the goals were formulated by talking with the Deputy Commissioners and others in the Agency. They were not selected by me alone. But I did consider, for example, the goals that we chose had to be consistent, somewhat consistent with the past, while at the same time taking us into the future. And in that way we would both honor the traditions of the Agency which I think is important, but also find ways to move forward to the next century.
So I wanted goals that were forward looking. They had to be goals that were in keeping with the National Performance Review, and they had to be few in number and yet broad enough to take into account all of the things that we had to do.
And so the three goals were selected quite deliberately so we didn't have six and we didn't have twelve because I felt that in a four year term of office one can only achieve so much and we want to put our attention on major goals. And so these three that were then chosen seemed to me to give us an opportunity to move forward, but at the same time not change in a terribly big way the goals and the values of the employees who were here.
Interviewer: All right, let’s talk about each of these goals a little bit and how we have done during your tenure, how you have seen them evolve. How well have we done during your tenure on these three goals?
Chater: I think the agency has done extremely well on the three goals. They have served as a vision for us. They have served to keep us on track. They have served us well in finding performance measures for the three goals. And therefore, I feel that they have served us well. We have made a tremendous amount of progress in three and a half years in achieving these goals.
Interviewer: How about the specific goals? I see a lot of progress as well in world class service and supportive environment for employees. Rebuilding public confidence has been a harder goal in my perception of things. Do you see that we have made significant progress on that issue as well as the other two?
Chater: Well, our statistics and our research data suggest to us that when we look at specific means to achieve this goal of achieving or enhancing public confidence we have made progress. Overall, of course, between the time I came and now, we’ve had the Advisory Council Report on the solvency related issues in Social Security and that has caused a tremendous amount of discussion which will continue into the future.
My impression was then and is now that we need primarily and first of all to educate the American public about the Social Security program to better prepare them for entering into a dialogue about the long term framework of the program. So, all of that is ongoing.
Interviewer: All right, let me ask you about a couple of specific initiatives and things that we have done during your tenure. One of them of course is the Disability Process Redesign which was a major undertaking and which we announced early in your tenure. Tell us please your perspective on the Redesign and how it has developed during your tenure.
Chater: Under the major goal of providing world class service to our customers, the Disability program surfaced as a major attention getter and having a committee actually take a look at how we could redesign the entire Disability process and taking claims seemed to be a number one priority.
It was unacceptable to all of us in the Agency that people would have to wait so very long to hear about the decisions and whether or not they qualified for disability. And then again they had to wait an enormous long period of time if they were turned down and asked for a hearing.
And so having a Redesign plan in mind to simply start over in taking a look at the disability process was important. I think that we have done extremely well. It has been difficult. It has been difficult because people rarely understand a five year project, and this is definitely a five year project.
So we started. It was announced in 1994. We started working on the project in 1995, and we know by the year 2000 we will see some very specific results. We’ve seen many small results during this interval, but we are continuing with the Disability Redesign. I think most of our employees are enthusiastically behind it, and I think that most of us have accepted the fact that it simply must be redesigned in order to serve our customers the way that we like to serve them.
Interviewer: Good. Let me ask you about an SSA organizational issue. SSA, of course, has a Commissioner and a Principal Deputy Commissioner. You also introduced the position of Chief of Staff. Now I wonder if you would talk a little bit about the respective roles of those three top officials at SSA, the Commissioner, the Principal Deputy and the Chief of Staff from your perspective.
Chater: It is important to remember that we didn't establish the Chief of Staff position until after we became an independent agency, because only independent agencies and Cabinet Officers had a Chief of Staff.
With an independent agency status and less oversight from the Department of Health and Human Services, it seemed extremely important that we have a Chief of Staff who could, in addition to other duties, serve as a liaison from the Agency to The White House and the political agenda.
And the Office of the Chief of Staff was then created and we hired somebody to come in and serve as our Chief of Staff. So we now, as you have indicated, have the Principal Deputy as well as the Chief of Staff.
The Principal Deputy in the Social Security Administration is really the chief operating officer and is responsible for making sure that what we say we do is done not only in a timely manner, but is done with the highest quality.
The Chief of Staff’s position is one of coordinator, facilitator, liaison with the White House and other members of external agencies close to government. He brings to us, I believe, a political perspective, a public advocacy perspective if you will.
The Principal Deputy is, as I said, the chief operating officer who has much more of an internal perspective. And I don't mean to suggest that the Principal Deputy doesn't work with external groups, but I think their principal roles are differentiated based on what I have already said.
Interviewer: How about the role of the Commissioner? How do you see the Commissioner’s role?
Chater: Well, the Commissioner is the leader of the group, assumes the leadership position and mostly setting a vision, articulating the goals over and over and over again, communicating the goals and the progress made in achieving those goals for the entire Agency, and making sure that there is an implementation in place that gets the performance measures where they ought to be in this whole scheme of evaluating what we do. So I see the Commissioner as he or she who serves in the leadership position, who provides the vision and the motivation to the agency.
The Commissioner also has to be involved, of course, in the operations of the Agency because I don't believe you can separate internal functions from external functions. But primarily the Commissioner is the visionary leader, the cheerleader, the motivator, and the determiner of policy together with other members of the Agency of course.
Interviewer: And has it worked out as what you have described as sort of the ideal as how the Commissioner functions? Have the demands on your time been such that that's how it worked for you? What has your experience been in terms of the demands on the Commissioner? Anything striking about that? Anything that surprised you in terms of what you spend your time doing?
Chater: The demands on the Commissioner are enormous. It is not uncommon to have a sixteen hour day, one after the other, after the other, after the other, because there are many, many, evening activities to which one is expected to go. There are many late afternoon, early evening meetings that the White House calls with very short notice. There are advocacy groups to which your attendance for either meetings or special celebrations are required and noticed if not present.
So the demands on the Commissioner are enormous, just keeping track of the paper flow and keeping up with the paper that comes across the desk, in addition to all of these external activities. So it has worked pretty well to know that we have a good Executive Staff in place who will make the implementation plans work, to share that information with the Commissioner, and vice versa.
Interviewer: Okay. Another key aspect of the Agency’s life during this time has been partnership. The idea of partnership with employee unions. We have a Partnership Council with AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees). I wonder if you would talk just a little bit about partnership and the Partnership Council and how you have seen that work.
Chater: The Partnership Council, as you know, came about because of an Executive Director asking all Federal agencies to enter into partnership with the union. And the objective here was, and remains, how to solve problems together.
We've had a union management partnership, not only at the Agency level, but we have had very, very successful partnership groups at levels of the District Offices and middle management and so on. My impression is that those have worked much, much, better than the one at the Agency level.
It is a bit of a disappointment to me frankly that we haven't been able to move more quickly, for example, on the Disability Reengineering proposal because we have to pause so frequently to take into account arbitration or mediation about a particular issue when I would much prefer for the partnership to sit at a table and problem solve the issue and then move forward in the solution of a problem.
And I think part of the difficulty here is that union members come to the table with a history of negotiation and the managers come to the table with a history of team building and problem solving. And so you have two philosophies that come into conflict with each other.
So we haven't progressed in my opinion on the Agency level union management partnership as quickly and as effectively as I wish we had.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about an independent agency for a little bit. In 1994, President Clinton signed a law making SSA an independent agency again for the first time since 1939 when we lost that status.
Can you talk a little bit about the period of time when that legislation was being considered? For example I believe that SSA initially opposed the idea, and I am wondering how you saw that all develop and what your views were on the issue of independent agency status before the legislation passed.
Chater: Well, it is important to remember here that this discussion about making the Social Security Administration an independent agency is not the first time that this came up. In fact, Senator Moynihan reminded me on several occasions that it had taken eleven to thirteen years to make Social Security an independent agency. So it wasn't a new idea. But it was also done, when the law was actually signed and when the discussions that preceded the law were going on, it was all done in the context of the National Performance Review.
It seemed to me personally that it was a bit of a dilemma to be talking about the creation of another independent agency at a time when the National Performance Review initiative would push us in the direction of fewer government agencies and more efficient smaller groups of people working on a particular problem. So to me personally, there was a bit of a conflict about why we were creating additional administrative expense at the same time that we were supposed to be downsizing and restructuring our agencies.
Nevertheless, the arguments were persuasive. The argument that Social Security being as large as it is ought to be independent, that we were far bigger than many of the small independent agencies, that we needed increased visibility, that having that increased visibility would increase our accountability to the public, and in general the idea was that increased visibility would also enhance the public’s confidence in the program. And, all of those were very good reasons for making the Agency independent.
I believe that it was that context of the National Performance Review which caused some of us to wonder if this was the right time to be thinking about this. But, nevertheless, the Administration did sign the law, and we became independent. Dr. Shalala and I worked together very, very, closely to assure a very seamless transition. It has indeed been successfully seamless, so much so that there are some people that still don't realize that we are independent.
Interviewer: All right. Good. After SSA became an independent agency, one of the features of that legislation was that the Commissioner would be appointed for a six-year term. And that meant that you had to be apparently renominated and go back for a second confirmation before the Senate Finance Committee. And that Hearing was held, but the Senate never acted on your nomination. Could you describe for us those events from your perspective and how that all unfolded?
Chater: Yes, one of the ideas of having the Social Security Administration become independent was to also provide some stability. The Agency has a long history of Commissioners who served for a very short period of time. I myself, for example, when I leave the Administration at the end of this month, will have served longer as the Commissioner than anyone else since 1977. And so the legislators wrote into the law that the Commissioner would serve a six-year term instead of the traditional four-year term.
I believe what happened with my second nomination was really centered around the issue of a six-year term. I was nominated as you know by the President. I did have a hearing scheduled. The Senate Finance Committee was, at that time, Republican chaired by Senator Packwood. In retrospect, I wish my confirmation had been scheduled prior to the election which caused the Republican majority, but it wasn't.
Nevertheless, I did exactly what one is supposed to do. I went to visit the members of the Committee and I was assured by everyone that I had their vote so there was no problem. So it came as quite a surprise to us that the confirmation was a bit contentious (the confirmation hearing that is) that they seemed to center on questions that had to do with the long term solvency and that in the end the Committee--the few people who were actually in attendance at the confirmation hearing--never took a vote, nor did they ever take the recommendation to the full Senate Finance Committee for vote.
And so, I have served in this capacity with all the responsibilities as an independent agency head without actually having the pleasure of being confirmed for that six-year term. The Republicans were hesitant, I believe, to confirm anyone for a six-year term hoping that they might take the White House in the next election and would therefore want to be in a position to appoint their own Commissioner.
So I have drawn President Clinton's attention to this four to six-year dilemma, because I think there is a possibility that the next Commissioner would be caught in the same situation and I think that’s too bad. What we do need in the Agency is Commissioner stability.
Interviewer: So you are recommending that we go to a four-year term coincident with the term of the President? Is that your view?
Chater: I think that is much better.
Interviewer: One of the issues that you have mentioned, the main issue that was discussed at your confirmation hearing, had to do with the long range financing problems. As I understand it, your view has been that SSA’s role was primarily to wait for the Advisory Council to address this and to serve a kind of educational role in supporting the discussion around this. Could you explain your view on our proper role and how you see SSA participating in that debate about long range financing?
Chater: I think that there are two issues here. One is that we have to decide as an Agency when to put forth a major policy perspective and it seemed illogical to me to be talking about the larger issue of the solvency of the Social Security Program when we had already appointed an Advisory Council, asking them to make recommendations to us.
But I think that the second issue that we have to remember, particularly in relation to that confirmation hearing the second time, is that the Commissioner of Social Security speaks on behalf of the Administration. So, it was indeed the Administration’s position that it was premature to speak out about the solutions for the long term solvency issue. And, as a consequence, when the Commissioner speaks on behalf of the Administration then that is the position that you put forward. It also happened to be the position that I believed in very, very much. We can't expect the American public to understand the details of a new proposal without first understanding the principles on which the Social Security program is based.
And as you know from one of our early objectives we set out to rebuild public confidence in Social Security in numerous ways. And that had only just begun and it was premature to be talking about solutions for the long term solvency problem.
Interviewer: What other issues or events stand out in your mind that you want to talk about, that I haven't asked about so far?
Chater: You did ask a question about the setting up of the position of the Chief of Staff of the independent agency. But I just wanted to say too that we were caused because of becoming an independent agency to set up the Office of the Inspector General. In the past we utilized the Department of HHS’s Inspector Generals. But now we have our own. We have hired our own Inspector General and are working very hard on fraud prevention and other agenda items that the Inspector General has.
In addition to that we were caused to set up our own General Counsel’s Office because there again we were utilizing General Counsel from the Department of Health and Human Services. We also set up our own Legislative Office, our Office of Legislative Affairs, with some part of the Office located in Washington, so that there could be daily and instant contact with members on Capital Hill. We also, during this entire interval, noting that Communications and the Press Office were particularly important to Independent agency status, have now developed our own component for communications.
So those are all added components or units of the organization that came about through independent agency status.
Interviewer: The last things that I wanted to ask you were kind of a couple of summing up questions. Tell me what you see as the challenges facing SSA as you get ready to depart. What do you think we need to be doing in the next couple of years?
Chater: Obviously, one of the major agenda items for the next couple of years will be the solvency question, taking the Advisory Council Report recommendations that we now have before us, using that material for the agency and the Administration to develop policy.
So in addition to just talking about solvency we need to think about how to strengthen our own policy unit within the agency. Because of downsizing in the past when we have gone from eighty five thousand employees to sixty five thousand, we have lost many, many people who used to work in the agency and particularly people in the policy section. So the challenge for the future will be the solvency issue and the related policy perspectives on that.
I believe another major issue for the future is a continuation of examining our business processes. And now we do have a business plan in place, we also have a strategic plan, and these will give us opportunities to continue to look at ways to redesign or restructure or, at minimum, reexamine the way we do our work. I think the answer to the future is how to use new and different methods to do what we now do. We can no longer afford to keep doing them the same way and that of course is the whole idea behind Redesign.
Information technology will also play a most important part in the future. And our systems designs that are in place and are being put in place as we speak will be very important also for the future to keep on top of the technology revolution.
Interviewer: Were there any other issues that you wanted to discuss that I haven't thought to ask you about yet?
Chater: Well, I keep going back to independent agency status because it has given us some advantages that I feel are very important to Social Security. For example, the Commissioner because an independent agency now serves on the Board of Trustees as a Board Member for both Medicare and Social Security so it puts the Commissioner at a very important table for the discussion of policy.
It also has elevated the Commissioner's position to that of Cabinet level and my attendance at Cabinet meetings has been very important to me and, I think to the agency, because we get the information firsthand. The Commissioner can participate in policy discussions and strategy discussions with other members of the Cabinet and other independent agency heads.
So that has been an elevation in the status of the position that has served the Social Security Administration very well. In addition I have served, and someone will always serve, on the President’s Management Council, chaired by John Koskinen from the Office of Management and Budget. That has given us as leaders of various Federal agencies an opportunity to not reinvent wheels but to learn from each other and to take from each other processes and principles that might be helpful to our agency.
And then lastly, through this new status, I have been personally invited to serve as the Chair of a task force for the President's Management Council on the very subject of customer service. And this has helped to showcase our Social Security employees, our programs, and it also has given us an additional opportunity to want to be the number one agency in customer service and I think that we fast achieved that particular position in Government.
And I am very pleased that the independent agency has led to a number of these activities which have been an advantage to the Agency.
Interviewer: Commissioner, one last question. Could you reflect on your career as the Commissioner of SSA for us a little bit and tell me your overall assessment of your tenure? What is your proudest accomplishment? What is your biggest disappointment? Was the job what you expected? Were you prepared for it by your background as University President or was it something unexpected? Just sort of sum up for me if you would, please.
Chater: I would say that the job, moving from a University presidency to the Commissioner of Social Security, was not at all a surprise in relation to the general principles of leadership and management. In other words I truly haven't done anything here that I hadn't done in the past, in my past positions as President and before that, the Vice Chancellor at another University. The principles of leadership, the principles of management are identical and I tried very hard to put those in place and feel that most of them have not only been put in place, but they have been adopted by the Agency.
For example, I am most proud of the communication system that we put in place. The communications that we send by e-mail, called Commissioner’s Broadcasts, have received very positive comments from the field. I feel especially good about having brought the best possible people to the Agency that we can find. All of the Presidential approved appointees that I have brought to the Agency came with experience and competencies in a particular field, and they have just done very, very well and I hope will continue to provide that high quality service to the agency.
I feel that we’ve made a lot of progress in working together in teams. We have empowered employees lower in the organization to do what they can do. And all of that has helped us to restructure and downsize in ways that give the employees who know the most also the accountability and the responsibility to do it.
We have increased the number of women and minorities in management. I feel very good about that. And, I also would note for the record that we have the lowest number of EEO complaints in Social Security since 1992. I attribute that to downsizing and to empowering other employees and to our increased communications as well as to the union management partnerships that are now in place throughout the Agency.
So I don't think the principles of management are any different at all from University settings to Social Security. There was of course a different perspective in Social Security because of its size. It is larger, so one had to be a little more inventive and creative about how to communicate with employees, but I think we’ve done that.
Interviewer: Any significant frustrations or disappointments that come to mind?
Chater: The biggest disappointment in working with government I think is that it seems to take forever to get something done. There are many, many layers of oversight in government that I didn't have in University settings. In the University setting I reported directly to a Board of Trustees and working together with the Board represented opportunities to develop mutual respect and we, in fact, worked together as a team.
In government, you report to every member of the Administration, you report to every member of Congress, you have not only your own internal quality assurance program, but you have got your own independent Inspector General, you have got GAO and indeed Congressional Committees also looking at what you do and how you do it.
And while I understand all of that and accept all of that it does add layers of bureaucracy and also time to getting whatever the problem is solved. While that is not a disappointment, it’s more a realization of the way it works. I think in response to the question about disappointments I would again stress that the union management partnership delay has been a disappointment to me. And that is probably the main one.
Interviewer: How about your own personal satisfaction in the job?
Chater: Personally, I wouldn't have traded this opportunity for anything. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s intense. It’s challenging. It is sometimes frustrating. But, the opportunity to sit at a table and make major policy decisions on the issues concerned with and about the people of the United States is just such a wonderful opportunity that it is impossible to say no.