Jack S. Futterman Oral History

Part VIII- Assistant Commissioner for Administration

Improving The Grounds & Use of the Facilities


In 1965, as part of the reorganization, I became head of Administration--Assistant Commissioner for Administration. I held this position until I retired in 1973.

Q: Can we talk about some of the initiatives you undertook during that period.


You realize that I was involved in everything in Social Security. Nothing was too small. And the building was important to me. It was important that the community accept the building. Nobody pushed me; this was my idea. Nobody did anything but recognize it after the fact, it was lovely, they loved it. But I wanted to make the people in that area feel that this place was an asset to them, that it was attractive, that it didn't detract from their community, but added to it; it was something they could point to with pride. I always believed, coming up the ranks as I did, that we wanted to make the workplace as attractive a place as we could for the workers, so that they would enjoy it.

So that explains why I got a hold of GSA and impressed upon them how important caring for the grounds was. We had a resident GSA crew, they were cutting the grass, doing that, but the trees were dead, half dead. We set up a crew. I didn't, but as a result of my actions they set up a crew. I had one guy in GSA, a young fellow, I forget his name, can never remember it, that I made a convert of, he was the head. As long as he got the go-ahead from me, he was energized to do these things. A lot of the old-timers probably might not have been, but he was. And so he, on his own, carried out the ideas very thoroughly--decorating the grounds, making sure we had flowers and all that. Well, he entered into it with enthusiasm. And once a year we would have flowers all around; it was beautiful. I'd walk around and I'd see places like, for instance, the place that I think I mentioned between the Annex and the Operations building, and there's a little pool there. There was a fountain, the fountain was dry, no water was running, it was dirty. I said, "Get that fountain going. I want that fountain running 24 hours a day. I want this an oasis. I want benches in here." Then the place between the East Building . . .

Q: And the cafeteria?


"I want canopied umbrellas where people can come out with their lunch and enjoy the outdoors." They didn't like that. There was a lot of resistance from HEW staff, SSA staff. The GSA people, you know, got into the spirit of it. They were as proud as could be with what they were doing. I'll tell you this, I might have been an unknown person, without a program, but when I walked around where they saw me, they said, "that's Jack Futterman, the patron saint of GSA." So it turned GSA around. Their outlook was, they became one of us.

Q: Very popular with the employees too?


Very popular.

Q: A lot of people have commented on that.


Are they still maintaining it?

Q: Oh, sure.


Do they still change the flowers in front?

Q: You bet.


We established that as a precedent. We repaired the trees somehow or other. Everybody was conscious of little places of beauty. Wherever there was an opportunity, we wanted to exploit it. I've only mentioned a few that come to my mind.

Now another consideration to make the building an asset to the neighborhood, and to the community, I went out of my way to make it known that the Social Security facilities were open to the public. Today, of course, it's the opposite for other reasons, but we were open to the citizens of the neighborhood.

Q: Yeah, talk about that.


The old folks used to come into the lobby and sit in the lobby and then they'd go in the cafeteria and get something to eat. I argued that this is a public facility. It was not uncommon in Washington for people to come in off the street and go into Washington government cafeterias. Then after a while, things tightened up a little, we had a fire or whatever, and these old folks needed passes to get in. I ordered that, that is one illustration.

Q: You called that "coffee with SSA," was it the coffee with SSA program?


I didn't call it anything. If they needed a building pass, they got it.

Q: Okay.


But before that, they were welcome, no restrictions; they could go anywhere. They didn't; they just stayed on the ground floor. They wanted to sit, just like they sit now in malls, they were sitting there. When they wanted lunch, they could have lunch, or when they wanted coffee, they could use our facilities. Why not? They were citizens of the U.S.A. and this was their building. That's precisely what I wanted.

It came to my attention that the Army was coming down for maneuvers in one place and going some other place. They wanted to stop and rest at our parking lot over the weekend. I said, "By all means." It gave me the idea that we made this place available for the Colts marching band, and for the Coast Guard. They wanted to give Coast Guard classes about safe navigation and all that. Then we went out of our way to get the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. I remember myself getting people from our systems to work with the kids, the Cub Scouts, on computer stuff; provide tours. Then sometimes we would go over there to Woodlawn High School. Is that a high school?

Q: Yes.


We would meet with certain small groups that requested us. So it was open house, mi casa, su casa. We tried in every way to use our facilities, within reason, to help the community and to help other government agencies. When I became a member of the interagency group, every agency is represented on it, government agencies in the Baltimore community, I established the principle with them that we're all one government. A lot of small agencies didn't have facilities to do things, like we had printing facilities, we had drafting facilities. I told them we would be glad to take on whatever small job was within our capacity. I mean, we never had any trouble doing it within our capacity, to do what they couldn't get their own offices to do very easily, if they were remote from them. You know, there were a lot of small agencies, islands of government workers, we sort of adopted them. Which was within that framework of seeing ourselves as, not just insular, not just isolated, an island unto ourselves.

This is the same approach I took when I became the first head of the Combined Federal Campaign. Without being asked, without any pressure, I designated Tom Smith, who was the head of our union, to be a head. The whole idea was to get union support for the Combined Federal campaign. Why leave him out? I never heard anybody ask to be brought in. But it's far better to take the initiative. Oh yeah, he'd be delighted to serve. He was very effective. I brought in two, him and another one. That became institutionalized.

I have some reasons why I think, I should at this point, stop talking about things that I did for several reasons. I'll give you the reasons, and then I'll come back to it. One is I do appreciate that these kind of stories help give the flavor of the person and therefore, they are important.

Q: That's right, that's why I like them.


But all flavor, and little substance, results in the conclusion that this was what I was about. These are very small, relatively small and unimportant, although nothing is unimportant. But these were relatively small matters where I think I made contributions largely under wraps because, as you know, I did most of my work behind the scenes.

Of course, I represented the Office of Administration, I was out front on that. But the Office of Administration did not have a meaningful existence except within the context of Social Security. I myself can't remember one-tenth of the things that I did. But as my memory is stimulated a little, I will stumblingly wander through one item after another. But I think that at this point, we ought to get into things of more of substance. Because the historian or the person who later on is looking at these matters, I think ought to get a better mix of them. We can come back, as long as we continue this. And I don't put a date limiting how often you come back.


Buildings Again

Q: We talked earlier about the move to Woodlawn and getting funds for the buildings. What about long-range facilities planning, and what happened after the move?


Long-range facilities planning was really never done, before my involvement. There was a little bit of that done at one point in a very broad, generalized way by Touchet in respect to the district offices, but not in 1969. Well, in 1965 I became Assistant Commissioner, so I was in charge of Administration. Well, I have to say that the projections about district offices were done before because Touchet was no longer here in 1965. It was then that I took his place.

Q: Okay.


You know, we had moved quite a lot and we had originally built for 26 or 27 acres in Woodlawn. Before long, we built the Annex, and then we built the East and West Buildings. We had Disability, and we had to build the Dickinson Building. We knew the growth then was kind of linear. We couldn't predict when the legislation would be enacted, but we knew that there was talk about the SSI program. SSI added the welfare aspect, and there was growth in terms of population growth and coverage growth. Then of course, within the Social Security framework itself, we had other things. We were taking on Black Lung.

There was talk of using Social Security in government-wide record keeping, for taking over all the enumeration stuff for the better part of the government. Whenever they needed that, they would use our centralized record keeping system. Of course, we'd have to enhance it with either more account numbers or other things.

We were a natural research center for the aging population, all kinds of things, like food, and income maintenance needs and what have you. So until close to the present time, this was a growth industry, and I hope someday it will be again. This is part of this background, although it's not directly related to it.

As far back as the 1948 period or thereabouts, I place it there because it was in the Equitable Building, so it might have been 1949 or 1950, I came over there in late 1948, around December, to take over the budget job--as Chief of the Fiscal Management Branch of BOASI, which became SSA. Charlie Erisman, my predecessor there, had been in Washington taking Roy Wynkoop's place in the job that Roy had which was largely budget, but also sort of budget personnel. All the kind of functions I had as Assistant Commissioner in the Office of Management, but in a small way because he worked with the Budget Office of the Welfare Administration, which housed the Children's Bureau--they were all part of SSA. What was the rehab organization--vocational?

Q: I don't remember the exact title.


But there was a rehab organization under Social Security. They were small offices themselves. They had people who handled the budget, but he was the one who went before the Congress. He was the one who gave directions to them, so he handled the Social Security Administration. He was that officer, technically above us. He reported to Brown at one point under the Assistant Secretary for Finance. I gave you the name Bob Brown. I forgot the other guy, but I already gave it to you. So in that setting, I was new to the job, Bob Peddicord, who later became one of my Deputies, was the one who was handling the work plans. We had annual work plans and we had annual work plans meetings. I've talked to you about that.

Q: Going back to the move to Woodlawn. When we acquired this land there were people living on some of it. Were all of the people there willing to move? Did you have people who weren't willing to move?


There were a few people. When I made that provision I thought I was as fair as the government could be. That was my effort to write a provision that wouldn't hurt anybody. Anybody that wanted to move, who was willing to move, because they were getting a good price, or because maybe their neighborhood didn't turn out to their liking, would take the offer and we would be good neighbors. In fact, I had a contract made for people to pick up the refrigerators so we would be a good neighbor. We'd do more than our share. We'd clean up the joint. Cut some of the fields and all of that. I thought, you know, again, this is Futterman being the "good guy." Now I don't deserve credit for that. I mean, that is what I am supposed to do. So I don't deserve any extra credit for it.

Sometimes I met with these people at night. One time they asked for a meeting and I met with them. At the meeting I said, "What is it that you want?" I said, "We are doing everything to protect you." And they said, "Well the problem is that the future of this neighborhood is doomed. It is never going to develop into what it originally was intended to be." It wasn't going to do it anyway, but they were right. I thought about it when I got back to the office. That we did affect them, but as little as we possibly could, but we did affect them in that, by saying you can stay there if you want. Nonetheless we affected them by buying up the rest of the property and they were able to stay where they were, but that wasn't going to be the neighborhood that was planned some 20 years before. So I learned a lesson from that. Even the "do gooders," so called "do gooders," have to think more than simply being self-righteous. You have to think about how the acts affect others.

Q: Now I heard somewhere that for a time SSA was a landlord to some of these people. That they were renting from us. How did they work that out?


Yes! Yes! Well they sold their places to us, but they didn't have a place to go to, and I arranged for this unusual thing. I didn't actually negotiate it with GSA, but when they came to tell me this I said, "Sure, we don't need this space and we would rather have them there to keep the place up, help keep the place up." "So tell GSA," and this was given to people working under me, "tell GSA that sure we would be glad to let them stay on for as long as they need it." We didn't need it, and these were people that have already agreed to sell, until they located someplace else. We didn't care if they stayed on without looking for another place, as a rental. I didn't have anything to do with setting the rental, GSA manages those sort of things and I thought, you know, that they were perfectly competent to do this, but I wanted to set the tone that it was in our interest for them to stay where they were, even though we got the title to it, and be a good landlord. I also said be a good neighbor in terms of helping to clean up this area even though we were not going to move in there for a number of years.

Q: So how long did that go on that we were a landlord to those folks?


I didn't keep track of that, there was no, problem anymore. I addressed only problems you know, but it went on until we got ready to build and then nobody raised any legal fuss or political fuss or said anything about it. But you don't wait for those things to happen, you try to head it off. I think that the thing that really enabled this to go was that provision that allowed us to flow around them. We would never have gotten the appropriation to buy the land that was needed. We couldn't demonstrate it, not next year, but years from now, some period maybe five, maybe ten years. That overcame a lot of difficulty and that made our site complete. We acquired that land, as I say over a hundred acres, is my recollection. The original land was 26 or 27 acres.

In my first contacts, I was sort of low man on the totem pole. The totem pole was: Futterman; the Divisional Control man; then not financial, but the budget man; and then you know, Joe Fay, who represented the mass of people in Baltimore, they regarded the building as Accounting Operations. As a matter of fact in those early days they still continued to think, people who worked in the Division of Accounting Operations, that the whole reason for the Social Security program was to keep the accounting records. They didn't relate to the total. In those days it was called the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance, quite different from the current one or the most recent one, which was the forerunner of the Social Security Administration, less the Children's Bureau, etc.

Roy Touchet was my predecessor in the Office of Administration, but he never expressed to my knowledge any real concern about the total acres. Then we built the Annex and I used the argument then that it is a costly thing and it will interrupt operations to expand vertically. As a matter of fact, if you are going to do that you have to prepare in advance. You have to have foundations that are sized to how tall you are ultimately going to get. You have to have pipes and everything else. So it is not as cheap as one thinks. We are out in the country, this was 1960 or before, and we are out in the country and these are all farms. There was no Security Boulevard. There were no shopping centers. All of that developed once they learned that Social Security was going to be there. And Mr. Knott, of course, exploited the fact that Social Security was going to be there. We had as next door neighbors, we have it now, the Chevrolet place, we had the Kelly Tire place, and the shopping center and bank and the whole area is now built up and the Security Mall is massive and a very close neighbor, motels, etc. I don't mean to say a lot of "trash," but there was a lot of development that took place which one could foresee, and my idea was to expand horizontally. The reason was that the land was still cheap and that gave us a lot more flexibility.

So I think that it was 50 or 60 acres of combined property. We had something well under a 100 for the two, the Main Building and the Annex and then we needed to expand to the East Building, where Health Insurance was at one point, and put in the Supply Building in the back. I forget whether there was a special appropriation for that, I think there was because I remember having trouble with the builder, he was behind schedule, etc. I remember three periods, for the Main Building, a couple of years later for the Annex and then for the East Building and the Supply Building and the last one after I retired, but before that I had done all of the work, preparing the way for acquiring 127 or some such number of acres adjacent. So now we have a campus close to 200 or so acres. It probably should be enough for quite a while.

I think that this made a major contribution to the stability of the Central Office and the Headquarters. You know, we didn't have to move like so many organizations have to move from time to time. We made ourselves a part of the community.

You know, I usually start from something that gives me some of the things I want. I wanted the Social Security Building, we had some opposition, political opposition, but I wanted to make sure that we were good neighbors and as long as I was the head of Administration, my order was, and I would police it, we want to be good neighbors. And the people that worked around the grounds and kept the building supplied and provided the services and contracted with the General Services Administration, etc, knew this was my view.

So we offered our facilities, and it was not just to anybody, we were making sure it was used properly in the public interest. That again goes back to the point that I keep always reiterating, that in doing our job we need to keep uppermost in our mind the purpose that we are all here for. That's where all of our efforts have to be directed. We don't just have possession of this so that we can use our own discretion and appoint this guy or that guy or say yes to this guy but not this. We needed to use it in the welfare and the interest of the people of the United States. That's what the program of Social Security is about.

So even if the Social Security program is not headed in the right direction, then it is wrong. It has to head in the interest of the people of the United States. We can't make Social Security programs something like the Naval Officers Association and others that repeatedly asked me to join because of the benefits, they would give me so much. I am the son of an immigrant, and I guess when I grew up the sons of immigrants were not one hundred percent Americans, they were a hundred and ten. I'm an idealist, I was an idealist then, and I tried to be a practical idealist and do what is accomplishable. It helped me because I had, and this is a term that I use a lot, "a star to steer by." I was Phi Beta Kappa and if I interpret my Latin correctly it was something like a astra asprara, to the stars aspire. I was corrupting that a little, I used the idea that "a star to steer by," a value you want to seek.

So I tried to take up us, and not just in Baltimore. I was responsible for budgeting for the field organization, their District Office buildings and equipment. And I made it a point not to settle for the usual cold floors, marble floors, and this and that, but try to get real carpets and real furniture in the waiting room and making it a comfortable place like any commercial business that is getting public income from the outside. I was an easy target for that, and I'd still be, but I think it pays results. We were not lavish, we spent our money carefully, as I still do today.

Baltimore Headquarters & Relationship to Washington

Q: And the other thing that we talked about, was to just come back and close that loop. The possibility of moving SSA back to Washington at some point?


The people in the Administration, HEW, were not happy in Social Security being away, not under their direct control. I am speaking now only partly out of a little knowledge that I would get from conversations that I was in or with our own upper staff in those days and my contacts. I don't want to be unfair about this, but my impression is that Secretary Hobby and her Assistant Secretaries, or maybe their staffs, who were reaching out for power, wanted not only to be kings of their domain, but actually to be more active in commanding the troops. A strong movement, it could have been partly political, I was not concerned about that, to get that nest in Baltimore under the aegis of the Republicans, and to bring them in and be able to control what is said and done with regard to the Social Security program.

Now without any personal research on my part except experience as a citizen, that was of a piece with the history as I personally interpret it without being a student of it, but as an aware citizen. Social Security was never a favorite program of the Republican party. I think it was sort of a knee jerk thing that they needed to be in control, going back as far as Hobby and of course the early votes about Social Security. So there was this back and forth and then it was defeated. At different levels it was defeated earlier. I mean the idea never really got all that far and then one time it got very, very serious.

We even went through a period where it was announced that we would move, for the second time, and I was under Touchet in the Equitable Building at that time, so that will help place the date. Touchet basically, and his staff, like Warren Belcher, etc., developed a questionnaire about who would be available, who would go and who would not go, and a few other things. I was not active in it, but if they would have asked me then my own view was that those kind of questionnaires are misleading. They get results because people have a stake in the outcome and they want to influence it, and they want to influence it the way they prefer it to go. Although I was one that preferred to remain in the freer climate of Baltimore, I was sure that others at lesser levels, who, like the stenographers and the analysts, etc., who would be asked, would mostly want to stay in Baltimore. And so I always thought the result would be slanted in terms of not giving true information. That there would be more people selecting, saying, they would not go to work, so that they could convince the organization that they had a major problem. But I expected the politicians would overrule that survey and say, "Despite this, do it anyway."

That was not the way it went. One of the Congressmen from Baltimore, and I forget his name, was very, very active in this issue. He made this his issue, I'm sure it was a vote getter par excellence, at least with the Social Security employees. And he was "The Defender" of the employees and he passed, he had an amendment passed, forbidding the move to Washington. Are you familiar with that?

Q: Yes. And this amendment said that we couldn't move Social Security?


No money could be used to make the move, or whatever, or pay the salaries of anybody, I forget, but it was a typical appropriation amendment which he got passed and we called it by his name. And then he got a lot of help, which I think was unfortunate, although I was very sympathetic, I don't approve of workers working against the interest of the organization as determined by the leaders of the organization.

Q: Now did any of the executives in SSA want to go back to Washington or was it a matter that the Department was trying to get us to do it?


Are you talking about the Baltimore executives?

Q: Right.


I think that there were some people that worked with Washington. It was no big deal for them. There were considerations both ways.

I am just hypothetically saying, for them, Bob Ball was always in Washington. For Alvin David, it was not a big deal. They worked with the Department level and they also worked with Congressmen, etc. So in many ways it was attractive for them. Ida Merriam was already in Washington. Parts of the Children's Bureau and the other parts of Social Security were in Washington. They were not considered Social Security in the way that term is used, but they were in the Social Security Act. The rest of us, Accounting Operations, didn't have to be in Washington and they were people who came from all over and settled in and around the Baltimore area and they were happy. Except some people who came from around Washington and there were a few Virginians who traveled that way, but basically 99 percent of Accounting Operations and the others didn't, except maybe those few at the head like Dick Branham or Bartlett. They had settled here and they had a good life here, but I'm sure their connections and their dealings were sometimes fairly solidly with people in Washington. If not for the heads it might have increased their convenience and improved their closeness to colleagues in Social Security and elsewhere. But the staffs? No way! They were pro-staying.

There was beginning to be a political, now this is my interpretation, a political component which I was sorry to see happen in Social Security. Social Security ought to be, in my judgement, it never has been, but it ought to be non-partisan. We ought to agree on goals. I have often used the analogy: If we were commanders of a ship across the Atlantic and one third of the voyage across were under one captain and we were steering due East and then we have a change in administration and we decided to steer due South and then we get another change and we steer due West, we are going to get nowhere. I am talking about changing the fundamental emphasis, the values of the program. The program had to represent a sort of center that both extremes could agree on and that would not be relatively all that changeable. Although I recognize that one couldn't proscribe change and change should not be proscribed, but it should not be expected merely because an administration has changed, that we are going to make major changes in the direction of the program. And it is just crazy to run an outfit that way and I have used the analogy over the years that any business that was run that way would go broke in nothing flat. Any corporation that was run that way with a change of administration they felt that they had a mandate to modify major aspects from no to yes, was crazy. We would get nowhere. No government program can succeed under a system where that is expected to change with each administration, a major change is expected, that's just a formula for anarchy.

Q: So by the time we actually got around to building this headquarters in Woodlawn, this issue about D.C. had been put to bed.


Yes. There was a date we were all asked about our preferences regarding a move. As a diagnostic tool, I think it was more a public relations thing, more of a political thing than having value as a planning tool. Because that kind of a questionnaire needed--if you were going to do a real good job, to analyze your thinking about what employment problems you are going to have-you needed to think about it in a way that classified the people like 98 percent of the leadership, or 98 percent of the administrators, 98 percent or 96 percent of so and so and 100 percent of the clericals, so that you would be able to appraise the problem. To my knowledge that was not a part of it. It was used by both sides. I'm sure Washington was not happy with knowing what that was and as a planning instrument of how many people were going to be replaced. I don't think they went into it in sufficient depth. And as far as I was concerned it had a lack of credibility. Again I say, I personally, by far, preferred to stay where I was, but I didn't like to see the introduction of politics in the way it appeared. But I think it might have been stimulated by a union representative. He might have gone to the Congressman, I'm not familiar with that.

Training Programs

I'll just give you some more examples of the things that we talked about, I'll just touch on them.

The Training Programs that I instituted. And again I make a distinction, there were always training programs. What was new about the training program? For one thing I was dead set against the "crown prince" approach. Another point in that connection which is a part of the principle of my feeling on the "crown prince" approach was that others that were not quite "crown princes," but had the inducement: "at the end of this training program you will get a better job." I was dead set against that, except in beginning programs, where you induce people to come into Social Security and you say, "At the end of this training program you will be qualified for such and such a position." But I am talking about people within the organization. To select them in the Training Program that has at its end, when you finish this you go from a 5 to an 8, and passing over without regard to competition from the 6's and the 7's already there. These other people, who were bypassed, may be more senior, had years of demonstrated dedication to their job etc., but they don't compete, they can't compete. In fact they are discriminated against, because they are older, they don't fit the terms of this early beginning in the program, getting trained and stepping into this desirable position. They were not able to compete. Maybe they came up the hard way from a messenger, as Jim Murray did. Jim Murray became a Regional Commissioner of Atlanta. He came up as a messenger when he first started around 1936. To say that people who came up the hard way are either too old, or lack the education etc., is to undermine the organization. We should not designate somebody for a position in advance. Not only are they getting a fast education, which ought to be in itself enough, but they are promised an end. It is just like these football players, signing up these college players they haven't done a lick of work in their lives and signing up a contract for five years and 100 million dollars, and what is their incentive? It is all sewed up if it's that kind of a contract. What is their incentive to realize their promise? Don't you build a sort of arrogance in them?

That is the one easy way to get ahead in an organization. Take these programs for training and all of that. Make flashy points, impress your supervisors with your smartness. It works to the disadvantage of the guy who does it the old-fashioned way, who may not go as far ultimately, but who is as entitled as anyone is to the next job for which they are best qualified. So another principle that I followed was that training programs should not provide disincentives for all those that were not participants.

Internal Revenue had one program that had wide publicity throughout the government. They had these special training programs which at the end they gave out some very high positions. Amongst trainers that was the thing in fashion. But I just didn't think that it was good, just analytically. It wasn't good for the ones who were participating and it wasn't good for the ones that were not. When you focus your incentives only on a very, very small percentage of the people you have "they" and "us." The organization should always consider itself as "we." We want to keep these young comers, coming. Don't breed them into bad habits that success comes that easily without hard work.

Part IX- Policy Issues

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