The ideal sponsor for the census, Chauncey had always thought, would be the federal government, with its reach and resources and high purpose. In May of 1948 he wrote out a prospectus for a "Census of the Abilities of the American People and Their Relation to Job Requirements," presumably to be undertaken by ETS with the backing of an unspecified government agency. The prospectus was wildly ambitious, making the current activities of ETS, which were themselves very ambitious, appear puny by comparison. The government would first administer, through ETS, "a battery of perhaps twenty to fifty tests" (few of which had yet been constructed) to more than 100,000 people in the labor force. Then it would test the educational attainments of a million eighth- or ninth-graders. This would pave the way for a grand technological match- up between the nation's human resources and its economic needs.
Chauncey received one expression of interest in the Census of Abilities from the Air Force and another from the Selective Service System, which drafted men into the armed services. Somehow he was able to parlay these nibbles into an appointment with W. Stuart Symington, the head of the National Security Resources Board and a protégé of President Harry Truman's, who later became a U.S. senator from Missouri. Chauncey sent Symington a detailed proposal and then called on him on July 6, 1950. The meeting was a terrible disappointment, as recounted in notes Chauncey made the next day:
He was about fifteen minutes behind-hand on appointments but greeted me with apologies in a very friendly manner. He is a strikingly good-looking and pleasant person.
Hardly had I explained how I happened to be there than he, after one question on what I meant by human resources, suggested that I write him a letter stating what I had in mind....
With that I bowed out, having taken about five minutes of his time and learned how top government executives operate.
That was the end of the Census of Abilities, at least as a founding project for ETS. It had a residue, however. The grandeur of purpose that Chauncey initially had in mind for ETS remained somehow attached to everything the organization did -- even when the job at hand was mundane or ill conceived. Henry Chauncey was always certain that he was doing what his minister father called the Lord's work. Although the Census of Abilities failed to materialize, ETS went forward with the full, almost messianic sense of mission that had been generated in Chauncey's mind. Instead of an all-encompassing Census of Abilities, what ETS wound up conducting, with consequences for Americans that were just as large but with none of the breadth of Chauncey's idea, was a national census of just one ability: the ability to get good grades in school.
THE first couple of years were financially rocky for ETS. Its signature product, the SAT, was an admissions requirement for College Board schools, but the membership of the College Board itself was still small. The now-familiar graduate school tests, all offered by ETS in its early years -- the Graduate Record Examinations, the Medical College Admissions Test, the Law School Admissions Test, and the Graduate Management Admissions Test -- were either brand-new or still in development. Henry Chauncey was certain that ETS could become a nationwide mass administrator of educational tests within a few years; he was constantly pushing to expand the organization. ETS's first branch office was all the way across the country, in Berkeley, California. But Chauncey, a practical man, realized that the federal government was potentially the biggest single customer for testing. With one contract the government could provide the kind of business that it would take years to build up in academia. In a March, 1950, letter to his counselor on financial matters, a Harvard Business School professor named Robert Merry, he wrote,
Incidentally, there are a number of activities in the air which, if they should materialize, would quite substantially change the picture, namely, a scholarship program in the National Science Foundation Bill, a Federal scholarship program, and classification testing for Selective Service.
The first of these possibilities was the closest to Chauncey's heart, because during the 1940s he had worked on the government commission that had recommended the creation of the National Science Foundation. But the last was the live prospect. The Selective Service System was run from 1941 until its abolition, nearly three decades later, by General Lewis B. Hershey. Hershey's artfully maintained persona was that of a country boy, a rumpled cracker-barrel philosopher; he spoke often of his humble upbringing, by a nearly illiterate father in rural Indiana, and he liked to deliver lengthy homespun discourses that rambled from military issues to the nature of farm life and back again. As his tenure demonstrates, Hershey was an extremely adept bureaucrat; and, appearances to the contrary, he was also a fan of intelligence testing.