Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1969

Author: Richard M. Nixon  | Date: February 14, 1969

Remarks to Employees at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
February 14, 1969

Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen:

I am delighted to have the opportunity to come to this Department and to meet the top leaders of the Department, as I have been meeting leaders of the other major departments of Government.

As I stand here, I think back to the time when this Department was born. It is, now, of course, not the newest. As a matter of fact, two others have come into being since it came in.

But I remember at that time when it was set up, so many—it seemed many years ago, and it wasn’t many years ago-the real question was whether this new Department, in which were collected what seemed to be the diverse functions of health, education, and welfare, whether it could develop a sense of identity, of unity, of purpose and mission or whether it was simply going to be a conglomerate in the corporate sense.

And I have been very delighted to learn in the few weeks that we have been here that this Department has through the years and is now moving forward with the sense of mission, and unity, and purpose, recognizing what all of us know—that your three great objectives of health, education, and welfare are so interrelated and so important.

I wanted to come here to express my own commitment to your mission. And I wanted to come here, too, to express my confidence in your leadership.

All of you, of course, are aware of my close association with the new Secretary.

I have been reminded on many occasions that he is the youngest of the Cabinet team. As a matter of fact, when I introduced him on television, I found that I added a year to his age. I believe that many years have been added to his age already from being here.

The only thing that I want to say is that in referring to him as the youngest member of our Cabinet team, I don’t want him to take it too much to heart in condemning or at least downgrading those who may be a bit older.

I noted that he spoke rather, it seemed to me, in a critical way of the fact that the average age of those in the Office of Education was 58 years. That is only 2 years older than I am. While youth must be served, let’s have some place for others of us.

And I would remind you, too, that with all of the Secretary’s vibrance and youth and, yes, crew cut and everything else, that this is his 23d wedding anniversary. So he has a little mileage, too.

This is not the occasion to discuss in any detail the subjects in which you are so deeply immersed. I have sent a number of directives to various departments.1 More have come to HEW than to any other because you have so many functions that are directly related to the problems that we face in the United States today, particularly on the home front and also, because you are dealing with problems inwhich the jury is still out as to what the best approach is. Very reasonable people, honestly and sincerely motivated about the problems of health, education, and welfare, I have found, reached diametrically different conclusions, and not only will there be two positions but three or four in instance after instance.

1See Appendix C.

That is one of ’the reasons why in this Department, I would say as much or more than in any department of Government, I expect and will welcome a difference of opinion on these various subjects. We will have to make decisions at the highest levels. We hope they will be the best decisions. But they will be better due to the fact that we did have dissent, due to the fact that we did have a sharp disagreement, as you will have and have had and will continue to have in the years ahead, in how we approach these various problems.

I had a meeting yesterday with a group of college educators and university educators. They happen to be members of the National Science Foundation.

But one of the subjects that came up which directly relates to your field was the new research that can be done in our colleges and universities on a basis that has not adequately been tried out before and the desire on their part that in the allocation of National Science Foundation funds, that an attempt be made to see that this new approach is given an adequate chance for trial.

I am referring to something which all the educators in this room will immediately understand and will know more about it in their sophisticated way than I will—and that is that where a number of disciplines dealing with a particular general subject are brought together in, say, one unit or one college, call it what you will, to attack a certain problem.

And this is an indication of the kind of exciting new approaches that we can have in the field of education and that have broad ramifications in handling the problems of health and the problems of welfare.

A particular point that was raised during the course of that meeting was the problem with regard to the development of the child, and particularly in the development of the child between the years of 1 to 5.

Research, much of which has only become publicly discussed at any maximum level in the last 5 to 10 years, indicates that what happens to the child from a nutritional standpoint, from an educational standpoint, from an environmental standpoint, in the years between 1 and 5 may affect that child for the balance of his life regardless of what may happen after that time.

Now we have many approaches to that problem as we know in the Office of Economic Opportunity—the Head Start program. I was rather surprised to note that even on that program, one which has bipartisan support in the Congress, one which I have always supported, which the Secretary supports, and we will continue to support enthusiastically, that even as far as that program is concerned we still are not sure that it is the most effective way to deal with this problem.

We know there is a problem. We know we need to get at it. And yet it does indicate that there are no simple answers to these problems in which we have not yet had the adequate research, the adequate trial and error which inevitably we must go through in order to develop a program.

I use this only as an example to demonstrate to the people in this room that in the fields in which you are operating, I recognizethere are no simple answers. I recognize that as we look at the programs of the past we don’t throw all of them out because some of them haven’t worked, and as we look at what we do in the future we don’t take some simple, new, exciting program, or exciting and bold, which offers an immediate answer.

I realize that what we need here is that kind of creative, new thought that can only come from a clash of ideas, from discussion, from experiment.

We want that from this Department. That is the only way we are going to get the programs which we will then fund, which will provide for progress in these fields that all of us so very desperately want.

I would like to add, too, that in that connection I have been very much impressed by the work that has been done in this Department under Dr. Robert Choate in the field of nutrition.

I am reminded of the fact that in this country you have to go back only 6 months to find that there was a time when most people assumed that the nutrition problem was not a significant one in the United States. We could see poverty in India, or Bolivia, or Haiti—and I have seen it in all of those countries and many others around the world—but many were not aware of the problem of hunger and poverty, and particularly hunger and malnutrition, in the United States.

And then came along not, incidentally, a Government report, but a CBS television report on the problem of hunger. I referred to this at the Department of Agriculture the other day, and all of you are aware of it. And now the whole Nation is concerned about it.

What we have to do now is to find what the answer is, why these problems of nutrition are ones that have not been adequately dealt with, and what new approaches are needed. Because what we recognize here is that we have the ironical situation where our problem is not the supply, but the distribution; where we can provide all of the nutritional needs for all of the people in this country, and far more, from what we can produce in this country.

And so it gets down to education, it gets down to health, it gets down to diet, and many other things.

So impressive was this report, incidentally, that I have asked that the Secretary send it to the Governors of all the 50 States so it can be one of the subjects for discussion at the Governors’ Conference when they are here within the next few weeks.

I will not go further into the various missions of this Department with which you are so deeply involved. I have talked to these two points only to demonstrate that as we consider, as we must, some of the very grave international problems that confront this Nation, that there is no question about our, in the administration at the highest level, putting additional emphasis, not less emphasis, on the problems at home. Because as we solve these problems at home, we are going to be better able to meet the various problems that we have abroad now and may have abroad in the future.

And as we solve them at home we are going to be better able to provide an example, an example which we would hope we could provide for other nations who have similar problems and who will look to us for an example provided we have the quality to provide that kind of leadership.

Finally, one other point that I make at every one of these department visits andwhich I know will be taken very much to heart by the leaders in this room: I realize that I have appointed very few of the people in this huge Department of 108,000 Government employees.

I have appointed the Secretary and I understand the people in this first row, right across there—maybe not all of them but most of them. As far as the success of the mission of this Department is concerned, it will depend on the quality of the leadership of the Secretary and of the Under Secretary and the Assistant Secretaries and others that will be appointed by the new administration. Without their leadership, the Department will not be able to succeed in its mission as it should.

But the other side of that coin is that they can have leadership, they can have ideas, they can have imagination, they can make the most glowing speeches about what they are going to do, and unless they are backed up by the brains, the ability, and the dedication of the thousands of civil service employees, people who have dedicated their entire lives to Government service, they aren’t going to be able to succeed, we aren’t going to be able to succeed.

So I simply want all of you in this room to know, those of you who have given your lives to the career civil service, who have given your lives to Government service, that I appreciate what you have done.

I know that many of you in terms of financial income perhaps could have done better had you moved into other fields. I know that you are here because you believe in what you are doing. We need that sense of belief and that sense of dedication. We need your help.

I want you to know that as you provide your help to the new administration, as you back us up, we are going to back you up. I think this is a message that needs to get across. And I want to go further.

As I walked through the halls a moment ago, I was able to shake hands only briefly with hundreds of the employees down the line, employees that the Secretary, in a Department of 108,000, will probably never meet during the course of his service here.

I want you to let them know that we recognize that the success of any great Department like this depends not just on a few leaders at the top, but it depends also on the dedication and the sense of mission of every individual up and down the line.

I know this sounds like the usual kind of talk you are supposed to make at a pep meeting for Government employees or, if you are in business, to a group of business employees. But I believe it. I am sure you believe it.

And I think I can perhaps demonstrate it best by indicating to you that I recall many years ago when I had a little stint as a Government employee. I was then quite young, I will have to admit. It was just before World War II or at the beginning of World War II when I spent about a year in the Office of Price Administration in the rationing division as a P-3, a Government lawyer, attempting to work on the rationing regulations.

Now, I can assure you that a P-3—I don’t know whether you still have that classification in Government or not-but a P-3 lawyer in OPA in 1942 was a pretty low form of life. I can assure you, too, that the mission that I had, which was to develop the form letters and to write to the thousands of people that were writing to the President of the United States—and, of course, they all write to the President—to tell them why we couldnot give them an exception as far as their tire rationing requests were concerned. That mission at many times seemed very boring.

It certainly seemed very boring to me and I am sure to my secretary. And I can assure you that as I worked, as many of you work, long hours during the day and on Saturdays and Sundays, there were times that I really wondered if what I was doing really meant anything. Looking back, I realize that it did.

What I am really trying to say is this: that as not just a lawyer, a secretary, a stenographer, or whatever the case might be, our job at the top can only be done if we let it be known to people up and down the line that we know they are there, that we know why they are there, that we appreciate what they are doing, because we have to remember that whatever they are doing at any time to them is the most important thing in their life.

I believe this from personal experience. You know it from personal experience. And if we can have that kind of a spirit in this great and vital and important Department, if we can have that kind of a spirit, I am sure that you are going forward to not only meet your mission, but to serve this Nation most effectively.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. in the auditorium at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.


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Chicago: Richard M. Nixon, "48 Remarks to Employees at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.," Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1969 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1048-1049 98–101. Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022,

MLA: Nixon, Richard M. "48 Remarks to Employees at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare." Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1969, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1048-1049, pp. 98–101. Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Nixon, RM, '48 Remarks to Employees at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.' in Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1969. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1969 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1048-1049, pp.98–101. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from