lbj's relentless work schedule -- 7/30/18

Today's selection -- from Organizing the Presidency by Stephen Hess. The presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson:

"The pace of [Lyndon Johnson's] administration was so fierce that even many young men could not keep up. He worked a two-shift day, 7:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. Between 2:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. he took a walk, swam, ate lunch, napped, showered, and changed clothes. Then, returning to his office, he was known to say, 'It's like starting a new day.' Top assistants were expected to be available at all times, for both shifts.

"This relentless determination to do more of everything for as long as he would be in office inevitably took its toll on those around him. For exam­ple, in 1964, an election year, when he made 424 speeches, almost everyone on the staff was pressed into service as a presidential scribe, and everyone joined the constant talent search for speechwriters. The length of the day, the intensity of the work, and Johnson's reputation for verbally abusing those close to him also meant a ceaseless turnover of presidential assistants, which gave the executive mansion 'the appearance of a well-slept rooming house.'

President Johnson posing with staff 1969

"Under such circumstances and because of other Johnson characteristics it became difficult to attract people to cabinet and subcabinet positions as well. Some, of course, may have declined because they did not agree with the president's policies; others, especially after he announced that he would not run for reelection, may have viewed the administration as a poor job risk. Johnson turned for help to John Macy, chairman of the Civil Service Commission, whom he appointed the new White House talent hunter. Macy attempted to bring some scientific management to the task of polit­ical recruitment, and one of his innovations was to design a computer sys­tem, the White House Executive Biographic Index, which eventually pro­vided the president with prompt information about 16,000 people. The operation was particularly useful in putting together presidential commis­sions for which demographic considerations played a key role. In previous presidencies the process of finding political appointees was known as BOGSAT -- 'a bunch of guys sitting around a table.'

"The fact remains, however, that from the outset the administration relied heavily on promotions from the career service to fill important second­echelon slots. Careerists received nearly half the 265 major appointments Johnson made in his first eighteen months as president. While this was undoubtedly a tribute to the quality of some of them, 'Johnson complained privately that too many of his policy positions went by default to career civil servants who were willing, available, and technically competent but had no 'fire in their bellies.'" Nor, compared with previous presidencies, was this White House less suspicious of the bureaucracy."


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author:

Stephen Hess with James P. Pfiffner

title:

Organizing the Presidency

publisher:

The Brookings Institution

date:

Copyright 2002 The Brookings Institution

pages:

81-83
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