There is always a feeling generated during presidential campaigns that the inauguration of the next President is a prelude to many changes in the government. The arousal of such expectations is, after all, the point of campaign rhetoric. Even a candidate who is in the position of defending the past has to get on to his promises for the future. Those citizens who prefer a little stability, however, need not despair. There are institutions, agencies, people, and modi vivendi in Washington that consistently manage to ride out the turbulence, and are as much a part of the landscape here as the monuments, the Potomac’s pollution, the cocktail parties, the ever baying hounds of Gutenberg. The prediction business has taken more than its share of casualties this year; nevertheless, it is reasonably safe to bet that next year’s visitors to Washington will still be able to buy their low-cost liquor, pay their taxi fares, kept at a marvelously low rate by the self-serving will of the Congress, and also count on finding:
J. Edgar Hoover and/or the Hooverized FBI. This year, for the first time in memory, a presidential candidate suggested that Hoover should be replaced. Hoover, of course, promptly made it clear that such talk was irresponsible and illbefitted a would-be national leader. Hoover has good reason to question the judgment of anyone who questions his, for it is a rare politician who ever has, and the seventy-three-year-old FBI director — the only FBI director this country has ever had — has ample proof of the esteem in which all sensible politicians hold him. For him, the President of the United States has waived the law that all federal employees must retire at the age of seventy; for him, the Congress of the United States has provided that if there ever is a retirement, it shall be at full pay. He is the only man in town, aside from the President, who rides about in a government-provided bulletproof car.
Yet even if some future President should render unto Hoover his richly deserved retirement, not all that much would change, for after forty-four years under his direction, the FBI has been Hooverized, almost unchangeably patterned to the whorls of his fingerprints. To be sure, the next director may well be less inclined to comment on presidential candidates or to crown a civil rights leader like Martin Luther King “the most notorious liar in the country” or to denigrate the consular treaty with the Soviet Union as “a cherished goal” for Soviet intelligence services. But the rank and file is thoroughly imbued with the Hoover philosophy. Unless a revolutionary leader is imposed on the agency, it will still, in the view of students of the FBI, do most what it does best: impound stolen automobiles and catch the “Ten Most Wanted Men” (some of whom, it is suspected, achieve such distinction strikingly close to capture). It will be less strenuous about enforcing civil rights laws or breaking organized crime. It will still grind out crime statistics and eschew the more sophisticated thinking about the causes of crime. It will see internal Communism as a major danger to the republic, and in a sort of wish fulfillment, virtually keep the Communist Party afloat by providing it with FBI agents as members. It will continue to protect the country by compiling dossiers of lengthy, dangerously undigested, unattributed, and ununderstood information on who knows how many of us.
The Selective Service. Whether or not General Lewis B. Hershey, seventy-four, will still be directing the draft is a closer question, and if by chance he is not, the Selective Service might well change. But it will not as long as he is in charge. Hershey does, moreover, have some powerful allies on Capitol Hill, particularly House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mendel Rivers, and the Johnson Administration could not bring itself to replace the man who has been director of the Selective Service since 1941. This despite the fact that Hershey torpedoed the Administration’s own proposals for draft reform, with the help of his friend Chairman Rivers. Hershey, for his part, doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. “Yes, I’ve heard there are some complaints,” he commented not long ago, “but no one discusses whether we’ve done our job or not. Have we gotten them their men, or haven’t we? Some of the talk is like saying, give us a world where everyone is six-feet tall. Everybody tells me what isn’t fair, but nobody tells me what is. We had a study last year [the commission on draft reform, headed by Burke Marshall], and unless you’re going to assume the Congress was completely woozy when it turned it down ...”
Thus the aging and garrulous general sits in his large office, its entire perimeter ringed by flags, and fends off the charges and gets off a few of his own: “McNamara was sounding off a lot of times when he didn’t know what he was talking about.” Those who want to end the autonomy of local draft boards “want to destroy the states, because they belong to the group that believes that there’s only one place where you can find brains, and that’s here in Washington, God help us.” “I’ve heard rumors,” said Hershey, “that there was some interest on that commission in turning it all over to a machine.” He smiled at that, and his press aide who sat in on the interview laughed uproariously at the joke. (Burke Marshall is vice president and general counsel of IBM.) What about the issue of speeding the induction of those deemed to be interfering with the draft? “I’m always resentful of people saying that putting people in the armed services is a punishment.”
The Bureau of Public Roads. Neither budget difficulties nor civic uproars deter the Bureau of Public Roads from laying its cement ribbons and loops across the land. Having spent some $37 billion on highways already, the bureau will spend another $4 billion this year, and the House of Representatives has gone on record that in making the required $6 billion cut in federal spending, the President is to spare the roads at any cost whatsoever. The traditional immunity of the highway program, and the Bureau of Public Roads, is guaranteed by that collective force known as “the highway lobby” — state highway officials, the oil, tire, cement, and auto industries, among others — the most powerful lobby in Washington, and by the sympathetic Public Works committees of Congress. The bureau has largely completed the work of building highways between cities, and is now in the process of building through them. With unerring engineers’ instincts, it tries to take the most direct and least expensive routes, through the parks and the ghettos. One former official here believes that the program to place a man on the moon was given to the wrong agency.
The Army Corps of Engineers. A few years ago a certain Pentagon civilian was assigned to supervise the Army Corps of Engineers. “It was,” he said, “something like trying to round up the Viet Cong for an appearance on the Lawrence Welk Show.” The Corps of Engineers runs one of those federal programs everybody likes — public works — and it runs it with little interference from or attention to the rest of the executive branch. At any point, the corps has in its hands a sheaf of projects which it may or may not recommend to the Congress, and the Congress has come to defer to the corps’ wisdom. Once every several years, just about every congressional district is the beneficiary of a corps project; this year the corps will spend $1 billion on good works. While a possible project is being studied, the locally based corps engineers make speeches explaining its benefits to highly receptive chambers of commerce and boosters’ clubs. The citizens then impart their enthusiasm to their congressman, who is delighted to join in the grand effort to secure the project for the voters. With all districts benefiting at some point, it works out very nicely.
The Bureau of Reclamation. In the Interior Department, the Reclamation Bureau is dedicated to investing public funds (about $300 million) in water projects which provide inexpensive hydroelectric power and irrigation. Once a great liberal cause, the reclamation program is now ideologically secure. Even Barry Goldwater championed it, explaining that this, of course, was not what he meant by a federal program. The Western states which benefit from the program work things out among themselves, and the combined power of the Western congressmen, several of whom tend to longevity, is enough to induce their colleagues to go along. The result, like as not, is that the Interior Department subsidizes water projects which farmers draw from in order to grow crops which the Agriculture Department then buys in order to remove them from the market because they are surplus. A highly favored crop on reclamation land, because of the inexpensive water, is watermelon.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each service chief has two concerns for which he fights hard: his service’s honor, and its budget. There is little that is “joint” about the Joint Chiefs of Staff; it is more a process of trade-offs which enable the chiefs to put forward “unanimous” recommendations to the Secretary of Defense. (For example: the Air Force gets bombing of North Vietnam, the Army gets a troop buildup; or the Army gets the antiballistic missile, the Air Force another bomber, the Navy a new missile-equipped ship.) Some Marine Corps leaders maintained that the Vietnam War was a test of the “survival” of the Marines. This is a system which tends not to ask whether an antiballistic missile makes sense in terms of national policy. It is also a system which discourages fresh policy-making. When a policy question arises of the military significance of Urgistan in terms of the incipient crisis there, the question is referred to a project officer on the staff of the Joint Chiefs. If he is relatively new at this sort of thing, he goes to the files, learns all there is to know about Urgistan, and tries his hardest to come up with a fresh approach. As the policy paper makes the rounds of the services, however, the proposals are modified to something all can agree upon, and like as not the policy paper ends up looking like all of the earlier ones on Urgistan. After a few experiences like this, the project officers learn not to bother. The Joint Chiefs are at war with Communism, be it North Vietnamese, Chinese, or Russian, and it was only with great difficulty that former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara persuaded them to agree to the treaty providing a limited ban on nuclear testing. The recent crop of chiefs has been a more contained group than in the days of the Arleigh Burkes and Curtis LeMays, but the change may be simply one of form. Even the current chairman, General Earle G. Wheeler, has publicly agreed with the more military-oriented members of Congress that, in light of certain trends, there is reason to be apprehensive about the nation’s survival.
Illustrations fromPLAYING CARDSby Roger Tilley. © 1967 by George Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd. Reproduced by permission of The British Museum.
The Foreign Service. When George Ball resigned from the State Department in 1966, he suggested that he might write a book called something like My Years in the Fudge Factory. The laborious fashion in which the State Department gives birth to foreign policy is no accident. It is the result of that deliberate, rigid, hierarchical system of promotion and assignment known as the Foreign Service. The jobs, usually given out on the basis of age and rank, range from the most interesting (ambassador) to the intentionally dull (stamping visas in a backwater consulate). Too often a man gets ahead by serving time and staying out of trouble. A successful twoyear tour abroad is one in which nothing happens, and the best way to ensure that is to take no risks and favor the sort of government that indicates near-term stability, be it Greece’s Colonel Papadopoulos or Haiti’s Papa Doc. A seasoned diplomat learns to say as little as possible as fluently as possible, and after years of training, he learns to think that way too. Then he gets the top jobs. The survivors of the system are the ones who pass judgment on who shall survive.
The Subversive Activities Control Board. Thanks to a last-minute save by the Johnson Administration, the Subversive Activities Control Board will be with us for at least another year. It was not until President Johnson appointed last year Simon McHugh, twenty-nine, the husband of a former secretary, to a relaxed $26,000-a-year job as a member of the board that anyone took much notice of the facts that it had not met in six months and had not held a hearing since 1965. The board had been set up by the Internal Security Act of 1950, over President Truman’s veto, but since then the courts have held most of its activities constitutionally invalid. The uproar over last year’s discoveries was sufficient to induce Congress to give the board one year to find something to do, or disappear. Then, this past July, the Justice Department passed along the names of seven people, and asked that they be found by the board to be Communists. It was not entirely clear why the rescue operation was launched; the most widely accepted explanation had to do less with the Johnson Administration’s enthusiasm for the SACB than with that of Everett McKinley Dirksen, who is said to have secured SACB appointments for acquaintances of his own. The concern for the seven Communists in our midst did coincide with the opening of the battle over Mr. Johnson’s Supreme Court appointments. Here, as in several other instances, such as the appointment of Simon McHugh, Mr. Dirksen cooperated with the White House.
The Congress. The Congress, of course, will still be with us, with the most senior members in the positions of greatest power. Carl Hayden is retiring after fifty-six years of service in Congress, but little else will change. Wilbur Mills will still guard against fiscal imprudence as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and if the Republicans should capture the House, his Republican counterpart, John Byrnes, will do the same. Similarly, if George Mahon is not chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Frank Bow of Ohio will be, and both can be counted upon to keep a tight grip on spending. Either John McCormack, who has lost touch, or Gerald Ford, who never found it, will be Speaker of the House.
The list, of course, could go on. There will still be the regulatory agencies which do not regulate. There will always be a Federal Reserve Board. The labor unions and the Labor Department, and the farmers and the Agriculture Department, will continue to see their interests as mutual. When presidential commissions are appointed, Milton Eisenhower and George Meany will almost certainly be on them.
If the Democrats control the House, the clarion tones of William (“Fishbait”) Miller will still announce the Pres-i-dunt of the United States. William Hopkins, who arrived during the Hoover Administration, will still be the man in the White House who keeps track of all the papers. There will still be the Washington law firms, and the informal networks of lawyers, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and politicians who have known each other for years, through car pools and dinner parties, and regardless of national politics know how to get in touch with each other in order to get things done, whether the cause be medicare or air pollution.
There is a time, early in a new President’s Administration, when it is most opportune to try to change at least some parts of the government; this opportunity is short-lived, so the moves must be made early, when they have the support of the press and the public. The authority and attention of the White House must be engaged, and therefore the number of battles is usually limited. Otherwise, a scandal or an accident sometimes helps, just as the thalidomide incident or the decision by General Motors to tail Ralph Nader helped — when seized upon by people who understood the usefulness of events — to change the long-standing patterns of government regulation, or nonregulation, of the drug and automobile industries. Perhaps someone, someday, will show that the Joint Chiefs of Staff fought a war against Germany in South Vietnam, and there will be a great hue and cry for a change in the militarysystem, but like as not it will go on. And there are, in the regulatory agencies, the Foreign Service, the FBI, and others, numerous examples of the principle that one era’s reform often turns out to be some future one’s drag.
It has become quite chic, even among government officials here, to talk about the broad need for “changing institutions.” The problem is that nobody has quite figured out yet how to do that.
— Elizabeth B. Drew