The Labor Department in the Carter Administration

A Summary Report — January 14, 1981 By Ray Marshall


This report summarizes the Carter Administration's Labor record from my perspective as Secretary of Labor. As such it undoubtedly accentuates the positive, because it obviously is difficult for me, at this junction, to be more objective. I am sure others will help correct my biases with their criticisms of our record.

As most of you know, I came to this job with a background in labor economics, having done extensive work in industrial relations, labor arbitration, employment and training, rural development and the international migration of workers. I might note that my industrial relations background helped me establish the Carter Administration's basic industrial relations policy of leaving dispute settlement mainly to the National Mediation Board and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. We have refrained from the politically attractive temptation to intervene in collective bargaining, and instead leave monitored collective bargaining closely and provided accurate assessments of strike impact. [sic] I believe this is one of the Administration's success stories.

This is not to argue that I had the ideal background to be Secretary of Labor. I did not, but I doubt that any one person would have the ideal background. A Secretary must recognize his or her limitations and compensate for weaknesses in other top level appointments.

The main job of the Secretary of Labor is not to manage the Department in detail, but to set policies, select good people, to monitor progress in achieving those policies, and to represent the Department in external relations. I attempted to do these things. I am not satisfied with my record, but I am proud of it.

A major advantage President Carter gave his cabinet was a free hand in appointments. I do not agree with those who believe the President is disadvantaged politically by this policy. The President should hold his cabinet responsible for the administration of their departments and this includes political sensitivities, which I consider to be an integral part of a cabinet officer's job. Those who believe government can be divorced from politics are either deluding themselves or trying to delude others. Sub cabinet selections by the white house would provide excuses by cabinet members for poor performance. Incidentally, I will match the administrative and political abilities of the Carter Department of Labor with any other department, or with any previous administration of the Department of Labor. I believe my greatest accomplishment was in selecting an outstanding personal staff and making good sub cabinet appointments. I had the luxury of being able to seek out the very best people available for each position.

In making these appointments I attempted to enlarge the pools from which selections were made to include women, minorities, and senior career civil servants. I believe my success in obtaining good people was greatly enhanced by this policy, because it allowed me to recruit competent, dedicated people. I did not, however, select anyone solely because they were women, minorities or career civil servants.

The main groups underrepresented in the department in 1977 were Union officials and Hispanics. I attempted to recruit more high level Union people, and added a number in new jobs like regional representatives. I also attempted to hire high level Hispanics, with limited success, but launched a reasonably successful outreach effort (described later) to increase the number and proportion of Hispanics in the department.

I thought it was particularly important to gain the support of the career civil service. I knew from previous association with the Department that we had a lot of outstanding non-political people. I also knew that our success or failure in achieving our objectives would be determined largely by our ability to gain the support of the career people. I therefore actively solicited ideas and reactions from our career managers and professionals in order to gain their support for my plans and objectives. I also selected a record number of career people for high level political appointments.

I likewise sought to develop close working relationships with organizations and institutions outside the department who were essential to our success. These included the president and his staff; the vice president and his staff; other cabinet officers and agency heads; congress, especially our authorizing and appropriations committees and subcommittees; state and local elected officials and their organizations; labor organizations; women's groups, veterans' organizations; minority organizations; employer associations; and the media. Sometimes this liaison work required new structures. For example, liaison with members of Congress and state and local elected officials was accomplished through a new and strengthened Office of the Deputy under Secretary for Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations and new regional representatives to relate to local elected officials and organizations.

I think we were reasonably successful with these liaison efforts. We established a good relationship with the White House staff and I had an excellent relationship with the President, who gave strong support to our Labor policies. I also think we had a good relationship with the labor movement, the Congress, and our other constituency groups. It is not true however, as some critics have alleged, that we were captives of the labor movement or that I served mainly as a conduit between the unions and the White House. In this administration unions didn't need a conduit to the White House — they have been perfectly able to communicate directly with the President . . . As is their custom. Moreover, though we had strong support from organized labor for our policies and programs, most of the Departments' activities actually have very little to do with organized labor. Over 95 percent of our resources, for example, have been in the Employment and Training administration, which has very limited direct impact on union members. Also our protective labor programs serve all workers regardless of union membership but probably do the most for those who are unorganized or relatively powerless.

I also think our relations with the media have been good, especially with reporters most familiar with our programs or who took the time to inform themselves about particular stories. Some reporters or their editors seemed to have a natural bias against us, and sometimes criticized me or departmental programs without bothering to get all sides — or especially our side — of the story. But I knew this kind of treatment came with the territory.

The Department of Labor greatly increased its international activities under my leadership. We played a major role in the negotiations that produced the Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTN), we strengthened our participation in international organizations like the ILO and the OECD, established a new program to cooperate in specific areas with Labor ministries in other countries, and worked with the State Department to strengthen the Labor Attaché program.

Another one of my early objectives, in keeping with the administration's policies, was to improve management within the Department. We needed to do this in order to make more efficient use of our resources, but also in order to reverse declining public support for government and especially for important Labor Department programs. I therefore emphasized the need to simplify, concentrate and target resources and to improve organizational structure and management systems. This has been done throughout the Department, as indicated in the detailed reports which follow. This process is not complete, but we have made real progress and have things headed in the right direction.

We also worked to establish targeted employment and training and other industry specific and targeted activities as a basic part of the Administration's economic policy. We clearly will not solve the problems of unemployment, inflation, economic revitalization and improved productivity growth unless macroeconomic policy is supplemented by these targeted activities.

In order to strengthen our analytic capabilities, I reorganized the Departments' general economic analysis functions into ASPER. We assembled an outstanding professional staff and provided strong analytical support for the department's efforts. We achieved some successes:

  1. Employment and training programs were a fundamental and successful part of the administration's Economic Stimulus program in 1977 and 1978.
  2. ASPER also helped provide the knowledge base to improve the management of the Department's programs, to help improve quantification of goals and long range planning, and supported our preparation for the CETA Reauthorization Act of 1978, the new Youth Employment and Demonstration Projects act of 1977, the President's 1980 Youth Act, which is still pending. We had also developed amendments to the Wagner-Peyser Act. The Wagner-Peyser amendments need to strengthen the job service component of our federal employment and training system.
  3. ASPER also helped develop and monitor demonstration projects to test the validity of various program concepts — which we are doing in youth programs, welfare reform, economic adjustment and other areas. We have tried to build self correcting evaluation processes into our new programs to permit them to evolve or to be terminated.
  4. The Department took the lead in recommending and developing tripartite mechanisms in the steel, coal, construction, anti inflation, and economic revitalization areas. We believe tripartite mechanisms are needed to complement other decisions and allocation processes (markets, collective bargaining, government regulations). The tripartite approach promotes understanding and agreement on facts and helps develop the consensus needed to overcome the adversarial relationships that have plagued the American economy.

My major disappointments were our failure to get legislation to control illegal immigration, to reform the National Labor Relations Act and the Welfare system, and to improve our youth programs.

The following brief reports summarize our activities by agency.

Assistant Secretary for Policy Evaluation and Research

Employment and Training Administration

The Labor Management Services Administration

Employment Standards Administration

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Mine Safety and Health Administration

Burea of Labor Statistics

Women's Bureau

Bureau of International Labor Affairs

Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management

Office of Inspector General