Robert M. Ball - Interview #2
This Oral History session with Bob Ball is taking place on March 12, 2001 at Mr. Ball's home in Alexandria, Virginia. Larry DeWitt is the interviewer for SSA.
Interviewer: Bob we left off last time with the period where you
had just become Commissioner. But it occurred to me there's a couple of
things I want to pick up about the period before that, when you were Acting
Bureau Director and Deputy Bureau Director. One of them was this publication
that you produced, I think, in 1958, but I'll have to check the date,
which was the Statement of Bureau Goals and Objectives. You put out this
publication and circulated it throughout the Bureau and basically it was
a statement of the Bureau's values and its goals and objectives, which
is a very fashionable thing in management circles these days. But in 1958,
I think it was very much ahead of its time. Can you tell me about that
publication? Why you did it? And how was it used?
Ball: Yes, I don't want to give the impression that I originated the whole idea. I thought of doing this really because of something that I had read in a Peter Drucker book, in which he suggested that the most successful organizations were ones that had clear ideas about the central purposes of the company. He used, as an illustration, the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) company of that time. As I remember, AT&T had decided that their central goal ought to be service to customers. In most countries in the world the government operated the telephone and telegraph systems. They realized that if they didn't perform a service that was appreciated by their customers, they might well lose control of the telephone system. So, they did a lot of things with just that central goal in mind. Well, what I did isn't quite like that and isn't intended to be, but it's what gave me the notion.
Then I thought I really should spell it out for people who work at Social Security. So one summer, up in my place in New Hampshire, where in those days I used to go for a couple of weeks at a time during the summer, usually managing about a month. This particular summer I dictated the set of goals and they stayed pretty much the same over the period that they were used. After I had initially issued them, I set up a review group representative of many parts of the Social Security organization to go over it and hopefully improve it and keep it up to date. But it turned out that the group didn't really propose any significant changes in it and it stayed pretty much the same throughout. We used to give copies of that to all the new employees, having distributed it, of course, to the current employees.
It was also used as a very, very broad planning device for the development of individual Bureau and subordinate unit work planning sessions, to try to bring together these very broad goals in direction for the organization and its values with actual work planning, based on what should we do this year. It was, I would say, partly successful. It wasn't a kind of planning document that got you terribly far in the details of making out an annual work plan. But the attempt to harmonize what was going on immediately and in the immediate future with the enduring central goals of the organization, I thought was worthwhile.
Interviewer: Well, I know Jack Futterman mentioned it to me. That's why I bring it up because Futterman said to me that he thought it was a significant idea, a significant management tool.
Ball: It did amaze some people though, I'll say that. (Laughs) Some people had a notion that government knew nothing about management, nor cared. I remember Arthur Flemming, who was Secretary of HEW at one time, and he came in to the Secretary's Office, of which Social Security was a subordinate part, and launched a movement to set up planning goals of the various components. He was kind of astounded that we already had this operation going. And perhaps even more astounded-because Flemming was a great admirer of government, even though he hadn't expected them to do this--was Fred Maleck, who came in with the Nixon Administration. He had a reputation, later as the history of that period developed, of being a hatchet-man for Nixon. But he left Social Security almost completely alone. There was actually only one position where Maleck pushed me into a decision about personnel that was contrary to what I wanted to do.
His decision to leave us pretty much alone grew out of a lot of experience with us. He had been primarily a management consultant, although he had then taken over a small company and become a millionaire by developing that small company, but his profession had been management. He was a partner in a very famous management organization that sold their services to business and government. So he came into Social Security to look around and see how we were doing on management stuff and was really quite astounded to find two things--maybe more, but two things. One is that we actually had developed a set of goals and values and so on, and a complete work planning system built around that, to an extent anyway. And perhaps, even more, the work product of Social Security, how up-to-date it was in terms of computer use and personnel rules and employee services and so on. So he really found nothing to criticize and much to admire and sort of decided he would spend his time fussing at other agencies in the department, rather than at us. So, it was a very good defensive move because he was a terrible problem to many of the agencies.
Interviewer: Yes, he did have that reputation. You mentioned a couple of times the work planning process.
Interviewer: Futterman and I also talked about that a little bit and he said that was a very important management tool that you all had during that time, this annual work planning process. Can you tell me just a little bit about what that was and how it worked?
Ball: I should remind you that the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance was what we now think of as the Social Security Administration. It was the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance that ran the only federal part of the Social Security Board's responsibility and, later on, the Commissioner's responsibility. At the Commissioner's level there were many other bureaus and activities, but they were all grant-in-aid programs back out to the states or research programs. The big operating federal system was the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance. So, all the subordinate parts of that Bureau were organized into operating units, such as the big Accounting Operation, which is a big record keeping operation at the central headquarters in Baltimore. The Field Operation, with jurisdiction over hundreds of district offices throughout the country, the big Payment Centers, which reviewed and maintained the rolls on the actual payment of claims. These big subordinate units, and several smaller units which were more policy or research units or management services, all the units reported directly up to the Bureau Director's office.
The planning process was to an extent managed from the top of the Bureau in terms of determining its work plans for the next year--what they were actually going to accomplish in workload terms. That then led into budget development and it was all connected together. The goals of the work plan were not just workload volumes, they were also goals of accuracy and personnel goals and career development goals and all the goals that you would need to move an organization forward on the track that you wanted it to go.
One feature of the process was that I personally met every year, with not just the heads of the subordinate units that had the plan, but all the top staff of that organization. They were there for at least a full-day discussion of what they were up to, and a back and forth in a very informal way. This gave us the ability to give direction, at the Bureau Director's level, to quite detailed plans within the organization. Recognizing all the time, of course, that as the year developed these plans could not be a straight-jacket, that they would keep being modified as situations changed, as money became available or didn't become available, for what was being done. That was a renewal of values and discussions of concrete objectives-- concrete objectives fused with goals and values. I thought those meetings, which took a lot of time of course, were very worthwhile in keeping the Director of the Bureau connected with the entire top staff of the organization. I don't think it was seen to be an interference with delegation, which it could have become. It would have been a great mistake if the result of doing this had been that the chiefs of those subordinate organizations were afraid to move without checking back on everything of any importance. But that didn't happen.
Actually, (Laughs) at Social Security, if there was a problem in management, it was the other way around. I think I may have said this already elsewhere on this interview, but when I came in as the Acting Director of the Bureau, it was in a way that skipped over the heads of men who were much senior to me and with much greater experience, particularly in administration. They had, more or less, been known under previous Directors as barons. Not so much under John Corson, who was the first successful Director. Not so much under him, but after that, they had become known as barons of their own organizational entity. So that a Joe Fay in charge of central record keeping, or a Hugh McKenna in charge of the field organization would tend to think of themselves as powers that needed to be negotiated with. One of the major problems in running the place was not a fear that the Bureau Director's office would seem to be over-directing the subordinating units, but whether it really had good control, enough control, to have everybody working toward the central purpose. So, I wasn't too concerned about what might seem a possible bad result from such annual detailed meetings with the whole top staff. At least in that organization, that wasn't really a problem.
Interviewer: Jack Futterman said to me that he always viewed those as very valuable meetings. I don't know about the immediate Bureau Directors, the McKennas and so on, but all the top staff that you invited to those meetings appreciated very much having the opportunity to be there and get their two-cents in and discuss things with you-that's according to Jack.
Ball: I think that's true.
Interviewer: And Jack said that was a very valuable experience for the morale of the agency and for the management of it.
Ball: I think he's right. Jack was a very perceptive manager and very good at his job.
Interviewer: Well, while we're talking about Jack, he was, at a couple of points, working for you. At one point he was kind of your Executive Assistant?
Ball: Yes. Jack held a lot of different jobs in the organization. At one time, he was probably called that--Executive Assistant--but he was almost the third person in the top organization after the Deputy Director, right in the office of the Bureau Director. But, he had also been the Deputy Director in the research and policy-legislative area, with Alvin David, when Alvin David was Director. He had also been in charge of the management unit that reported to the Director's office. He was probably the most successful budget officer that Social Security ever had, though all of SSA's budget officers were good. Millie Tysowski, who followed him, was very successful. That's an absolutely key post in an organization like Social Security, with most of its work measured and workloads that are huge. The relationships with people you have to have relationships with, from the staff of the budget committees on the Hill to the office of what's now Management and Budget, are very important. Jack had their respect. He just did a great job.
Interviewer: One of the things that Jack also mentioned, in regard to these work planning meetings, was the idea that you were doing something, which is very routine now, but at the time, I guess, it was somewhat of an innovation. And that was that you apportioned staffing and you planned staffing based on work-year computations, based on looking at workloads and calculating how many staff you needed to do a certain workload. I'm not describing it very well, but I hope you know what I'm talking about. We do that routinely now, that's how we allocate staffing at SSA. But you guys sort of introduced that, if I'm not mistaken. Is that right? Or at least is that part of how you managed in these work plans?
Ball: Yes, certainly in all the major operating divisions, where you had to take claims in the field, review them in Payment Centers, set up a roll that you then sent checks to every month, make changes in the rolls every month. These were huge workloads, hundreds of thousands of items every month in these workloads. The way a budget and a work-plan were constructed was in terms of the man-years that it took to perform these functions. It sounds easier than it really is because at the margin there are all kinds of important workloads that are not visible and get neglected if they are not deliberately brought out and looked at.
I think, for example, of the appointment of what we call "representative payees." Social Security had a major delegation of power--I don't know of any other government benefit-paying agency that did--in which on its own initiative, without going to a court, Social Security could decide that an individual was not competent to handle his own benefits. Not in a legal proceeding, but on the basis of knowledge developed by the agency. We could then decide to have that money, that of course belonged to that individual, be paid instead to somebody who would handle the funds for the individual, called a "representative payee." Well, it's a lot of work, it's difficult to do and it's never been done to the degree of excellence that one wishes it could be. And yet, it's sort of a hidden workload--who knows if you spend half the time you should on it. If you don't pay claims within a reasonable time, there are a lot of complaints. Congress would know about it and hearings would be held. But, if the money is not sent after good investigation to the right kind of person, it's not reviewable, really.
That's just an illustration. So it's not automatic how much time, and therefore man years, get worked into a budget for each of these workloads. But, we did then develop budgets that in the operating divisions were entirely based upon the best judgment about the man-years that it took to perform workload items that were carefully defined. So that it greatly reduced the argument in the hierarchical steps through the Bureau of the Budget and the Congress. I don't want to say that it made it all easy. There were plenty of places that one could argue, but this took huge amounts of money onto a more objective basis, than many agencies could do.
Interviewer: Now, you mentioned a minute ago the barons, the Hugh McKennas and the Joe Fays and so on. So one of your management challenges, I take it, was to make sure that you had management control over the barons and that they weren't acting as independent operators. How did you deal with that? How did that work?
Ball: That's when I first came in.
Ball: It worked, partly because I came in as Acting Director. I didn't expect to be the permanent Bureau Director because by that time it had become clear that it was going be a Republican who would be appointed. Even though in the past it had been a civil service job, it seemed very unlikely it was going to continue to be. And I am not arguing that it should be. It was a very big job within any administration. So, I didn't really expect to continue to be the top person. At the same time, I determined that as long as I was the acting head, I was going to run the job as if I were the permanent selection, as if I had a big mandate, even though my coming in was just the result of slipping-in a phrase in my job description that I was also to act as the Deputy Director of the Bureau. I did it a little bit, I guess, like President Bush is operating now, as if he had a mandate even though he lost the general election clearly, and in my opinion, probably lost Florida too. But he can operate as if he's a President with a mandate for everything that he believed in.
I also really had felt all along, as I started to think about management success and failure, that you couldn't do a really good job at the top spots unless you were willing to lose the job. That if you were thinking that an important part of what you were up to was to hold onto your job, that was too much of a handicap. What you had to do if you were in the really top job, was to do it like you think it should be done and leave the diplomacy and compromise out of it. That doesn't mean that you have to fly in the face of ordinary sense, you don't defy people, but I just acted as if I had the job to do and that was it. I think I leaned over backwards to discuss important decisions with the people affected before it was a final decision. I believe I spent an awful lot of time in preparing people for change. I think probably some of my subordinates thought I overdid the willingness to listen to complaints and to discuss things before action. But I was willing to do all that. But after I made a decision, I think it was clear to everybody that I meant it, that I was not putting out a tentative decision-that I had decided that this is the way it was. Fairly quickly I had the backing of the new Administration at the top. And gradually it dawned on everybody that I was really running the place.
Interviewer: When Vic Christgau arrived on the scene in 1954, how did he interact with the barons? We talked a little bit last time about how you and he worked out your relationship. How did he interact with the subordinate Directors? Did he deal with them directly? Did he let you deal with them, typically?
Ball: He let me deal with them. It's hard to convey, without seeming to denigrate Vic Christgau, the degree that he was willing to delegate to me. But, it was very complete. He used to just say, "Well, I think whoever can do it best, ought to do it." Then almost always it would be me that he thought could do it best. He was a man without any jealousy, as far as I could see. He was very much interested in preserving, throughout the organization, the clear view that he was the Bureau Director. But not by demonstrating any capacity to give me direction. He assumed that what I did was on his behalf and that it helped him. He would not have thought of dealing directly on an important issue with any one of the subordinates without me there. A couple times when I was away, or sick, or something, and he did (Laughs) try to do that, and got sort of snookered on it, I had to come back and fix it, and he backed right off of what he'd done and let me fix it up.
He was a remarkable man, and completely devoted to the program. When he had been offered the job, he came to me--I'd been running the Bureau as Acting Director-- and said, in effect, "I'll take it if you'll stay on and be the Deputy. But I won't take it if you don't stay on." So from the very beginning, he openly relied upon me to sort of act like the CEO of the organization. He was going to act like, I don't know, Chairman of the Board, or President, without exercising really the role of the direct operator. Or policy-maker either, for that matter. He loved to go to regional conferences where we used to have all the managers and assistant managers in a give area come. It used to be every year, and then sometimes we expanded to a cycle over a year and a half. These meetings were, I think, a very good thing for the direction of the organization throughout the country. We all went, all the top people went there, and I almost always made a broad report to them on the status of the organization and the work and so on. He loved to go to those, to be recognized by the managers as the top guy. He was a very good-natured person; he loved to sit up late at night and play poker with the managers. Sometimes, the Regional Rep, or the subordinate heads of the organization, would try to get him to go their way on something. And he'd just back right out of it. He never gave me any problems on that score at all, and people soon realized it.
Interviewer: OK, good. You know, it strikes me that in the broadest terms, really as Bureau Director and as Commissioner, you really have two types of responsibilities. One is policy making and policy issues and philosophical issues--political issues. And the other is management. You have to run the organization, you have to run the program. And one of the things I've been impressed about you is how well you balance both of those. A lot of times you find somebody who's interested in one or the other of those two types of responsibilities, but not both. You blend an interest in both of those. So, I have a general question about that. The general question is what proportion of your time and your effort and your attention did you devote to each of those two parts of the job? To what extent did you spend your time making big policy decisions and to what extent did you spend your time making management decisions and managing the organization? How did you see your duties in that way?
Ball: I think you understand it correctly, although it may be even more separate in the way most organizations operate than what you're saying, because in Social Security the definition of the future of the program is in the legislation. It's not just policy within a set law, as it now is. It is leading a program and an organization into the future, with the Congress, and with the President, and I did do both. I came, originally, from research and policy.
I guess, I still think that the most important of responsibilities in leading an organization is to define what it is and interpret it to the public and the Congress and the other officials of government, and to lead toward legislative change to improve the program. Although I recognized fairly early, I think, that you can't do that, and it won't work, unless you also have an organization that is very good at its job. You cannot shirk the responsibility to make the thing work.
Now in many organizations they divide the two, and frequently it's a necessity to divide the two. Take the Treasury Department, I'm not acquainted with recent operations within Treasury, but the basic structure of Treasury has been, for years and years when I knew it well, a clear distinction between those responsibilities. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue's job really was to run the tax system as it was, with very broad delegation as an operator, and out of his operating experience would come some contribution to future policy. But it wasn't basically the responsibility of the Commissioner to think about what is a good tax system. Instead, they had an Assistant Secretary for policy and legislation, or whatever he might be called, who really quite dominated the process and had the responsibility for the future of tax policy and the rationale of tax policy. Some of them have been very, very good at it. But, nobody has, except the Secretary of the Treasury, theoretically, real responsibility for doing both things. It's a different way of organizing.
I felt that it was really a great advantage to Social Security to combine in one person the responsibility for the future of the program and policy and legislation, and for operating it and making it work. But it's very hard to get people, as you suggest, who are interested or experienced in both aspects of it. Moreover, it can be quite overwhelming. So, it also requires, if you have that concept, a Deputy who can also move in and out of two areas.
Your question became very specific, as to how did I divide me time? Well, in practical terms, you are forced to divide your time, if you're taking responsibility for both things. In part, not in total, but in part, you are forced to divide your time depending on where the heat is at the moment. If an important piece of legislation is going through the Congress, and Congress is working on it day by day in the Ways and Means Committee--and it moves to the Senate, for a much shorter period, but nevertheless day by day they're working on it--I spent all my time, practically all of it, there. Right there in the room with the Congressmen, with the Senators. I had good deputies and assistants, who while I was doing that, could carry on pretty much what we had already agreed to do. They moved into that. Then, if it was a period when it was not active in Washington, I shifted emphasis. I always had major offices in both Baltimore and in Washington, and would move with the heat of the issue. If the big thing was implementing something that was very difficult to implement--like the Medicare program, or before that many other things, like the initiation of disability, the extension of coverage to farmers, which was a big issue at the time--I would be spending, I would say, just about all my time in Baltimore on the administrative aspects. Fortunately, the biggest problems in administration didn't go on at the same time as the biggest problems in legislation because the biggest problems in administration were implementing the previous legislation (Laughs).
So, you could move from one to the other and subordinates could move to fill in the opposite responsibility. There were people completely adequate, I mean good, not just adequate, to perform in relation to those things. Alvin David, Mary Ross and a whole large group of other people who were always there with the Congress and the Congressional staff. And the same with the administrative side. We had depth related to every point. I think that's very important, if you're going to organize the way I suggest is the best. Art Hess, when he was Deputy, was an alter-ego, not in charge of set parts of the organization or the program. It was not set up in a way that he had the delegation to run things and I was the policy person, nothing like that. They were completely alter-ego jobs. Either one could go either way on anything, was the whole concept. As we went I just took what seemed to be the most important thing at the time and he would move and swivel with it.
Interviewer: OK, great. We talked in our first session about the disability legislation, and we covered that fairly well. But, there were some other things going on, and you just mentioned one of them, which was the extension of coverage to farmers and then extension of coverage to the self-employed. There were lots of extension of coverage work that was going on during this period when you were Deputy Bureau Director, and Acting Bureau Director. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Ball: I guess coverage of farmers was probably the biggest single challenge before disability insurance. First of all, conceptually, it's important to remember what the program provided for. We're talking about a program which is primarily based on the theory of partially making up for lost income--in those days, quite clearly--lost income due to retirement. That was what the extension of coverage to farmers was about. To have a program designed to make up for lost income, you need to know what the income is. In the coverage of wages, that's not too hard. You have to make decisions of course. Will you count wages over how long a period of time, an average over a lifetime career, or do you mean the highest five years, or the highest three years, as the civil service system does, and so on. But you have concrete reports of what a person has been earning. You have a third party who is making the report about that individual's earnings. The employer, under law, is stating what he paid this person, subject to the penalties of law. If he has a conspiracy with the employee to inflate his wages so he can get a higher benefit, the employer makes himself vulnerable to the consequences of law-breaking.
In self-employment we are trying to determine what this loss is against which we are going to make a payment. First, the reporter is the same person as the one who is going to benefit from the report. Through misunderstanding, many self-employed people, or farmers, just tried to evade the responsibility of making a report at all, or thought it was voluntary. Those who really understood, who had some grasp of it--and from an administrative standpoint we had to think in these terms--would have really quite a strong incentive to overstate the amount of their income, considering that you only had to be covered for a short period before payment could made. So there were these inherent difficulties in covering both the urban self-employed and farmers.
There was also the question, that's fundamental in the coverage of self-employment, that is perhaps even more difficult. That is, what part of the income from a farm, or from a self-employment business, is a return on an investment, and what portion of it is a really return for work? The only thing that really stops when you retire, is the return from work. People can get a self-employment income and a farm income without doing any work at all-you can just own the business, somebody else works it, and you get the money. Then after you retire, it's still the same situation it was before. You haven't retired from anything. You were just an investor, from the beginning, even though you're the owner.
So, those things all had to be thought about and rules established to distinguish one from the other. Obviously, you couldn't be very precise. Obviously, it had to be very broad-brush. In farm coverage, what we did primarily was to say in order to be covered, the person had to work at the job, and the phrase used was "material participation," they had to actually be involved in whatever the work was on the farm. Not just sit somewhere and get the income from it. So, material participation became a key element that had to be determined in every coverage case.
We then had to go to work and actually set up earnings records for the farmers of America, and determine what the basis should be to which a benefit formula could be applied. So, it was a difficult series of decisions that had to be made under the necessity of doing a lot in a very short time. There was a pent-up workload that needed to be handled quite quickly because a lot of the farmers were past the eligibility age, although still working, and they wanted benefits quickly. Many of them had determined to retire as soon as they could get benefits.
One of the big complications of the whole extension of coverage was the sharecropper system in the South. They were covered as individual farmers. The sharecroppers did operate under common law rules that made them not employees, but independent operators. Basically, they ran a little farm, they made all the decisions related to how the farm was actually operated. But, then they had to share the crop at the end, similar to paying rent. A very high proportion of these sharecroppers were completely illiterate, uneducated, and very poor. This was a big, a really big improvement, in their lives, at the end of their lives. It was important to get them on the rolls and get them to supply the factual information that was necessary, proving a date of birth, marital status, and so on. At that time, most of the southern states had not had birth records when the sharecroppers reaching 65 were born. So one had to process these claims on the basis of secondary evidence, through family bibles, or an awful lot from census records-from the decennial census that was nearest to their birth. But those census records, a lot of them, were not very good in relationship to blacks. The census record would just say "nine children,"without necessarily the kind of differentiation among the children that was necessary to make a real determination of age.
So, there was a lot of difficulty in trying to do a reasonably accurate job in the extension of coverage to farmers generally, and particularly to this group, in which several hundred thousand claims were involved in the sharecropper situation. We sent many extra people into the farm areas from urban or suburban areas to help with the workload. It was processed somehow and claims were paid.
Interviewer: Was there any controversy about the implementation of the extensions of coverage, the way we talked last time about the Harrison Sub-Committee in relation to implementation of the disability program, the Congress wanted to go back and say, "Well, we're not sure you're doing this right." Was there anything like that around any of this? Did the Congress try to second guess you? Or complain about Administration or any of that?
Ball: Not to any significant degree, no.
Interviewer: OK, all right.
Ball: The other point on that is that we set a minimum--the law did actually, in anticipation of the problem of covering a large number of very poor farmers--it set a minimum of granting $400 credit on a presumption of net income of at least $400 on the basis of gross income of a given amount--I've now forgotten the amount. So, I would say most of these sharecroppers in the end were covered on the minimum basis of evidence of a gross value to their share, without the detail of all costs being deducted from gross income and arriving at a net. It was a great help in determination to be able to use the presumption of at least $400 net on the basis of a certain size gross.
Interviewer: How about other management administrative issues during that period, during the '50s, during that period before you were Commissioner? Any challenges, any management challenges that stand out in your mind that you had to deal with?
Ball: Management challenges aren't necessarily related to episodes of exceptional situations. That's on top of a continuous process of managing big workloads in relation to the number of people that you have available. Issues like, how much do you put into training? What kind of a training organization and its goals do you set up? How much do you do in the way of sampling of your own work to determine the accuracy of it and learning a basis for change? We had a pretty good sampling process in which the object was to find out whether we were collecting more proofs than we really needed, say, to determine the legitimacy of a claim for a widow's benefit. How inadequate were our procedures--re-testing on a sample basis and therefore managing the process for the future by finding out the holes in the proofs--or, on the other hand, the over-development that can occur? All that is a continuous thing with decisions all along the way. If there never was a crisis of new legislation, there would be a continuous major, major job in any one of these big organizations, like Internal Revenue, or Social Security, or the Post Office. I mean, that's a huge management job, even if they didn't change the rules. So, that's a very continuous thing.
Interviewer: Shortly after the Eisenhower Administration came in, in 1953, one of the things they did was abolish the Federal Security Agency and replace it by HEW, Health Education and Welfare. Altmeyer was pushed out as part of that reorganization plan. How did that affect your job? How did that affect the agency? Was there anything you wanted to talk about regarding Altmeyer's leaving?
Ball: Well, I'll talk about Altmeyer's leaving because that did have an impact. But, the basic organizational change was just an upgrading of the overall Federal Security Agency to a cabinet department. Mrs. Hobby came in as the head of the Federal Security Agency and operated from that post for several months. Then they were successful in getting the Federal Security Agency named as a department, and she headed that. Everything stayed the same except the name change and the greater prestige of her being a member of the Cabinet.
Altmeyer's leaving was certainly to be expected. Technically, that job had some kind of standing that didn't make it obvious that it was a turnover type job. But it was clear that it was such an important job that it would be changed. And you have to remember that the Democrats had been in charge of the federal government for the last 20 years. The point about his leaving that caused some rancor among Altmeyer's supporters was that if he stayed on just a few months more, his wife would have been entitled to a better degree of protection under the civil service provisions. They offered him the opportunity to do that, in what was clearly just a make-work type job, which he couldn't reasonably be expected to accept. They weren't willing to just let him stay there for a few months as Commissioner. So that caused some bad feeling with his supporters.
Altmeyer was the dominating figure all during the early days of Social Security. He was the second Assistant Secretary of the Labor Department and Frances Perkins' Lieutenant during the whole original Committee on Economic Security operation in setting up the program, and then a member of the Social Security Board from the very beginning. When the Chairman of the Board, John Winant, Governor of New Hampshire, resigned in 1936 Altmeyer became the Chairman of the Board. And he was the main figure in Social Security administration and policy from--I would say the beginning, even while Winant was there--from the beginning on up to the Eisenhower Administration, which is about 18 years. And, between us, we divided most of the time (Laughs) of the first 40 years heading Social Security.
(Ed. Note: Between them, Altmeyer and Ball were in charge of the Social Security program for 39 of its first 40 years. Altmeyer led the organization for 18 years and Ball was the top civil servant for 10 years and Commissioner for 11.)
Interviewer: To the benefit of all of us.
Ball: I think we did talk about the so-called "Hobby Lobby."
Interviewer: Yes, last time we talked quite a bit about the Hobby Lobby. We have that. So I'm trying to pick up some of these administrative issues. I guess that's my theme this morning. I notice here that in late 1953 one of the things that happened is we eliminated one of our regional offices. The regional office in Cleveland was closed, and we went down from 10 regions to nine. Anything stand out in your memory about that? Is that significant?
Ball: Didn't we just parallel the Department's regions?
Interviewer: I assume we did.
Ball: I don't remember anything about it that's particularly significant.
Interviewer: All right, let's do this one then. In 1954, there was a move to relocate the Bureau's main staff from Baltimore to Washington. I believe it was even officially announced, and plans were under way to make the move. Then some maneuvers happened in Congress to block the move. Would you talk about that whole thing?
Interviewer: Did you support the move? Was it your idea? How did that all play out?
Ball: Well, it certainly wasn't my idea, but on the other hand, I didn't sabotage it either.
I wanted the Headquarters to stay in Baltimore. I had been arguing with Mrs. Hobby about how she didn't need to move the top staff of Social Security to Washington. I was easily available to be there in 45 minutes anytime she wanted me. We came and went between Baltimore and Washington very easily, no problem at all. I had been arguing this way with her for quite a while, because we didn't want the top staff to move. To me, it was much more important that I and the others in the top staff be close to Social Security's operation, to our subordinates, than that I should be immediately available to her, because I didn't really think that the layer above me had very much to do with operating the agency anyhow. I thought it was all from me down that counted. I suppose that's a usual difference between the view point of different places in the hierarchy. Anyway, I had been arguing that I'd be available anytime, no problem. And she held this meeting again on this subject of moving us, and I was about 15 minutes late to the meeting because the train that I commuted on had a delay. I don't think this really changed her mind at all because she was already adamant beforehand. But it sort of took some of the argument out of my side. I should say that she was something of a martinet and insisted on people being on time for meetings or would be quite put out. Nelson Rockefeller, the Deputy Undersecretary, was frequently late to meetings, it was a real fault of his. And one time she just locked him out of the meeting. (Laughs)
Interviewer: (Laughs) That's funny.
Ball: Yes, she wanted everybody to be right on time.
Interviewer: So you went to Washington for this meeting to discuss moving the department?
Ball: Yes, another one, one of many, but that was the last one she held.
Interviewer: Did she say to you at the time, "All right Ball, that's it."
Ball: (Laughs) Well, she said that before, but this time she was amused too. I had a very good relationship with her. It's just that she wanted to accomplish this move.
Now what happened was that the employees involved in the move, the top employees involved in the move--and I never knew who exactly they were, and I didn't want to know--went to their Congressman here in Maryland, the Baltimore Congressman, and got him to write into the Appropriation Act for the Department that no money of the appropriation to the Department could be used to reimburse a move of staff from Baltimore to Washington. And of course, that did it. If they couldn't use the money, they could hardly order people to move and then not pay their moving expenses. So, that ended the attempt to move the top staff separately into Baltimore, at least at that time.
Interviewer: Was Mrs. Hobby suspicious that you might have engineered that?
Ball: I don't know, she never indicated that.
Interviewer: She never said anything to you?
Ball: No, I don't think she did. I had no interest in trying to fight things that way-- the program was not going to stand or fall on this issue.
Interviewer: Another thing that happened that I did want to talk to you about that started around the same time was moving the organization to Woodlawn and setting this all up in Woodlawn as SSA's Headquarters. The contract for the planning, the initial planning, was let in 1953 sometime. But, the building was completed at the end of 1959 and you moved in January of 1960. Talk about that a little bit.
Ball: John Tramburg was Commissioner of Social Security at the time. I was whatever degree of Bureau Director I happened to be then, I've forgotten. It was clear that we needed to build a new building, there was an agreement on that. The way the government worked, and I guess still does, is that the General Services Administration is the main agency for rental of buildings and building of buildings and doing everything else about buildings. So they work with the agency that's involved. The ultimate decision, technically at least, is theirs. So we were working with the General Services Administration on finding a site for the building.
Their first view was to build the building in downtown Baltimore. The site they had was just barely big enough to fit a building of the size that we would have needed at that time. Well, we resisted that strongly, so they backed off. Then Tramburg and I, and then me alone, I think visited 55 or 60 different sites in the area of Baltimore to find something that would be satisfactory, not just for the next 10 years, but for a long, long range development. There were several that GSA pushed, but we didn't think were adequate. Then we finally settled on this site where the building actually is. It was a farm; it was very rural country at the time the building was built. There were many things about it that were attractive. And, of course, it was clear that all the roads around that area would have to be changed because of us and bringing in, I don't know, roughly 10,000 people, I guess it was.
But once a decision was made, then the next step, of course, was to contract for architectural and engineering firms to draw plans. I think we were very fortunate in both respects. The architectural firm and the engineering firm worked well together. I think they did an excellent job on the original building and they had been retained for the additions later.
The architect for that firm, who was more or less in charge, of I guess you might call it the aesthetic aspects of the project, was Dick Ayers, who made the kind of decisions that I was most immediately involved in. Then that was followed by a lot of engineering decisions, some of which I was involved in and some not. But, I was called upon to decide a great deal of detail about that building and its furnishings, from the kind of stage curtains in the auditorium, to the materials on the seats in the auditorium, to the decision to have a room behind the auditorium that could be thrown open to a larger crowd, to the floor covering in the part of the building where the heavy operations were, to the cobblestone in the parking lot (Laughs). One mistake that was made--I had approved it--it wasn't something I pushed, but I approved it, were Belgian cobblestones in the parking lot on the one side of the building. That turned out to be a trap for high heels for women. We had to remove them and use something else.
Other than that, things went pretty smoothly, and without--in my feeling anyway-- without any significant regret. I don't know the opinion of the architectural community as a whole, if they ever had one. But, I think the basic concept of a low, large structure for operations behind, and a nine-story building in front with suites that connect up and down--first of all, the Bureau Director's office and then the eight operating divisions immediately below--worked out very well. And with dumb waiter communications up and down. That's all that was built initially, the nine-story building in front and the big operating building behind.
I learned a great deal of what goes into deciding how to construct a building. And, as I say, I was involved in all the really detailed decisions about the furnishings, whether something should be blue or should be red and so on.
Interviewer: Because they just brought that to you and said that somebody has to do this, decide this? Or because you wanted to be involved in that level of detail?
Ball: I don't ever really remember making a deliberate decision to involve myself. On the other hand, I certainly didn't do anything to delegate it to someone else. So I guess the conclusion is I wanted to do it and it was a normal and natural thing to do.
Interviewer: You said that in the main Administration Building--which we now call the Altmeyer Building these days-- you were on the ninth floor and your eight division directors were each on a floor below you. Is that how it was structured?
Interviewer: Did you literally design the building that way because there were eight division directors, to have nine floors? Or you just arranged your people that way?
Ball: I think that was the idea. If there had been ten, would we have had ten floors?
Interviewer: Exactly, that's the question.
Ball: I'm not sure of that.
Ball: Or if there had been six, would we have had six floors? I think it just kind of worked out.
Later on, we had some top staff at the other end of the corridors on each level too. So that Tom Parrot, who was at one time the Field Director to whom Regional Directors reported, was at the other end of the hall from the Bureau Director's office. I thought the space worked out very well.
Interviewer: Now, were you in the suite with the Commissioner?
Ball: Yes. One end of the ninth floor was a suite with several rooms for the Bureau Director and the Deputy. It was designed as a reception room and parallel offices for the Bureau Director and the Deputy, a very nice conference room with a little kitchen, mostly a serving kitchen, that came up from the cafeteria for luncheons, and room for secretarial staff on both sides of the reception area, and also for an Executive Assistant around that same reception area. So that worked well.
Interviewer: OK, now the big point of this, of course, is it was the first time in the agency's history that all the parts of the headquarters component were co-located in one place. Previously, Accounting Operations was in Candler and other parts of headquarters were scattered in other places.
Ball: Yes. The original idea had been to have Social Security headquarters in Washington. I don't mean just the 200 staff that Mrs. Hobby and I were fussing about, but Social Security as a whole.
Interviewer: You mean Candler, the operations in Candler, and everything.
Ball: Yes, the whole thing, meaning everything that wasn't out in the field, was headed for Washington in the building at 4th and Independence.
Interviewer: The one that's now the Wilbur Cohen Building?
Ball: Yes, the one that's now the Wilbur Cohen Building was intended to be the Headquarters for Social Security, with everything in one place there. What happened is that the United States entered the second World War, just before it was time to occupy that building. So, instead, it was taken over by war agencies, and the basic operation of Social Security stayed in Baltimore.
So the idea when building a new building, of course, was again to bring everything together. But, it had just grown from the original operating area in the Candler Building because there just wasn't enough room, obviously. The Bureau Director had been in the Equitable Building in Baltimore. Then as the organization grew, other buildings around Baltimore had to be rented just to accommodate the staff. So, they were brought together in this new building.
Interviewer: Do you remember what some of those other buildings where? Or at least how you divided people up among those buildings? I mean, you just touched on it. The Bureau Director and his immediate staff were in the Equitable Building.
Interviewer: The Commissioner's office was there?
Ball: No, the Commissioner was in Washington. You see, at this time the Commissioner was a different operation.
Interviewer: So, he didn't have an office in Baltimore?
Ball: No, and as we may have discussed earlier, the delegation from the Commissioner to the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance, after Altmeyer, was very complete. You can think of the headquarters of that operation as being in Baltimore in the Equitable Building, which would have housed the top staffs of the whole operation, except for the Accounting Operations Division.
Interviewer: Which was in Candler.
Ball: Yes, In Candler. They had the top staff at Candler, as well as the operation. Joe Fay and Tom McDonald and the top staff were there with their operation. But the Field Operation's top staff with Hugh McKenna was in the Equitable Building. Claims Policy was in the Equitable Building with Ewell Bartlett. The Operation of the Payment Centers was in the Equitable Building, and so on. They're all in the Equitable Building.
Interviewer: Did you have, like, two floors? Or do you remember?
Ball: Oh, I think we had more than that. We had a major part of that building. I think, I'm not sure of the exact number, but I think we had eight or nine floors.
Interviewer: We had several other buildings in Baltimore for other staff too?
Ball: Yes. They weren't major operations.
Interviewer: These would be headquarters staff?
Ball: No, they were more operational.
Ball: The other little clusters around in the offices--I don't remember it well enough for you to get any real information out of me.
Ball: Except, that it was not top staff. There were various operations that could be separated out, just to make room, that's all.
Now, of course, the goal of everything in one place, didn't last too long. We hadn't been out at Woodlawn with everybody there for too long before it was clear that it had to expand. But, we always had in mind room to expand at Woodlawn. First, if I remember the sequence correctly, was a warehouse building. And then what became the Headquarters for Disability, and then the Medicare operation, and then the attachment to the Headquarters building, which is the west side, I guess. Then in addition to that, we rented a building a half-mile away, but visible from the Headquarters building, that we bought later. So it was expanded a lot on that site in one way or another.
But, in addition, as we were expanding, the Mayor of Baltimore got the Congressional Delegation for that area and the Senators for Maryland to make a very strong pitch for having some of the expansion be in a building downtown that would be an anchor for part of the rehabilitation of downtown Baltimore. I was convinced, partly on the merits, and partly because they were too formidable a group to oppose, if they had a reasonably good case, and they did. So, that one part, a significant part, of our operations was moved downtown--in a new building built downtown. Senator Sarbanes was significantly involved, and so were the others. I guess, Brewster at that time was a Senator, and the Congressman was Clarence Long, I think.
Then, in addition to that we later on set up an operation in Wilkes-Barre, which does the same sort of thing as is done at Baltimore. That was done partly on the rationale that there was a very good labor force available in Wilkes-Barre, a lot of unemployment and a lot of the wives of unemployed miners who wanted to work. And partly because the Congressman who Chaired our Appropriations Committee, Dan Flood, was very much interested in getting more places for the employment of his constituencies. It seemed like a reasonable request and helpful to both us and him. So we did that.
Interviewer: OK. Another thing that happened in this period, in the '50s, and I don't know how involved you were in this, was the coming of computers, big, large computers to the Accounting Operations. I think it was 1956 that we got our first big serious computer there, and they called it "The Brain." I've seen stories in the OASIS and so on, and "The Brain" comes to Accounting Operations. Anything stand out about the computerization of our operations?
Ball: Yes, I think so.
We were really in the computer business quite early. I don't claim that the operators themselves had a great interest in it in the beginning. There's a tendency of people who run something to like the way they're already doing it. And, it's a huge amount of trouble to change, basically, from one kind of a system to another. There was also, surprisingly enough, a lot of resistance in the General Accounting Office--I don't mean at the very beginning, I mean later on--from the General Accounting Office, who had run into situations in which agencies had moved to a lot of computer work when they didn't really have a very good case for it.
But to go back to the beginning of it. We started with trying out computers in non-basic workload work, that is on personnel, and accounting--I mean accounting in the narrow sense, budget-making and that sort of thing, to get the feel of it. But we followed it very closely with the original work in the Air Force particularly. And, the original machines, early machines, of Univac and--I've forgotten all the names of them now. (Laughs) But, we were very much involved in tracking this stuff. And, IBM, who was our main contractor for punch-card work, moved into computers. As far as they were concerned, we were a very, very major account. For them to get from us the contract to set up a computer system in Social Security was a big thing, which they could use throughout the industry from then on. So, they turned themselves inside out to help us accomplish what of course was in their business interest, as well as in our efficiency interests.
We got started early and very successfully. The only slow downs were when we had to keep proving to OMB and the General Accounting Office that something that you couldn't yet see, was going to be, down the road, an important thing to do. We always won in the end, but it was a delaying thing frequently. We also had to, probably not surprisingly, keep modifying our overall plans and directions. We continually had outside consultants and we changed officers in charge internally with long-range planning in the area. It was new and there were lots of alternatives, some of which weren't very good. So it was a constant job of making sure that what we did was best for the long run and made sense. It was a process over several years.
Interviewer: All right, well let's move into the '60s. I've kept you in the '50s all morning. (Laughs) When you became Commissioner, one of the things that you changed was the role of the Commissioner.
Ball: On that subject, the Commissioners were often busy with other things than what we now think of as Social Security. For example, two of the Commissioners, who were very good people, came from a background of public assistance. So the Bureau of Public Assistance, the Grants-in-Aid program, which was under them too, was a considerable focus of theirs, and the Children's Bureau and the Federal Credit Union--other things that were involved in Social Security. I meant merely that they did not try to exercise very much real leadership or control of the national system of Social Security, as we know it.
Interviewer: OK, all right. But, after you became Commissioner, you apparently had a conscious strategy to shift some of that control, if I can say it that way, from the Bureau into your office so that you could continue to have a major role in the Title II program. Tell me how you saw that and how you engineered that. Let's talk about that a little bit.
Ball: I think it's easier to understand what happened there if we look at it more that the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance, over the period of a couple of years, became the Social Security Administration. The other parts of the Social Security Administration, which had been under the Commissioner, were moved elsewhere in the Department. I was in charge, as Commissioner--and I don't have the dates right in mind, but I'd say probably, roughly the first year I was Commissioner--I had the Bureau of Public Assistance as well as Social Security. And they actually needed a lot more attention at that time than did the national system of what we now call Social Security. I spent a great deal of the first year as Commissioner on issues within the Bureau of Public Assistance.
That's when Senator Robert Byrd was Chairman of the District Committee in the Senate, that is the Senate's Committee that deals with the District of Columbia, he was in charge of that. And he was conducting really a feud with the Public Assistance operation in the District of Columbia. He's changed a lot, he's not the same person he was back in those days. He was then really quite anti-black. He had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which he later repudiated. He used to do a lot of quite unacceptable things. He made a big point of forcing the district to deny claims of women and their children in the AFDC program on the grounds that there was a man in the house other than a husband. The issue in Public Assistance at that time was that you couldn't pay Public Assistance to a complete family, a man and a wife. So if the husband wasn't there but another man was, Byrd's reasoning was you couldn't pay the family. His reasoning was the man taking he place of the husband should support the family and the claims should be turned down just as if the husband had been present. He sent investigators out to find men hiding under the bed and one thing and another. What got me so involved, was, first of all, a hearing he held. Didn't I tell this story before?
Interviewer: We've talked about some of this, but go ahead.
Ball: It's a long story on the hearing. I think we ought to deal with that separately, if I haven't done it already. But I got involved first in the District of Columbia operation.
Interviewer: I don't think we did. I think it's in your memoir that you dictated. That's where you talked about this. You and I haven't talked about this yet, I don't think.
Ball: From getting involved in the District of Columbia issue, it became clear to me that the Bureau of Public Assistance did not have a very good hold on the accuracy of the decisions by the States throughout the country. It was hard to defend whether they were doing a good a job or not from the information that we had. The Bureau just hadn't collected the kind of information on the accuracy of claim decisions that you would want in an argument with somebody who was saying 20 per cent, 30 per cent, 50 per cent of the people on the rolls shouldn't be there. It became a matter of opinion.
So I established, first of all, an advisory group that had statisticians from the Census and experts from the schools and one thing and another. And we established a sampling system on report accuracy throughout the States. From then on a Commissioner or the Bureau of Public Assistance could look to some real facts about how well States were doing in making determinations. We went at the argument partly in that way. I think I'll postpone to another time, this story of how a hearing developed with Byrd, because we're getting off from what your main point was--that we really shifted the Commissioner's Office over to being the Bureau Director's Office, with the responsibility for the national system, being now headed by a Commissioner which had been headed by a Bureau Director.
After this first year, approximately, in which I spent a great deal of time on Public Assistance matters, and to some extent on Federal Credit Union matters--the Cuban refuge program was a very important thing then too. We had a big fuss over the Cuban refuge program. So we created a Commissioner of Welfare, who then took the Bureau of Public Assistance and the Children's Bureau and that type of operation over. So that the Commissioner of Social Security could become what the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance Director had been. That's really what I did. It was much remarked at the time that seldom did you find a government official on his initiative giving up half his empire. I was eager to place these other important subjects under somebody who could devote full-time to them, so I could devote full-time to the operation of the national Social Security program. That's what we did with Ellen Winston becoming the Commissioner of Welfare. That was the main point about that.
Interviewer: Did you change the organizational structure of SSA to correspond to this?
Ball: I changed the structure . . .
Interviewer: How did you reorganize?
Ball: In addition to taking things out which had been the responsibilities of the Commissioner of Social Security, at the same time the Social Security Administration was reorganized. Social Security had very few reorganizations up through when I left in 1973. I think reorganizations are a last resort for an organization. They are really hard on morale, they set up a lot of in-fighting and inefficiencies, merely out of the fact of reassigning everybody to different kinds of responsibilities. So you do it with very considerable reluctance. But, at this time there were good reasons to change some of the old Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance organization, particularly with the introduction of Disability Insurance, where you needed a new operating Bureau for the Disability program.
What we did was really to be much clearer about the interrelationship of staff and operating divisions then we had been in the old Bureau. We set up several very clear-cut operating divisions, and then we showed how some bureaus were basically service bureaus to the whole Social Security Administration, performing a function that was needed by other bureaus. For example, the Accounting Operations Division which maintains the lifetime earnings records of people, was a fundamental service to everything else in the whole organization. Every other operation was dependent on those basic records. The field offices were the contact with the public for everything that the whole organization did, everything else had to go through them. We set up an organization that was not heavily bound by traditional considerations of whether you organized by a functional organization or what you. But by this concept of the interrelationships between these big operating divisions, the service operations, and those that had a policy charge for a given area of responsibility. So, there was a Disability Bureau, but the Disability Bureau didn't try to repeat the functions of basic wage record keeping, or on the other hand, contact with the public through district offices. But, it was responsible for the formation of disability policy and making sure that the carrying out of disability policy through district offices was adhered to and was proper. There was considerable negotiating there with the Bureau of Field Operations. In the same way there became a Bureau of Retirement and Survivors which did the same thing as Disability did for retirement and survivors. So, yes, there was a pretty complete reorganization of Social Security, just about this time. And that held up until I left in 1973.
Interviewer: Now, you actually, at one point, eliminated the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance, and the Bureau Director's job. So you shifted Vic Christgau into being Executive Director of Social Security. That was his job title.
Ball: Yes, of Social Security.
Interviewer: all right.
Ball: He didn't act any different. (Laughs)
Interviewer: It's the same role.
Ball: Yes. See the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance becomes the Social Security Administration. So, now you have a Commissioner whose in charge of the Social Security Administration, but as the direct operating officer of the organization. So, I needed a way for at least a time for Victor Christgau to help out and to preserve his rank and prestige. And this was an adjustment that was made in a reorganization situation like that.
Interviewer: Right, now at some point you appointed a Deputy Commissioner.
Ball: Yes, you see I was quite conscious of that, having been made a Deputy of the old Bureau, by that sentence in my job description. (Laughs) So I was very conscious of the need for a real alter-ego. Victor Christgau was not going to operate as a real alter-ego in the position that I put him in. So from then on, the Agency's always had a real Deputy. And, I guess it's always operated as an alter-ego Deputy, rather than ones with assigned separate duties.
Interviewer: Who was your first Deputy? Was that Art Hess?
Ball: Yes. It was Art Hess.
Ball: I'm not positive of that, but I'm pretty sure. It's a pretty small and tight organization at the very top. I mean, there was a Deputy, and under various titles from time to time, a third person who was Executive Assistant, the Executive this or that, which Jack Futterman held at one time.
Interviewer: OK, all right. I think maybe we have to shift now to some policy stuff again because, early in 1963 there was the appointment of another Advisory Council, the 1963 Advisory Council. This council apparently came out of the 1956 Amendments. It was authorized in the '56 Amendments that there would be this council. Anyway, there was a Council in '63 - '64.
Ball: Which reported in '65.
Interviewer: Which reported in '65. You want to talk about that Council a bit?
Ball: Yes, but let me just, as a bridge to it, say this.
You had earlier introduced the theme of the division of a top person's job between, what you might call, the CEO functions and the broad legislative and program direction and policy. The 1960s is a good illustration of how they needed to be combined. I actually included in this most recent book of mine, "Insuring the Essentials," a talk to the employees that sort of embodies what was going on in this area, in the '60s. We became part of the civil rights movement and agitation at Social Security, among the employees there. And, of course, the Medicare program was implemented following its planning and legislative development in the early '60s. So, in this talk that I gave the employees, one can see that I'm addressing both the recently past 1965 Amendments, which include Medicare, and the implementation of which is going to be the biggest job the organization ever had. In the same talk--and this is a talk broadcast to the whole staff in Baltimore. We had a public address system that went through the whole building, as well as the ability to assemble a pretty good-sized group selected from all over the organization, right in the Auditorium, plus in what we called the Multi-Purpose Room behind the auditorium. At the same time, I was addressing the fact that Dick Gregory--the comedian and civil rights activist--had organized a protest march around the building for the next day. He was protesting against what he considered discrimination in the employment and promotion of blacks. So, I'm dealing with both of those things in this talk; and I think that speech gives a good indication of the sort of problems that a leadership at that time had to deal with. Now, back to . . . what was your question? (Laughs)
Interviewer: The '65 Advisory Council.
Ball: Oh, yes. That Council was the only Council which was Chaired by a Commissioner of Social Security. I didn't think that was a good idea, but it was in the law that way. Right after the end of it, I was instrumental in getting that taken out of the law, because I thought it was a much better posture for an Advisory Council to be entirely made up of non-government members, and not from Social Security. In part, their job was to assess what was going on in Social Security. And although I was extremely active in all those Councils, I never, theoretically, had a vote. I was like a Chief of Staff or a chief consultant, when I met with them. I usually went to all of the Advisory Council meetings and participated, I would say probably more fully than any member, so it wasn't a reluctance to participate.
Interviewer: Even when you were a Bureau Director?
Interviewer: Or Assistant Bureau Director.
Ball: Yes, ever since 1948 - 49. But, I didn't think it was a good idea to have head of the Agency be the formal Chair of the Council. So, we got that changed.
But, I was Chair of that Council. To an extent, that Council was a little bit behind the curve. It recommended the Medicare program, but at a time when it was already rolling and it helped some, but the proposal didn't come out of that Council by any means. The Council didn't report until 1965 and it was already really moving. It made some very good recommendations on other relatively minor things, and of course it did recommend Medicare. But it can't be said to be the source of Medicare, as many councils were the source of change. So, there's that distinction. I think the Introduction to that Council's report may have the best statement of what the program is all about, of any statement up until that time. In all modesty, I must say I wrote it. It has been said in various ways since then, and had been said before in different ways, but that is, I think, a very good statement at the beginning of the 1965 Council report.
Interviewer: I agree. By the way I re-published the 1965 Council's report on the SSA Internet site earlier this year.
Ball: The whole report?
Interviewer: The whole report, yes.
Ball: Oh, you probably remember more about it than I do. (Laughs)
Interviewer: And I read it, and it was excellent. I agree completely. Who were the players on that Council? Who were the members that were active on that Council?
Ball: Well, an indication of how relatively minor the disagreements were is that without consulting the list of members, I don't seem to have a very clear idea of who was on what side of what.
The big subject for the 1965 Council, of course, was Medicare. A lot of time was spent on that, and that's the main series of recommendations. The Council itself was made up of people who were almost all strongly supportive of the basic approach of Social Security. Even where there are differences, they are clearly differences within a unity. Except for the business representatives, they all were supportive of the main policy recommendations that the Social Security Administration would make on its own. Even the business representatives were, in general, supportive of the basic program. There were people who had been on councils before and were very influential in the development of the Social Security, like Marion Folsom, Reinhard Hohaus and then Arthur Larson, who's not an employer representative, but a Republican political philosopher who represented the liberal wing of the Republican party. So that there's a lot unanimity.
There's no other important recommendations outside of the Medicare system. Except an interesting point is that the Council accepts the view that pay-as-you go financing is the right approach. And we actually made recommendations to delay the scheduled contribution rate increases because they will produce what we then considered an excess of assets, and we wanted to keep the development of assets down. This is not likely to be a position of councils now, but it was taken by a couple of councils back then.
Interviewer: OK, all right. Well, then let's shift into a whole different topic area for a little bit. I'm putting off starting Medicare because I want to spend a lot of time with it. Maybe that's what we'll start with in our next session. So, let's do a few other topics instead. Around this same time, '64 - '65, President Johnson launches the War on Poverty. And, in addition to the War on Poverty, there was the civil rights movement and the activities that were going on around civil rights. Will you talk a little bit about those two major political trends and how they affected SSA?
Ball: Well, let's try first the War on Poverty. The way that developed was, the War was interpreted to mean the newly developed special programs that were put under Sarge Shriver. They were relatively small programs, with the major objective of, to the extent possible, putting poor people in charge of the programs that affected them. There was a lot of self-direction in the philosophy of the program. They did some interesting and important things. They fostered a lot of community health programs, for example. Some of them still continue. The one in Boston at Bunker Hill is still going well, but not all of them are by any means.
But President Johnson really turned down the approach that I favored, and had talked with Wilbur Cohen about, and gotten his agreement with. And that was, I thought that the much better strategy for a War on Poverty was to include, as the core, programs that affected poverty and that were already in effect. Social Security, among all the programs that government had or thought out for the future, was actually making a difference in the poverty rate. So I thought the President would be better off to have his War on Poverty include, or even center on programs like Social Security, that are already doing the job. And, advocate some improvements in those programs, and then add anything else to it. So he could have claimed for the War on Poverty, the successes that were already built into the existing institutions, like Social Security and some of the other efforts that have been made in the past about reducing the level of poverty. But they didn't do that.
Interviewer: Can I ask you what would that specifically be? Were you trying to get a general benefit increase? Or, how would that translate into Social Security? Did you have in mind some particular initiative that you wanted him to sponsor under the rubric of the War on Poverty?
Ball: I think it's possible to separate the two things. First of all, I was just trying to make a political point. I just thought that he would be much better off if he made the War on Poverty something that I knew he could point to as a success fairly quickly, while at the same time doing some other things, some new things. Now, part of the reasoning that I wanted to do that, though, is that there were improvements to be made in Social Security at that time that could have used some new push, and improvement of the benefit level was a major one. But, there were also other specific improvements, for women in the area of disability and so on. If you are going to have a national War on Poverty, it seemed to me, you should improve the Social Security system as part of that war. But, that didn't happen.
Interviewer: Now, did you pitch that in some way? Did you write memoranda about? Did you brief people about? How did you try make that case?
Ball: It shows up, I'm sure, as a theme in memos. Probably not as the sole purpose of the memo. But, I certainly talked with Wilbur Cohen about it a lot, and he agreed. He also tried to push that point with the President without success. Sarge Shriver on the other hand had a completely different reaction. Part of his approach was pretty much to say that if its already been done, I don't want to hear about it. If it isn't new, we don't want any part of it. He deliberately avoided, not only the existing programs in this area, which I could make a case for, but he avoided government experience with programs very similar to what he was advocating. He quite deliberately didn't want to learn from the past, quite deliberately, because he felt that new thinking would be contaminated by the people who had run previous programs and were biased in some directions. He wanted to reinvent, or invent, a whole new approach to the problem of poverty. He was quite a charismatic leader and good with the Congress and he won out in the arguments with the President.
I do think he would have liked to put the War on Poverty into the Department of HEW, with himself as Secretary, and then his attitude would probably have been different. I believe he was personally ambitious.
Now, the other thing you asked about is civil rights.
Interviewer: Yes, but let me just make sure we're finished with the War on Poverty. So, Johnson didn't take up your suggestion that we should focus the War on Poverty around the existing successful programs. Instead, he created all these new programs. So, after that decision . . .
Ball: Wait, I wasn't opposing creating a new program.
Interviewer: Yes, OK.
Ball: I was opposing ignoring existing ones. I thought they should be part of the circle that you could argue was a War on Poverty.
Interviewer: OK, all right. So, anyway, after that issue was resolved, did we have any involvement? Did SSA have any involvement? Did it impact us in any way, the general War on Poverty? Did we support it? Did we have any kind of programs that we supported? Or did that sort of take us out of that business?
Ball: I don't think we had anything really institutional. I would have some contacts--as an individual, as a member of the upper reaches of the government--I would be dealing with people who were in the War on Poverty. But Social Security as such did not have any specific roles. That's just as well because Sarge Shriver would only deal with what was in the War on Poverty if he had charge of it. (Laughs)
Interviewer: All right, well, then let's talk about civil rights movement. That's something that did necessarily, inevitably, affect SSA--our workforce and our place in the Baltimore community, and so on. Let's talk about that.
Ball: This is a big story, and a long one. The broad outlines of what happened in the '60s, I think, is well known. I will try to confine this to a particular perspective of what Social Security was involved in and did.
When we really got started with a national administration that was serious about ending discrimination in employment in the federal government, I was really shocked to find out how badly Social Security had done in some areas. Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General who had taken on the job of leading the integration movement in employment, after the Baltimore riots, called me and asked how many blacks we had employed in the Birmingham area office--that's a big installation of a couple of thousand people, in Birmingham. And, of course, what he wanted to do was to show that the federal government could integrate its workforce successfully and be a model of equal treatment of people. I found that we had, I think as I remember, two employees who were black, both in maintenance-type, janitorial-type jobs.
Interviewer: Out of probably a couple thousand employees, right?
Ball: Oh, yes. A couple thousand is probably minimal. As you looked at district offices throughout the South, you had very much the same type of thing. In Baltimore headquarters--let me say, distinct from the national supervising aspect of headquarters, but in the big operating part of Baltimore, the maintenance of lifetime earnings records--the picture was different. There was a very large number of blacks employed, and a big percentage of the workforce was black. But it was all at the lower grades. There was no significant movement above, say, grade five, and even at the threes and fours, it was a very small percentage. What had been happening was that a lot of the lowest-level clerical jobs were being filled by black women, in operations like punch-cards and filing, and that sort of thing. But with clearly no road to real promotion. Nor did the people who were hired for those jobs necessarily have educational backgrounds that would lead them to be equally well-qualified with the whites, who came from different schools. Baltimore was a segregated town in terms of education, and a lot of other things too at that time. So, there was clearly a serious problem throughout the whole organization, but particularly in the South and in Baltimore. But it was true throughout the Agency, generally speaking.
The first real clash on the issue came when the NAACP sent me a telegram-- and I cannot remember what the exact threat was--but it was some sort of a demonstration that they were about to conduct. I was in New Hampshire on vacation when I got it. I was shocked, because my own personal beliefs were all on the side of equal opportunity and my devotion to what the Administration was trying to do was complete. But I hadn't been as aware as I should have been of the difference between believing something and making it work. And, the truth is, I hadn't done anything significant about really integrating the Social Security workforce until we were attacked-although I think my general views were well known. But, that isn't enough, just to have general views.
Interviewer: Now, this was because you weren't aware that there was a problem? It hadn't come on your radar screen?
Ball: I think you have to say that. But that's an admission of a kind of ignorance and stupidity that I am reluctant to attribute to myself. But, I think the evidence was that I really hadn't taken the kind of actions I should have taken. All the top staff in Baltimore--I'm talking now about the operational part there--tended to have an old-fashioned border-State, if not Southern-State, attitude toward the issue. They had very strong delegations in terms of who they hired. I could have certainly affected the policy, but in terms of having had any day-to-day contact with it, I would not have had that. So, I replied to her strongly, in effect, asking her to come and see me instead of mounting a demonstration.
Interviewer: Are you talking about the person from NAACP?
Ball: Yes, Juanita Mitchell, who was the head of the Baltimore Chapter. She was the wife of Clarence Mitchell, who was the main legislative person for the national NAACP, and a leader of the Leadership Conference on the whole question of civil rights in the national Capital, working with the Congress. A son of hers, Clarence Mitchell III was a state legislator. The NAACP in Baltimore was something of a Mitchell family operation. But they had lots of other support.
Well, what I did first was to set up an advisory council at Social Security, reporting to me, with complete independence to review the employment practices, the hiring and promotional practices, and to make recommendations.
Interviewer: Did the meeting with Juanita Mitchell take place?
Interviewer: Did the demonstration take place?
Interviewer: Can you tell me about that meeting?
Ball: Well, she was just trying to get my attention.
Interviewer: And she succeeded?
Ball: She did. (Laughs)
Interviewer: OK. So, then you set up this group.
Ball: I set up this advisory group, which had on it, her son, Clarence Mitchell; Furman Templeton, who was the head of the Urban League in Baltimore; and the head of the Union, who was a white guy. We had exclusive contracts with 1923, the local Union at Social Security, which was quite unusual among government agencies. I had actually come from kind of a labor background. It was quite natural to me to negotiate with the Union and have them represent the employees and so on. So I put him on. The rest were all non-Social Security employees. That was the main composition of the advisory council. So they met and made recommendations and put together some good stuff.
Interviewer: So, the group wrote a report to you?
One of the problems I had was to bring along the top staff of the organization, to help them see that what they had done did not get the right results, and that we were clearly vulnerable to a proper charge of discrimination in employment. Now, they didn't believe they were. They all, I think, sincerely thought that they had just picked the best people.
Interviewer: You're talking about your division director's and your . . .
Ball: Yes, I'm talking about people who ran this big operation at Social Security headquarters, the big job of keeping lifetime records. This report dealt with employment conditions in Baltimore, not throughout the field or so on. These subordinates, who were in charge of this operation, I think, believed they had been making the best selections they could on the basis of exams, and school records. For example, there was a Catholic high school in Baltimore that turned out certifiably good clerical employees, who could actually spell and could read and write and do other things like that. And, as a result of the segregated education we had in Baltimore, the black high schools couldn't match this. So through a combination of bias anyway, which they didn't recognize, and the results of a dual system of education, we had an unfair employment situation-even though they thought they had been fair and objective.
So I was in the position of needing to change the rules that they were operating under. Well, after this advisory council reported, we all met on the recommendations. And, it was either the same day, or within the next day, we had adopted all of their recommendations. So I was able to announce to the press that we had adopted the recommendations. And just then, Dick Gregory, who was a civil rights leader, announced a demonstration around the Social Security building for the next day. I was then able, actually, to get the members of this advisory council, including the NAACP, the Urban League, and a group of black ministers in Baltimore, all to say, "Don't do it. The Social Security Administration is trying to be fair. They're in the process of adopting these changes and you're just going to undermine their efforts." And I was able to say that to all the employees. The demonstration went on, but it wasn't a big thing. I mean, they had a relatively small number of employees that participated after I had made a talk in the auditorium about the subject, which also had Medicare mixed up in it too. So that was one thing that was going on.
Interviewer: Now, let me just ask you, as you pass this by, it sounds to me like you got fairly quick agreement from your subordinate managers about this. Was it that easy? Was there no resistance to these changes in personnel practices?
Ball: Well, they had been resisting right along. The report wasn't made overnight. The acceptance was done overnight. But, it was six months or so in the making, during which time they were objecting a lot. But they finally were convinced, I think more or less convinced, "well, regardless of what we think, this is going to happen and we better join it." (Laughs) So, they accepted it. I wouldn't say, as the President would say, that we changed their hearts. I don't really know about that. I changed their actions. (Laughs)
Interviewer: OK, all right, good.
Ball: Then we had to build on that because we had a real difficult situation in that we had black employees who were not being promoted and many of them did not meet minimal qualifications for promotion. So we started night school in Baltimore, at all levels. People could stay after work, at Social Security headquarters, and get their high school equivalent degrees, get their college degrees, get masters degrees. We had the cooperation of the Baltimore school system, Baltimore County school system, and the colleges in the area, Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland, were responsible for giving these night courses right on our campus. It became a very popular effort on our part to qualify the people who felt that they wanted to get ahead, but really didn't have the background to do it.
One thing (Laughs) that you could have expected is that some people got the notion that if they got the degree, they would automatically be promoted--that education is equivalent to being eligible for the next job, which of course it isn't. They also have to have the capacity as well as the education. We started to make real progress though. But you can't have more grade 12s until you've had more grade 11s, if you're promoting up in a career service. We were making real progress in the next to the lowest levels, up through three, four and five. But, it looked very thin, as far as blacks were concerned, in the much bigger jobs. So, that took time. You could only promote to the next level if you've got somebody on the level before.
Interviewer: Right, now what else did you do besides provide education and training? I mean, were there affirmative action policies that you put in place?
Ball: Oh, yes. There was a lot of affirmative action policies and we had a very active grievance procedure with the Union and also directly. There were two tracks that a person who thought he was discriminated against could take. The grievance procedure that the Union ran or an Equal Employment Opportunity plan under Federal law. A wonderful job was done in this area, under the leadership of Lou Zawatski, who was one of the Deputy Directors of the Social Security Administration by that time. He was really very good at his job of reconciling feelings and views, and we organized a set of grievance procedures and handled the individual cases, and he worked them out very well. We set up a cadre of employment specialists. We had, I don't know, 10 or 12 anyway, full-time employees who worked on nothing but taking cases of what appeared to be discrimination, and working them out. Sometimes, of course, turning them down because they weren't valid.
But a lot of activity was going on. A lot of other things were going on around the edges. One of the things in Baltimore was a housing question. You had almost no integrated areas of housing, and people coming in from the field to take jobs in Baltimore were faced with discrimination, if they were blacks. I held a conference on equal employment and housing in Baltimore, with a lot of community participation. And my wife Doris headed a community housing project--that was not officially connected with Social Security. She was very much involved in the issue of getting equal housing. We withdrew from our own swimming club with considerable publicity because it wouldn't take black members. We got the employee dances integrated. The Union had black Vice-Presidents, and Doris danced with the black Vice-Presidents as much as with the white. A lot of this sounds obvious now, but it wasn't then. Those things were real signals at that time, in the '60s.
So there was this combination of push and pressure on the top white staff, and opportunities opening up through goals that we set which were clearly aimed at a greater distribution of top jobs, higher jobs, for blacks. There was some help from the Department by that time, in the '60s. There was an Assistant Secretary at the Department level who had, as one of his responsibilities, the enforcement of equal employment opportunities throughout the whole Department. At one time, it was a man named Quigley. Another time it was a black man named Lisle Carter, who later became the President of the District of Columbia University and a professor at Cornell. He and I served on two or three Boards. He was very helpful to me in setting up the National Academy of Social Insurance, and I consider him a real friend.
Interviewer: What about in the field? I mean, you've started this subject by talking about Birmingham. What did you do about the South?
Ball: Well, we were fairly rough in places like Birmingham. I don't know how some of it would have stood up under a close examination of Civil Service rules. But we moved in a lot of blacks into jobs in the Birmingham Payment Center, without much bye-your-leave toward the rules and got a sizable number quite quickly into places where it was very important that the Federal Government should be an example, in which it clearly hadn't been. It had been a terrible example.
A couple of illustrations: Selma, I'm sure you remember, was the object of one of the big civil rights demonstrations and riots, we put a black in charge of the District Office. He was a paratrooper. It took a guy with a lot of guts to do that, but he was glad to do it. When the riots occurred in Los Angeles, you may remember those riots, we did not have a District Office right in the black community. I had one operating two days late, in a prefabricated office, in Watts. (Laughs) It had been put up the day following the riots and it was operating. Dealing with emergencies like that is not the way to do it, but at least we got that done.
Then I was coming home from a Washington meeting one day, and Washington was on fire. And Baltimore was on fire. We had the nation's wage records in a building in Baltimore in which had a very high proportion of black employees, with perfectly valid grievances, in the midst of this rioting. It was a basis for concern, which I took seriously. I did a lot of organizing among black leaders in the Baltimore community and the Union to make sure everybody realized that we were really working on the program and making a lot of progress. And, so nothing serious happened at Social Security.
When Martin Luther King was shot, I ordered our flag at half-mast. Usually you wait for somebody to declare an official federal policy to put the flag at half-mast, but I had that flag at half-mast at the very beginning of the day. And I went on the public-address system talking to all employees for five or 10 minutes that morning, right away. I organized, by three o'clock in that afternoon, a memorial service in the auditorium for employees, with two of the most prominent black ministers in the community who had been associates of Dr. King, along with a rabbi and a priest.
But it was necessary constantly to be sensitive to the possibility of being misunderstood in the '60s. Toward the end, I got a little comfort from the idea, which is probably true, and that is, that somebody trying to organize will pick a place where they expect some sympathy. It wouldn't have made a lot of sense for the civil rights movement to try to organize the Internal Revenue Service in Baltimore, who didn't have any black employees. (Laughs) Social Security had a very large number of black employees already. And they knew enough about me to know that I would be sympathetic to their position, even though SSA hadn't done very well on promotions. So, in the end, I was glad to have been selected for a real drive.
On the national Social Security Advisory Council I was fortunate enough to persuade the head of the National Urban League, Whitney Young, to be a member. He attended every meeting and was very helpful on Social Security policy and also made some informal suggestions to me about how important it was that we get a sprinkling of black secretaries around in the top people's offices. We did make the effort to do that. And, of course, when you look, you find some extremely capable people. If you don't look, you don't see them.
Those were difficult times, not for me, but for somebody like Whitney Young. Whitney came to a party at my house in Baltimore, for the Advisory Council. I had a place with a large lawn, where we could give outdoor parties. He came along with other members of the advisory council, but he had two city detectives with him. Not at his request, but in every city or town he went to, the local police would attach a couple of detectives to him--they didn't want him killed in their town. So, he got protection, without asking for it, everywhere. He was in danger of being shot, not just by whites, but by the more radical part of the black movement, for making too many concessions. The Urban League was more moderate than several of the newer organizations. So that's the kind of atmosphere it was.
But we worked hard on integrating our work-force throughout the country, including our Southern local offices, but not always with complete success. It takes time.
I don't know if there was anything else to say about civil rights movement. I'm sure that it probably still has to be watched at Social Security even today. I don't think we're through with discrimination, and lack of equal opportunity. I was surprised that they didn't keep some of those things going that were good services for employees. We had a big service to employees program, I think we were the first in the government on several of them, like the Employee Health Service, which I imagine still is going. I expect most government agencies have an Employee Health Service, and counseling services, and things of that kind. But, we were, at that time, quite unique in having a place where working mothers could leave their children right on the Social Security campus. And, quite unique in having this after-hours school. I don't think they have that anymore, do they?
Interviewer: No, no. We have a daycare center for children now, but we didn't have one for a long, long time. It was during the time that Gwen King was Commissioner that we opened a daycare center.
Ball: Well, I left one there. (Laughs) And, I don't know when the educational effort disappeared. But, I think that was a good idea.
Interviewer: Oh, sure, so do I. That's a great idea. No, we don't do anything like that anymore and it isn't even a memory of people who work there now. Nobody would even imagine that.
Ball: Well, it doesn't cost the agency a hell of a lot. You know, it does some, but most of the cost is leaving the buildings available and open and guard service and stuff because the educational institution comes and does the teaching. There is a fee. I mean, the object wasn't to give completely free education. The object was to make it easily available.
Interviewer: So the employees had to pay for their own courses and so on.
Ball: Yes. And, that was true at the college level. But, I don't think it was true at the high school level. That was a public service, I think. That's the way I remember it anyway. Well, of course, in a 10 year period, like the '60s, there's a lot to be said, but I think I picked off enough to give you a general idea of what was going on.
Interviewer: The last subject I'd like to cover today is labor management relations. You alluded before to the fact that right after getting out of college you worked for awhile on a labor newspaper, and you had some labor sympathy and background. How did you work with labor and with the Unions during the time that you were Commissioner?
Ball: Well, in addition to saying that I personally had a background in the labor movement from this labor newspaper, it's also important to remember that the biggest organized support for Social Security, once it got started, has been organized labor. It would have been strange for any Commissioner of Social Security not to recognize that the AFL-CIO was a friend. To try to prevent organization of the employees would have been a stupid thing to do. (Laughs) So, in addition to having conviction myself, there was that apparent reason also in the background. And I really believed, and I continue to believe--it's not just a put-on--that a responsible Union can really help management, particularly top management. They can tell you things that are going on, the way it seems to employees, down below the supervisors, that you can't get in any other way. You can't expect it to all come out of grievance procedures, or people having enough nerve to buck their own supervisors or bureau heads and come and tell you about things that they know their boss doesn't want them to tell you. But a Union does that. You can sometimes, working with the Union, improve working conditions and prevent legitimate grievances and prevent things that otherwise could really boil up out of ignorance--out of your ignorance as top administrator of what's really going on.
So, I really did welcome the Union, for all those reasons, and found it useful. And, as long as I was there, I felt they were a responsible group. Now, of course it's always hard to share power. If you have a dictatorial grasp of things, it seems like life is easier. Some things you don't have to worry about, just tell people to do it, and have them do it. I don't think that works well in the long-run. I always tried to cultivate a management style, aside from Unions, that brought in immediate subordinates in an attempt to get decisions that took their views into account, recognizing always that you have the final say. You can't run an organization as a true democracy, that's crazy. But, you can run it as a decision maker who has tried to find out what people really think about things, and whether they have views, and sometimes change your own. So, all that is background to saying that I welcomed the organization and signed the first contract, it became a national contract. I signed the first contract with 1923 in Baltimore. But later on there were contracts signed with area offices and district offices and one place and another.
Interviewer: That was the first negotiated Union contract then?
Ball: I think it was the first one, other than the Post Office, of anything like that size. I mean, they may have had contracts in Washington with a group of 400-500 employees or something. But this covered like ten-thousand employees here. So it was a big deal for them and for us. I worked on it, not only with the local people, but with the national President, who was helpful on some other things, and I was helpful in some things for him. So it all worked well. They, by no means, laid down and let me walk on them, or vice versa. I don't think you get the right decisions that way. I really do believe management needs to stand up to a Union, and the Union needs to stand up to management. It's just two different roles.
I learned, really quite a long time before, that we had different points of view, both legitimate, and that they should push their positions with strength, and fairly, but with strength. It isn't that everybody has to agree. I don't think it worked that way. I think it's perfectly acceptable for people to have different roles. So, the relationships with the Union were, I wouldn't say, always excellent and good-natured, but were strenuous on occasion. And I'm not saying that all my subordinates, who had the tougher job of actually to work out a good negotiation, would say it exactly the way I would say it. I think there were times when they thought we would have been better off without a Union. I think that's probably true of the recent Commissioners. They probably think from time to time we'd be better off without a Union.
After I signed the first contract with 1923, I got a little award that I'll sometime give to you probably, give to the History Archives, since Wisconsin, you say, isn't interested in things like little statues. I have this in the other room. It's a little statue and it says, "For coming in second place in negotiations." (Laughs)
Interviewer: (Laughs) That's good. It just occurs to me, since you mentioned it, that attitudes about Union/Management relations change. Was there any change when the Nixon Administration came into office--during the first Nixon term? Did they have any less supportive an attitude toward labor unions at SSA?
Ball: It didn't matter.
Interviewer: Didn't matter?
Ball: One way or the other. I mean, I never paid any attention to what a Democrat administration thought before or what a Republican administration thought after. I believe union relations was part of my delegation.
Interviewer: I would think so too. I wouldn't argue with you. But, sometimes those things happen.
Ball: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: Whether they're supposed to or not.
Ball: Yes, oh, yes, sure. Sure, I would think they would be right to intervene if there was a Commissioner who was trying to wreck the Union.
Ball: They would be right to intervene.
Ball: But I would think that it would be a difficult spot if they were trying to prevent a Union from bargaining. I believe there are federal laws that govern that.
Interviewer: I didn't even necessarily mean anything that blatant. You know, but sometimes there's a different political atmosphere.
Ball: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: Some administrations are more pro-union than others.
Ball: That's true. Yes, indeed.