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poles from the mountains, strung the wire, and with the help of one electrician, got electricity to the home.
I know what it meant to us when the first telephone came into our home. So I have been very sympathetic through the years to having an electric service and telephone service extended to our rural families.
So I assure you that I am very sympathetic with the REA program. Had I not been, I would not have selected and nominated to the President one of our own fine citizens, Lt. Gov. Ancher Nelsen, who has long been associated with REA, as the new Administrator.
Senator HUMPHREY. Your intention, then, as I interpret from your remarks, is to leave the REA pretty much as an autonomous organization?
Secretary BENSON. Certainly I do not have in mind weakening the service which REA is rendering. I think it is very essential, and I do feel that we have selected a good man to help it, and he will be given a pretty free hand, I am sure. But if we have in mind any major changes, certainly we would want to consult with the Congress before we took such steps, because I know there is a very wide interest in that agency, probably as much as in almost any other agency in the Department.
Senator HUMPHREY. Now, Mr. Secretary, you have indicated that you have no intention of abolishing the farmer-elected committees; is that correct?
Secretary BENSON. Yes, I think that is generally true. I think my statement which I made before the Agricultural Appropriations Committee sets forth that rather clearly. I would like just to restate that if I may.
Senator HUMPHREY. Surely, please.
You may be assured that I am aware of the splendid contribution PMA county and community committees have made to agriculture, and that we intend to make the best possible use of these farmer-elected committees in administering farm programs. I have recently revised the regulation. which I have mentioned earlier here today, and then told why.
So I have been very much in favor of the committee system as a service to agriculture and as a service to the Department in making our operations more effective.
Senator HUMPHREY. I have introduced a bill (S. 1847), Mr. Secretary, requiring a continued use of such committees, regardless of this reorganization authority.
Secretary BENSON. I do not think it is necessary, Senator.
Secretary BENSON. I frankly would think that it was superfluous, but if you feel that there is a need for it, of course, it is your prerogative to introduce legislation. But we have no intention, certainly as far as we have gone in our study, of doing anything that would remove our programs further from the grassroots farmers.
After all, it is their program that we are trying to administer. It is their Department, in large measure.
Senator HUMPHREY. Correct.
Secretary BENSON. And we want to do the most effective job that it is humanly possible to do.
Senator HUMPHREY. As Senator McClellan pointed out, this reorganization plan has no termination date on it. It is a continuing authority.
Secretary BENSON. Right.
Senator HUMPHREY. Therefore, the concern over the farmer-elected committee system is not necessarily one that is directed only toward your service as the Secretary of Agriculture. I think we have to be somewhat impersonal about these matters.
Secretary BENSON. Yes; I think so, too.
Senator HUMPHREY. I accept your statement of respect for the farmer-elected committee system. My concern is that once you give a continuing reorganization authority to the Secretary of Agriculturenot to Mr. Benson, but to a Secretary of Agriculture--you may have, by act of Congress, literally placed there the seeds for the authority to do away with the farmer-committee system. It was for that reason that I introduced a bill that said, “Well, now, look-this sounds like it is pretty good. All the Secretaries of Agriculture thus far, including the present, feel that it is a worthy administrative system. Therefore, let us keep it."
Would you agree with me that once you put the reorganization plan into effect, you have not only put it into effect for Secretary Benson, but in years to come, if Secretary Benson is not here, we have placed the authority in the Secretary of Agriculture to do away with the farmer-committee system unless we take protective measures?
Secretary BENSON. Of course, I think the very fact, Senator, that you have introduced the bill is further evidence of what I have already said, that no Secretary of Agriculture is going to get very far astray unless he is brought to time by this Congress.
Senator HUMPHREY. I hope that is true.
Secretary BENSON. I would hope that the man who succeeds the present Secretary would be much better than the present incumbent.
I would like just to say this, that so far as we have discussed this matter, we believe that the arrangement which we have made on these committees will enable us to utilize the judgment of the best available local farmers. We feel that we are always going to need that in this program in determining local policies and in helping to formulate policies on the national level. We think that these programs must be built from the grassroots up, and not from the top down.
Senator HUMPHREY. That has been the philosophy right along, and that has been the characteristic pattern for the past 20 years, has it not?
Secretary BENSON. I do not see how that could be done without committees.
Senator HUMPHREY. I appreciate that, and I am surely grateful for your statement. But my point was, Mr. Secretary, and a very personal point, that with the reorganization plan that is before us, do we run the risk of vesting the authority in the Secretary to do away with this system unless we take some protective measures in the form of law?
Secretary BENSON. I think under this plan there are several risks, yes.
You do run risks. Whenever you give a man authority, you run some risks.
Senator HUMPHREY. Of course.
Secretary Benson. And yet at the time when a man has a responsibility, he almost has to have some authority to do the job. But in any grant of authority, it seems to me that there is some risk involved. But I do believe that there are safeguards under this setup which I have tried to mention that are very real.
Senator HUMPHREY. I think the greatest safeguard is in the attitude of the Secretary, and I am delighted to get your point of view here today. That is a candid opinion on my part.
I think that Senator McClellan was right when he said that it is not only the plan; it is the attitude that Members of Congress have toward the position of Secretary.
Secretary BENSON. That is right.
Senator HUMPHREY. And I think one of the great purposes of these hearings is to afford the Secretary an opportunity to make his position clear rather than have conjecture and imaginary enemies aroused here.
We will get this thing out on the table here and get it into the record. That is what I am trying to do.
Secretary BENSON. I have no secrets to hide from this Congress regarding the Department of Agriculture. Our files are open, and I would be happy to sit down with any of the Members any time and discuss any plans that we have, and to get their counsel.
Senator HUMPHREY. Mr. Secretary, sometime ago you received a letter from our colleague, Senator Olin D. Johnston, of South Carolina, and that letter followed, as I understand it, from the information that I have, Senator Johnston's testimony before this committee in which he opposed this reorganization plan. He posed a series of questions. I asked him for a copy of his letter, and I have it here.
Secretary Benson. We shall be glad to give you a copy of our reply, Senator, if you would like to have it.
Senator HUMPHREY. I would like to have it.
Secretary BENSON. We have not answered it yet. It came to my attention only as I returned to the office Saturday afternoon. And I left almost immediately for North Carolina. So I just had a chance to glance at it. That is all. I have the original right here. But we will comment on the questions, and will be glad to provide you with a copy.
Senator HUMPHREY. May I ask you just quickly down the line for a comment on 1 or 2 of these? The first one is that Senator Johnston points out:
I think it would be helpful to know if the farmer committee system of the Production and Marketing Administration will continue to exist, and, if so, on what basis.
I think that you have more or less answered that today. (The complete text of Senator Johnston's letter appears on p. 74.) Secretary BENSON. Yes, I think so.
Senator HUMPHREY. Am I to understand-is it the Gordon memorandum? Is that what that is known as? The March 20 one?
Secretary BENSON. Howard Gordon signed it as Administrator of PMA.
Senator HUMPHREY. Yes.
Secretary BENSON. That is Memorandum 101, which I referred to earlier. I have a copy here, if you would like it. (See appendix B, Senator HUMPHREY. I have a copy of it here, sir. That memorandum takes the reorganization of the PMA committee system about as far as you see it necessary?
Secretary Benson. The only objective in that, really, was to bring about uniformity.
Senator HUMPHREY: Uniformity; yes. Secretary Benson. We thought we had had enough experience with the two different systems so that we were in a position to determine which we thought was best. And in most of the States—the determination had already been made in about 37 out of the 48 States.
Senator HUMPHREY. That is correct.
Secretary BENSON. So we thought that this was in the interest of uniformity and also greater efficiency, and I do not know that we have any intention of moving any further in either direction, certainly at the present time. That represents our very best thinking at the present time, Senator.
Senator HUMPHREY. I think that some people were fearful that the memorandum might be leading toward the abolition of the committee system.
Secretary Benson. This was the beginning of the end?
Senator HUMPHREY. Yes: And you are saying now, of course, that that is not in your mind; is that correct?
Secretary BENSON. No; that is not in our mind.
Senator HUMPHREY. You are opposed to the abolition of the committee system?
Secretary BENSON. We favor—I have always favored the use of committees, and I think we will always need them.
Senator HUMPHREY. I mean, the elected farmer-committee system. Secretary BENSON. That is right.
Senator HUMPHREY. Now, in the second question Senator Johnston said:
I wonder whether agricultural conservation payments will be made through county agents of the Extension Service, through the Soil Conservation Service, through the PMA committee system, or through other channels.
Do you want to make a comment on that, Mr. Secretary?
Secretary BENSON. We do not have anything in mind that would change the course through which those payments would be made. I think I have made it clear that I have looked upon the Extension Service as an educational agency primarily, and that these action agencies serve in a different field.
Senator HUMPHREY. And you do not intend to vest the county authority, for example, over these programs in a county agent; is that correct?
Secretary BENSON. Certainly our present thinking does not lead us in that direction, Senator. However, I would like to keep an open mind on a lot of these things because I think that some of them can bear some very careful study. But I have looked upon the Extension Service as primarily engaged in education.
Senator HUMPHREY. Now, I think that the next question, the third which my friend, the Senator from South Carolina, has tucked away in these questions, is the $64 one:
It is vital to know also whether the locally organized soil-conservation districts would be subordinated, that is, to the land-grant colleges, the PMA committees, or the county agents.
In other words, is the soil-conservation-district program to be placed under a coordinated administrative head in a particular district or county?
Secretary BENSON. Senator, these conservation districts are set up under State law, and we could not touch them if we wanted to.
Senator HUMPHREY. Yes, that is true.
Secretary BENSON. There may be a need for some better coordination between the agencies you have mentioned out at the State and county levels. I do not know. Certainly nothing would be done to them until we have had time to study them more in detail, and certainly nothing would be done until we conferred with Members of Congress about them.
But so far as the soil-conservation districts are concerned, they are set up by State authorities.
Senator HUMPHREY. State law?
Senator HUMPHREY. And, of course, there have been efforts made to coordinate the ACP program and the SCS?
Secretary BENSON. Yes.
Senator HUMPHREY. And is that the kind of coordination that you are thinking about as an improvement?
Secretary BENSON. The only coordination that we are interested in would be that which will provide more efficient service for the farmer and save some money for the taxpayer. We do not favor one program as against another. I think they have all been effective in serving agriculture. Any coordination would tend to improve that service. That would be our only interest.
Senator HUMPHREY. Mr. Secretary, I think that it is a fair concern on the part of Members of Congress and of the public to be wondering as to whether or not SCS will lose its identity and will be subordinated to other agencies within the Department, because the SCS, the Soil Conservation Service, had to put up an uphill battle all through the country to get its program underway.
Senator Smith. Will the Senator yield?
Senator Smith. I do not like to interrupt anyone in his questioning. But word has come in that the Secretary has an appointment at the White House at 1 o'clock. I think other members of the committee have questions to ask, Mr. Secretary. I dislike asking you to come back this afternoon, and Senator McClellan will not be able to come in because of his flood-control appropriations this afternoon.
Senator McCLELLAN. That is right.
Senator HUMPHREY. I would be glad to yield to my colleagues. I must say that every time I get in one of these hearings, the witness has had to leave. We had the Secretary of Defense at another one and he had to go, too.
Senator Smith. The Senator's questions and the Secretary's answers have been very helpful to the record of the hearing.
It was my purpose to ask the Secretary if he felt that he had to be at the White House at 1 o'clock.
Secretary Benson. I think probably we might continue for a little while.
Senator SMITH. Could the Senators come in at 4 o'clock?