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Research and Development Agency (ERDA) was passed in early fall, and I got a call from Frank Zarb. He said they were going to take the entire Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and move it in under the umbrella of the new agency. Then he told me the President was sending my name up to the Hill as his nominee for first administrator of ERDA. I reminded him that I had said I would consider the appointment after a talk with the President. The next morning I went in to see President Ford. When I entered the Oval Office, the President stood up from his desk, came over, shook hands, and offered me a cup of coffee. The whole atmosphere of the Ford White House was much more open and relaxed than that under Nixon.
I told President Ford that I had five concerns I wanted addressed before I accepted his nomination. Most importantly, I asked that I be given the opportunity to recommend the seven other presidential appointees who would be working with me. I also wanted to be sure that he would not insist on a particular appointee if I disapproved of the person. We shook hands on this and the other matters of concern to me, and in the following days I was appointed by the President. A month later I was confirmed by the Senate.
Even before I was confirmed I was deluged with phone calls and letters from people who wanted jobs, who had programs to sell, or who wanted interviews for the media. Inside the government there were also many demands. The energy budget had to be presented to Congress in two months; the seven presidential appointees had to be selected; and, most important, arrangements had to be made for placing existing agencies under the ERDA umbrella.
Dixie Lee Ray chaired the AEC, and she pressed hard for transfer of the AEC immediately. Several of the commissioners had already left, so it was next to impossible for her to make policy decisions. In addition, she said the uncertainties associated with the transfer were causing severe morale problems. Dixie was a colorful character. Unmarried, she lived in a trailer with her two dogs, who inhabited her office during working hours. The smaller dog enjoyed jumping into a visitor's lap, and the larger one would sniff from behind when least expected.
Guy Stever, a friend and former associate at MIT, was director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and President Ford's science advisor. While I was awaiting confirmation, he offered me an office where I could
have all the required secretarial amenities. However, the Executive Office felt it would be presumptive to move into a government office until confirmed by the Senate. So I was left stranded and shorthanded in my NAE office. Unfortunately, security in the National Academy of Sciences and particularly around my office was porous. It would have been easy for the curious to enter my office or even my files. So I kept all sensitive information in my briefcase, and I kept my briefcase with me.
At this critical juncture Hugh Loweth-deputy associate director for science, energy, and space in the OMB came to my rescue. He assigned Ray Walters,' an energetic, talented young bureaucrat to work with me full-time. Together, we located an office building that could be renovated and occupied within six weeks. Admittedly on December 29, the day I was sworn in, there was still an uninstalled toilet parked in my office and awaiting a plumber. My office looked out on the railroad tracks in southeast Washington, and every time a train went by, conversation would stop and pictures on the wall would have to be realigned.
Meanwhile, the selection of key individuals was the most time-consuming and critical of the early problems I faced. The seven presidential appointments included my deputy and heads of the six branches of ERDA prescribed by Congress: Alternate Fuels, including solar and fusion; Nuclear, including uranium enrichment; Fossil Fuels; National Security, including nuclear weapons; Environment; and Conservation. Key staff functions also requiring careful screening were the general counsel, public affairs, congressional affairs, international affairs, administration, comptroller, operations manager for fifty field installations, and the secretary of the general advisory committee. For some of these positions, the White House gave me lists of thirty to forty names, many of which were unsuitable.
I was, of course, desperate for a deputy who could help share my responsibilities. Previous government experience, capability, and availability were key ingredients for the job. I was fortunate to locate Robert Fri, who had been deputy to William D. Ruckelshaus in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and was currently an executive in the management consulting firm of McKinsey and Company. He was
Prior to Ray Walters, I was provided with an individual who told me I should "wire" the agency by placing moles in each center of activity. He lasted two days.
nominated by the President before year's end and was working full-time by late January.
There were excellent people already working in the Atomic Energy Commission and in the transferred sections of the Department of the Interior, EPA, and the National Science Foundation. These groups provided a resource from which many jobs were filled. Ultimately our key people came from these and other government agencies, along with five from industry.
I remember clearly recruiting Phillip White on the day before Christmas. In Beverly Farms for a few days, I ran up a significant phone bill. Phil was vice president for research at Standard Oil of Indiana. He was on a White House list and had the right professional credentials. After making suitable reference checks, I was able to reach Phil to discuss his appointment as assistant administrator for Fossil Fuels. He ultimately accepted and provided ERDA with valuable industrial experience. I finished phoning on December 24, just in time to complete my Christmas shopping.
The following May, Dan announced one morning, "I'm not going back to St. Albans next year. If I spend another year at St. Albans, we're going to hate each other for the rest of our lives." I was never certain why. We told him we wished he had mentioned this a bit earlier, but we did look at other schools. We finally all agreed and sent Dan to the Putney School in Vermont. It was a great success. I think that's where Dan "found himself." He hiked for hours in the surrounding woods and learned how to use tools and to take dents out of cars (a useful skill for a teenage driver), as well as all the usual high school subjects. He also grew to be six feet, four inches. By his senior year, he was attracted by the idea of taking time off before college, but we encouraged him to continue his schooling without interruption, at least until he had a year or two of college under his belt. He chose the University of California at Santa Cruz, which is known for its strong emphasis on undergraduate education and its beautiful setting. Dan traveled to California alone, camped out on the campus, and got himself accepted for that fall.
Santa Cruz also had a good music department. All during his adolescence, Dan had been almost obsessed with music. At our Washington house on Idaho avenue, a great group of friends that Dan
had organized used to come over and play rock and roll together in our basement. I had a pair of Air Force mechanic's earmuffs I could wear in my study when they were practicing.
After college, Dan continued living on the west coast and became a professional musician, playing the double bass. He eventually moved to Oakland, sharing various houses with fellow musicians. They would advertise for a female housemate, "to avoid the locker-room ambiance that can easily prevail in an all-male household." A young lady from Rochester, Minnesota, named Linda Hill answered one of the ads. After an interview, she was accepted, but before she moved in she was offered less expensive accommodations elsewhere. Over a period of a year or so, Linda and Dan saw more and more of each other, and on October 30, 1988, my seventieth birthday, they were married. After several years in California, Dan and Linda gravitated eastward to Manhattan, to Brooklyn, and finally to Vermont. Now the parents of two children, they have since returned to California.
ERDA provided many unique experiences, of which I'll briefly mention four: inspecting the nuclear navy with Admiral Hyman Rickover; an unexpected disembarkation from Viva at night for a White House meeting the following morning; inspecting nuclear facilities in the Soviet Union with my counterpart, Commissioner Petrosyant; and visiting briefly with the Shah of Iran.
On paper, Hyman Rickover, the "father of America's nuclear navy," reported to the secretary of the Navy and the administrator of the Energy Research and Development Agency. He was a dour, wiry individual who spoke his mind forcefully. When ERDA was formed, he had been on active duty for fifty-six years. He retired seven years later, in 1981. He prided himself on his spartan lifestyle, and Congress loved him. I went with him to most of the installations over which he had jurisdiction.
Most memorable was a twenty-hour period spent with the admiral aboard the attack submarine Cravallus. We met at the General Dynamics plant in Groton, Connecticut. We first entered the building where General Dynamics was designing a Trident submarine. The design teams were located in a wooden mockup of the vessel. Every
new element or redesign was translated into a wooden part, in order to check compatibility and access. Rickover told me that his man at General Dynamics and the plant manager each had to provide him with weekly reports. If there was nothing significant they could say so, but if this happened several weeks in a row, he would know they were lying and would immediately inspect. Of course, he would also zoom in on any differences between the government and industry reports.
We left the dock about midnight and headed for deep water beyond the continental shelf. Rickover was not present for breakfast in the small officers' wardroom. He was conducting his daily hour of calisthenics. Once he finished exercising, he took me on a detailed tour ending in an aft cabin where warrant officers control the reactor, propulsion, and ship's electrical power. The skipper was ordered by Rickover to proceed at flank speed. Suddenly, Rickover gave the command for full reverse. The vessel shivered and shook and became hard to handle at near-zero speed. Finally the skipper blinked and said, "Ahead quarter-speed." The Admiral said, "I didn't give that order. Change the watch for a repeat."
Later I was on the conning tower as we entered Long Island Sound at high speed. It was late afternoon in February, and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride. I was reflecting on Rickover's tremendous success developing the nuclear navy, but wondering whether he had to be such a martinet. He had his own explanation: "Somebody has to be the bastard."
An Unexpected Detour
The enriching of uranium oxide is essential for the fueling of nuclear naval vessels and commercial reactors. Uranium oxide when mined contains 0.7 percent of the isotope U-235. Enrichment involves raising the U-235 content to three or four percent. U.S. uranium processing was conducted in three large plants: Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Paducah, Kentucky. All three plants used gaseous-diffusion technology. Since World War II centrifuge technology requiring considerably less power had been developed and refined. Commercial ventures using this technology were under active consideration by the Ford administration. I was enthusiastic about the technology itself but not about its commercial application. I felt