TAPE 1, SIDE 1
DR. MAUER: This is the second interview with Brian Duff, now of the NASM [National Air and Space Museum], formerly of NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration]. We'll be talking about the difference between being a public affairs staff officer and a line administrator of a program.
MR. DUFF: Public Affairs, in my experience, is a staff function. The words of Colonel James McDivitt are burned into my memory forever: "Line directs, staff suggests." That was Jim's [James Beggs'] view and it's a good working definition. Jim said it a little differently. He said that a line officer has a permanent delegation of responsibility, and a staff officer has a temporary delegation of responsibility. That is, if you give someone the job of building the shuttle, he has that job until you fire him or until he finishes it, but if you give someone the job of being a spokesman for NASA orbeing the Congressional liaison or lawyer for NASA, that delegation shifts with policy changes, with new information, and with the changes of leadership inside the agency. That staff officer must be very alert to the fact that his function essentially is to be a surrogate representative of the person he works for. He must stay very close to the person he works for to see what that person's position is, because staff tends to be policy, as opposed to the implementation of a project or a piece of work.
In some cases, it is possible to have many duties that look very much like line in your day-to-day work. At the height of the Apollo program, Julian Scheers' total yearly budget was in the $11,000.00 range. If you're spending $11,000,000.00, you're getting contracts, you're hiring and firing people, you're building exhibits, you're making movies, you're writing books, you're committing to the building of press centers and visitors' centers. You're signing contracts, in some cases long-term contracts. If you don't actually sign them, you write them and an appropriate contracting officer signs them. But you're doing the things that many people would call the function of a line manager.
Ultimately, however, your real authority is the authority delegated on a very temporary basis by the administrator or key manager of the agency, that is by NASA. That's so in every job I've ever held. I've held public affairs positions of a number of places besides NASA, and whether I worked for Elliot Richardson at HEW [Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] or JohnGardner at the [National] Urban Coalition or Alan Boyd at Amtrak, I knew that my job was to convey the policy of the senior officer of the institution. That meant that unless I was absolutely sure, I would re-check each day to make sure that I had in fact understood what that policy was, because it varies as to environmental, political, and other kinds of changes.
Mauer: Julian Scheer was assistant administrator for a very long time. There can be a growth and creation of authority simply by longevity of tenure, by having an institutional memory, and by having consistently pursued certain types of policies. Was there a quality of consistency about Julian Scheer over the course of his tenure.
Duff: Possibly. I don't think it changes the basic truth of what a staff officer's responsibility is, but it is in fact probably true that some of the line officers did come and go during Julian's tenure. But ultimately, Julian spoke with authority because he spoke for James Webb; and that's different than, say, the associate administrator for manned flight.
MAUER: That's not what I'm trying to get at. It's a relativistic argument. I am asking whether there's some validity to it. It's not that the essential difference between line and staff isn't there. What I'm asking is, when a person has a strong personality, as I understand Julian did, and a long tenure, does that add on to his ability to influence things?
DUFF: Absolutely. I'm sure that occurred with Julian, partly because in the area of policy, which is what the administrator spends a great deal of the time worrying about, the staff people acquire more and more power. This happens because they understand that policy, and they are turned to by the senior person, whether he's a CEO [Corporate executive officer] or chairman of the board or whatever. They're turned to because the higher you go in an organization, the more you worry about policy. That almost goes by definition. The person at the top spends a lot of his time thinking about policy and about politics, both with a small "p" and with a big "P," of the organization. I was thinking of famous cases like President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower's press secretary, who was accused later of being more than a press secretary.
MAUER: Sherman Adams?
DUFF: No, Sherman Adams was his staff officer. I'm thinking of Jim [James] Early, who was [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt's press secretary.
It sometimes gets to the point where people say they can't distinguish between the policies being enunciated by the staff officer and by the boss. It's still the same, though. Staffofficers only do that if they can get away with it, and if they make a mistake, they're in deep trouble.
You can always tell a staff officer because, even when he's giving orders, he prefaces them by saying, "The boss would like this to happen." he doesn't say, as the line officer does, "I'd like this to happen." It's important to distinguish between surrogate authority and permanently delegated authority, which is what distinguishes a line officer.
MAUER: When you came into NASA, the relationship that you had [with Webb] where you were the person who traveled with him, put you much further down in the organization, and yet at times you would speak for Jim Webb in very narrow, specific ways. At times you would be his mouth piece.
DUFF: Yes, but it's easy to over emphasize the importance of that. One of the reasons I traveled with Webb was that I was fairly junior, so in effect I was safe. Julian couldn't possible travel with Webb. I understood the limits of my authority, and I was there to help Mr. Webb get the job done. I was there in the role of a staff assistant, and Mr, Webb was very conscious of that too. I don't think I ever overstepped it.
As an example of how quick Webb was to see something like that, I once raised something with him that I'd already cleared with Julian. It was in my particular area--when I didn't travel with Webb, I had a major division to run back at NASA. I raised something with Mr. Webb and he said, "You'd better check that one through Julian." I realized that I was being gently reminded that, in terms of my job and my function for NASA, I worked for Julian; but I traveled with Webb, I worked for Webb.
MAUER: That raises an interesting question in itself; why you? What not someone even more junior? You had a lot of responsibilities in Washington, DC, at NASA Headquarters. Do you have any sense of how that determination was made?
DUFF: Yes. I've always thought that one of the reasons I traveled with Webb and with the astronauts--I went with the astronauts to 55 countries, and often I was the spokesman for the agency--was because I was trusted. You can't check backt to Washington if you're in Kuala Lampoor. It was because I was trusted to understand what my authority really was and how far I could go, and also to use my head and to interpret reasonably what Julian or Mr. Webb would have said if they'd been on the spot. You do your best.
The reason I was sent to Houston was to replace a public affairs officer who had gotten off the reservation, who was seen as someone who had the bit in his teeth and was out of control.
MAUER: Let's be more explicit about that.
DUFF: It's no secret. I was sent down on a weekend to replace Paul Haney, ten weeks before the first landing on the moon. When you replace the public affairs officer at Houston ten weeks before the first landing, that's a decision that has to be made with some consideration. I was literally called back from my job at the Urban Coalition and asked if I'd go to Houston I knew enough about the situation at Houston. I know enough about the situation at Houston that when Julian called me on a weekend and asked if I'd be willing to go to Houston, I said, "Yes." I knew exactly why I was going.
MAUER: How is it that you knew exactly why?
DUFF: Even though I was out of NASA, I knew that there had been a growing conflict between Haney, who had been in Houston five years, and who was known nationally as the Voice of Apollo--it's easy to happen in a field center. You begin to think that because you are the manned space flight spokesman at Houston, and because that's where all the work is going on, that you really are in charge. But the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, no matter how big it is and how important the work is, is part of a larger federal agency called NASA, and the policy is set in Washington.
Part of Haney's problem was that there would be breaks of important stories in Houston without coordination with Washington, without coordination with the White House, and without coordination with the key committee members in Congress. Haney saw Washington as interfering. I think Haney saw Washington as an interfering, bridling, inhibiting influence, which is often a field center's position. It goes with the territory.
My choice to go to Houston was the choice of someone who had been in Headquarters and understood how the relation between Headquarters and a field center works, particularly in public affairs. It's very hard for public affairs to work its way up through the chain of command. If you make an announcement in Houston, you make it in Washington instantaneously. You don't deal in memos, you deal in press releases and statements and conferences and so forth. There's no such thing as a confidential press conference. If you don't understand that the relationship between a field center and Washington is a very delicate and sensitive one, you're going to get in trouble.
People have asked me, "How could you walk that line?" I mean, "How could you be loyal to Bob [Robert] Gilruth and to Jim Webb or Tom [Thomas] Paine at the same time?" I say, "It's easy. To do a good job as Bob Gilruth's press officer, I had to keep Bob Gilruth out of trouble with Washington." That makes me soundlike I'm bragging about it, but in fact, a for a center director, a good press person is constantly aware of the effect of public affairs activities in the center and how they will be perceived in Washington. If you work for Company X and you're at a division in Poughkeepsie, you'd better understand how the people feel at Headquarters in Detroit. Part of you responsibility is to be aware of that all the time, so that the advice yo u give the center director is advice that will not get him into trouble with Washington and, if possible, gain him approval from Washington. I was very much in a liaison role with Washington all the time, something that Haney either didn't want to do or couldn't do. The result was that I functioned pretty well.
MAUER: As I understand it, Bob Gilruth was very unhappy wit Haney. It wasn't just a question of Haney being out of synch with Washington. He was also out of synch with his own center. Is that understanding right?
DUFF: I know less about that than someone like Gilruth would. But I'll relate a conversation that I had with Chris [Christopher] Kraft who was the deputy.
I was concerned about being parachuted into Houston ten weeks before the moon landing. I didn't know, for example, how the staff would feel about it. The public affairs staff at Houston was a large group of people, 50 or 60 if you counted all the support contractors and people who worked very closely day to day, who lived right in the facility, and the civil servants. Haney had been down there five years. He was colorful and he was a household word, if any public affairs officer was. I was supposed to drop in there out of nowhere ten weeks before this important event. I had a real concern about how I would get along with the staff, although I figured that would work itself out if I just did my best. People respect you if you do your best. But how would the management feel? Was I being rammed down the throat of both the staff and the management?
I had a talk with Bob Gilruth, and he said, "Go down and see Chris." So I walked down the hall--those guys always seemed to be at opposite ends of the building. Chris was someone I got to know and like very much later. Chris said, "You know, when we fired Shorty [John Powers], we thought it was his fault. Now we had to fire Paul, and we're beginning to think maybe it's a bit both out faults. If you take the job, I promise you I'll give you all the help I can." I took that to be a very important statement, and it certainly fit with my view of what public affairs was: the first thing you do is find out what your management sees as its problem, and then work on that problem; and the second thing you do is try to get the information available, look at what your employer or client is trying to get out, and try to get it out as effectively, efficiently, and accurately as possible. But the big thing, first, last, andalways, is to maintain a trust on the part of your management, so they'll trust you enough to tell you the truth and so they'll trust your advice when you give it back to them.
Apparently that had really eroded with Haney, and a he was in a totally impossible situation. His management wasn't talking to him. He was functioning as a free agent, which constantly got him into trouble in both places. He got in trouble in Washington, and they promptly called Gilruth and Chris and bawled them out. Then they'd call Haney and say, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Haney had no friends in either camp. So he tried to do what a lot of people do in that situation: he tried to make friends with the press. The press was the object of his activity, not the purpose of his activity. The press loved it because he was always giving them stories. When you get in that situation where you think you haven't got any friends, you have to look for them wherever you can. A public affairs officers who thinks that the press will keep him out of trouble is crazy, because the press couldn't care less. They rally around Haney when he finally had to leave, and kindly stories were written about him, but ultimately, the story's the story. It doesn't matter who the public affairs officers is.
MAUER: So, to use your term, you parachuted into Houston. Your conversation with Chris Kraft was to find out what the situation was. The feedback he was giving you was basically positive. Once you walked in, what did you find?
DUFF: What I found was a staff of professionals who wanted to get the job done. The public affairs staff, as I mentioned was a very sizeable group of people.
The first thing I did was try to figure out if we were in a position to do our basic job, which was to get the information out on the missions. I did very little tinkering with the mechanism that had been put in place to handle to public affairs to the missions. Actually, it didn't need it. These guys really knew what they were doing.
I'll say this for Haney; he was a professional as a public information officer. His problem was that he'd gotten out of synch with his own bosses in Houston, and of course, by doing that, he got out of synch with Washington.
MAUER: Do you think he had begun to act more like a line official?
DUFF: Yes, a line official. I'll tell you another thing: the first thing I did when I got to Houston was to say, "I am not going on the air." This fellow [Haney] had been described as the Voice of Apollo. I got to Houston--I went down on a credit card. It happened that the car rental agency--Budget or National orwhatever it was--was owned by LTV. LTV was our major support contractor at Houston, and it happened that LTV was our support contractor for public affairs. In the great world, no one ever heard of Brain Duff, but in the little world of Houston, a new public affairs officer was a big deal for LTV Corporation. Someone obviously put the word through to Hobby Field, which was the airport then in Houston, and which was very close to the space center. They put the word through that someone new was coming in and they should lay out the red carpet. I arrived to get my rental car, and I wasn't used to this kind of treatment. The woman behind the counter said, "My God, it's the voice of NASA, it's the voice of Apollo, it's the voice of America!"
That was my first real glimpse of how big a deal you are in a field center, as opposed to Washington. In Washington you have all these federal agencies and all these big wheels. The public affairs officers, even Julian who'd been around a long time, is only one of a number of key people in Washington. But in Houston, especially at the Manned Spacecraft Center, the public affairs officers was known by everyone because that was a very visible job. He was on the air a lot, particularly in the case of Haney.
My first act was to tell the staff that the time when the public affairs officer could be a commentator was over. In my view, Haney should have done that himself. It made some sense for the public affairs officer to be the commentator on Mercury, because it had a very short mission, there was one astronaut, and it was a relatively simple launch operation. You were down in Florida, it was up and down, and the recovery was all down there. By the time of Apollo, the missions lasted for days. The control center operated 24 hours a day with changing shifts. The missions were very complex and involved all kinds of-- The landing on the moon was short but when we got to Gemini, they were up there for a long time. How in the world could one person expect to be the voice?
The second thing I perceived about Haney's problem was that he got too visible. People who'd never heard of Bob Gilruth knew Paul Haney. Some people called him the 13th astronaut or something like that. That's death. Public affairs is not supposed to be a visible function, in my view. You're not supposed to get in the pictures. You're not supposed to get on the air.
We had inherited the job of commentator. I don't know if I told Gilruth or not, but I said I didn't believe the public affairs officer of the center had the time to be the commentator, or even a commentator. He couldn't afford to be over there drilling with these teams. Even if you took only the shift in which you expected the high visibility to occur, that meant you had to drill as a simulator. The commentator should simulated,if he's doing a good job, with mission control, so that he knows everything that's going to happen. When he's talking, he'd talking with the knowledge that he's responsible. We deliberately took from the public affairs office three or four of the people who had been down at Houston for a long time and had been with the program. We said, "You're going to be the commentator for shift A, shift B, shift C," and stayed with that policy forever. I don't thing even Jack King, when he moved from Florida was full time commentator. King was the launch commentator. Jack King was the guy who said, "10, 9, 8, 7, 6," and after launch passed it to Houston, and when you got guys like Haney on the air. haney was on the air all the time and was very well known. Haney was the commentator, and he acquired that name, the voice of Apollo.
But I never went on the air. I took the position that I was a member of the senior staff of the Manned Spacecraft Center and I didn't have time to be a radio announcer. That was another very deliberate effort to let management know that I didn't see myself as--I didn't run very many press conferences. I was trying to make the impression that I was the manager of this function, and I work for you and think like you do and stick with you, but when you make decisions, I pass them down through the staff. The only time I was in front of the camera was when they ran a press conference involving the whole center.
I think it [my tactics] worked, and I think it impressed people in both directions, because one night I was prowling around the back of a theater which was used as office space, and someone had stuck one of my publicity photos up on the wall, and it said, "They Grey Ghost of Building One," I had grey hair even then.
I made a very deliberate effort to create the appearance of seeking anonymity, seeking a low profile, and pushing the staff affairs people who were actually working with the programs into positions of visibility. I tried to spread that visibility as broadly as possible among as many people as possible. Part of my reason was to create a different kind of style of management, but I also wanted to keep reminding the senior staff that I was senior staff, and not publicity hound, or even more, a radio announcer. I've seen public affairs officers who try to justify their job by going around with a camera taking pictures. Sometimes that's necessary, but it's death. If your supervisor think of you as a photographer, they won't think of you as someone who can give them advice on some of the most important issues that they have to face, such as environmental impact, community relations, OEO problem, and all the things that are genuinely the job of public affairs.
MAUER: Did you have trouble getting this acceptance from the other senior staff.
DUFF: I went in with a little trepidation, but in fact, it was a perfect situation. It's the best thing in the world to follow someone who's screwed up. The hardest thing is to follow a legendary master. Then you always hear, That's not the way good old Joe did it." No one ever said to me, "That's not the Paul did it."
MAUER: But there is a danger of the position of public affairs director being so reduced in their eyes that they don't see you as a person, but rather the position itself.
DUFF: No, they knew that public affairs was important, and that was part of the frustration. If public affairs had been unimportant, Haney would be there today. It was one of those situations about which I could say, "If you weren't in trouble, you wouldn't need me." Obviously your function is stronger and you're more useful if you're in a very high-visibility position because you're doing everything right, than if you're in a high-visibility position because you're doing everything wrong. It makes a difference whether you're in deep trouble or whether you've simply been catapulted into the limelight, which is what was happening in Houston. They had a story of the century down there.
They're [engineers] easier to work with than scientists. Engineers are great bosses because they generally don't like publicity. Someone was telling me once that the difference between an engineer and a scientist is that engineers hate surprises and scientists love surprises, and that's why scientists are hard to work for. They don't give a damn; they just rely on their intellectual brilliance to carry them through. The engineer, though, likes to hold the bridge or hold the truck. He wants to measure everything and practice everything. I don't want to be flippant about this, but engineers do make good bosses because most of them know that that is not their world.
I think it helped that I came from Washington, and they'd seen me every time I came to Houston with Webb. They knew I had Julian's confidence, and Julian was a bit of a legend in NASA. He had been very important in counselling both the center people and the astronauts on the new life that they were suddenly leading, the life of the public figure.
Chris Kraft had been on the cover of TIME. Julian knew that world and they [the staff in Houston] didn't know it. Many of them had come from small technical colleges, Virginia Poly [Virginia Polytechnic University] and so forth, and had gone straight down to Houston. All of a sudden they were mixing with the society of Texas. The governor was there, the president was there, and so forth. Gilruth particularly hated that sort of thing. I had to go to all of the lunches downtown with the Texas oil millionaires because Gilruth didn't want to do that.
The fact that I'd come from Washington and that I had the trust of Webb and later, Paine--Paine was actually in the chair then--that I could pick up the phone and call Julian, helped. Headquarters can come up with some dumb ideas sometimes, and if there is someone on the staff who can pick up the phone and get through to someone--you'd be surprised how the center personnel, especially if they've been down there for years, lose those contacts. They don't want to call the administrator. But if there is someone on the staff who can pick up the phone and call someone in Washington, and get answers to questions that don't seem to make sense to the people down there--or get permission to do something in a way that won't be seen by Washington as grandstanding but rather as something that was cleared in advance--
One of the things I talked with you about on an earlier tape was the permission to put the pool reporter in mission control. We got permission to do a live television press conference in space. Today it seems laughable that that would be controversial. Then, it was seen as absolutely off the wall that we would have reporters in Houston, even though the questions were submitted in advance and were called out by the Cap Com to the astronauts. It was seen as absolutely off the wall to have a "press conference in space." I recommended it because we had a long trip back from the moon with nothing happening, and all this time we had the ability to talk to the spacecraft. But by that time, the astronauts had nothing to say any more. Here they were just waiting, they were literally falling back to earth, and I said, "We ought to set up a press conference."
The first one was on a Sunday. It was beautiful opportunity to capture there last day of the flight before they splashed down and everything got cranked up again. Once again, Jim [James] McDivitt said, "Brian, this is going to cost you your job. You're through. How in the world did you convince Bob to do this? I don't know, but it's going to be a disaster. What if they ask the astronauts a question they don't know the answer to?" All these conversations took place in my kitchen on Sunday. I said, "Jim, what would you do if they asked you a question you didn't know the answer to?" He said, "I'd say I didn't know the answer." I said, "What makes you think these guys aren't as smart as you are?" He said, "Well, blah blah blah" and then he hung up on me.
Then Deke [Donald Slayton] called me, and you could tell that this tiny community of astronauts were all calling each other. Deke called me, and I said, "Deke, there was a memo on this thing and you signed off on it." He said, "I don't remember that," But if Haney had done that, without preparation, it would have been another Haney disaster and Haney would have been accused of doing this on his own and trying to take credit for it. We had done it very carefully, and even though Slayton andMcDivitt claimed not to remember receiving the memo, they'd all seen it. Gilruth had signed off and Scheer had known all about it.
The press conference ended, and we got a telegram from the White House from Richard Nixon congratulating Bob Gilruth on the first press conference from space. I walked over to Gilruth, who was standing next to McDivitt, and I said, "Dr. Gilruth, you got a telegram from the White House congratulating you on this press conference from space." He said, "That's awfully nice of them," or something like that. I give him credit, he gave me a big smile. Today it's hard to believe that that sort of thing was controversial. It became almost a regular event.
MAUER: Let's come back and relate this to the [NASA] institutional structure. This story is important in its own right, but it also illustrates the type of relationship that existed. You were down in Houston at MSC. You were Bob Gilruth's employee. But you also functioned in relationship to Julian Scheer, not simply because you had once worked for him, but also in terms that had to do with the nature of public affairs.
DUFF: Yes, we used to talk about that. In fact, it probably exists on paper. Someone, and I think it was Julian, came up with a phrase called "line authority and functional authority," the line direction and the functional direction. In the wonderful world of bureaucracy, it was the dotted line versus the solid line. We actually described that sort of thing and how it has to work. I've tried to think sometimes of whether there were other people who had the same kind of relationship. What do you call the person who watches over malfeasance and misfeasance? Ombudsman is one name, but there is another one who was created later. He's in every agency. We can come back to it.
To some extent the general counsel has some of that same need. Law is law, and if you have a lawsuit and someone is suing Marshall [Space Flight Center], it has to be very closely coordinated with Washington. The actual trial concerns federal law and federal courts and the attorney general's office. I suspect the general counsel's office has a similar relationship. The general counsel would have a very strong interest in who was hired as counsel at Marshall, may even put them in down there, and the public affairs officers would have that same relationship. The engineer working on the spacecraft would not have the same relationship. That is very clearly a line function, and anything he wanted to say about changing the specs on a machine would chink its way up through the center operations, then and only then to the associate administrator.
MAUER: But you still have some of that with engineers when you start getting into projects and program. Indeed, that played arole in the solid rocket booster problems. But your basic point is well taken.
DUFF: In practice the line delegation--if communication breaks down between centers and the line program officer in Washington, that's a communications breakdown. The system should have all these problems move their way up internally, through the chain of command. If they don't move their way up, there's a breakdown.
But in public affairs and the general counsel's office and the other office whose name I can't think of--you used the word ombudsman. That's pretty close to it. There's a hot line you can call if you suspect hanky-panky. There's a position like that in every agency nowadays, although there didn't used to be. It's a function, and it is understood that it is instantaneous throughout the system. You don't have to go through the line. In fact, it obviously doesn't work if you go through the line, because the person you're blowing the whistle on may be the person you work for. But the reason it works that way is that public affairs is an agency function. It's not the Manned Spacecraft Center function.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
DUFF: It is no accident that when the astronauts come back to Houston, the president gets in his plane and goes down to see them. We knew this was unusual treatment in comparison with most federal agencies, especially when you consider how small NASA is. The degree of involvement of the president and the executive branch of government is something you don't see elsewhere. It was absolutely anticipated that the astronauts would go to the Rose Garden for the medal ceremony. When the astronauts came back, the question always was, "When do you see the president? "When do you see Congress? Do you go to the ranch or does the president go to Houston?" You're very close to the White House. At one point I was spending so much time at the White House handling the astronauts' homecoming that I'd go into the White House Press Office and use the typewriter. I was in and out of the White House all the time. That makes this public affairs function an agency function.
The public affairs officer in each center is an extension of the public affairs officer in Washington. He [center public affairs officer] has the right to all upon then [public affairs officer in Washington]. I never had any question about that. I knew that was true. When I was directing NASA public affairs, it never occurred to me to think that Hal Stall worked for me. I thought Hall Stall worked for Bob Gilruth, Chris Kraft by that time. I didn't have any notion, nor did Hal Stall, that in terms of agency public affairs, the big things, I could pick up the phone and call Hal Stall. In most cases, when I called Hal Stall I didn't need to say, "The administrator this morning asked me todo this." I could call Hal Stall and give him direct orders because I had a functional authority over him, but not a direct line authority. His boss was Chris Kraft, but I was his functional manager in Washington. If he completely disagreed with me, a very effective way to reflect that would have been to go to his boss in Houston and say, "Brian Duff has told me to do something I think is stupid. I don't think we ought to do it." His boss would then call my boss. But that never happened.
You've hit on the edge of something that I think is important. I like NASA, and I was called back twice, hired once, and called back twice. Both cases were at times of crisis. People don't think of the shuttle as having been a crisis, but when they called me back to take over the public affairs job, the shuttle was one year behind schedule and $20,000,000--I can't remember the numbers any more--over budget. They had a public affairs officer who had done exactly the same thing as Paul had done. He'd lost the confidence of senior management in Washington. They asked me to come back and run the public affairs office. They were getting into a period of high visibility, and they wanted one of their own, someone who thought the team way. I think of the job as teamwork. One of the great strengths of NASA was that, although there were fights and there weren't many people who were not concerned with ultimate objective, I don't remember any long-term disagreements. I don't remember any arguments that lasted longer than the decision. I was there off and on from 1963 to 1984 and I don't remember a bitter fight with anyone. I remember many arguments, but no bitterness. Even the people that I had the biggest arguments with--when I see them now, we're not bitter. There is genuine friendship and a feeling that we went through something together.
The reason I got along better than Haney did is because if I'd gone down to Houston when Haney went down and grown up with it, I would have been there five years, maybe I would have gotten all wrapped up in it. Haney's problem was that he forgot that no matter how big and how wonderful and how competent the people were in Houston, they were still part of the larger organization. Houston was not the space program, NASA was the space program, and NASA was still run by Washington--maybe not run by Washington, but Washington had legitimate concerns about what happened, and Washington's job was policy. Washington's job was getting the budget through. Washington's job was national public acceptance. Those functions required that Washington had to be able to tell you certain things at certain times. Tom Paine had every right to say to me, "What the hell are you doing with what you tell these astronauts?" Trooping down to plant a tree for Israel was not good sense. We were right in the middle of a period when the Arab-Israeli situation was at fever pitch. It was a knee-jerk reaction. The public saw this as a NASA endorsement of the Israeli position. The astronauts saw it aparty to go to. The astronauts loved to go to downtown Houston, where they were feted by Houston society. I did have a talk with the Astronauts' Office and said, "We've all got to be a little more sensitive to these issues.
MAUER: This is an example, because you hadn't known about this ahead of time, had you?
DUFF: I don't think I knew. I knew that there was an event downtown. I wasn't planning to go, but I knew there was a big party or dinner. A lot of people were going to go to it. It was going to attract the cream of Houston society, and of course the astronauts almost got invited to those things automatically. There was a relatively small astronaut corps, and the astronauts got invited to almost all of those fund raisers automatically. They had a tendency to accept them, because they enjoyed a party. They got the night out, and their wives got dressed up, and they got to go to downtown Houston. You have to understand, downtown Houston is a long way from--
MAUER: --30 miles.
DUFF: It's a long 30 miles, and without anyone being aware of it, this was a very attractive invitation. Everyone signed up. All of a sudden, a large number of astronauts appeared on the guest list. I don't know how it got to Washington. Someone in the diplomatic corps for the Arab embassies lodged a protest. It was probably a pro forma action. Paine got pinged, which is the natural reaction of someone who has a lot on his mind when something trivial comes up. I don't mean to trivialize this, but from Paine's point of view it was a problem he didn't need. He called me and said, "What the hell's going on? I expected you to keep me out of this."
MAUER: It was major pain for a minor issue. Was this the only time that Paine ever called you? It must have floored you to have the administrator call.
DUFF: I wish he'd called me on a happier occasion. I think, though, that as time went on I did see more of him, I could say this; that was the first and last I ever heard from him on that issue. I suspect it was understood that there wasn't a hell of a lot we could do.
MAUER: But you never had another occasion when he called to complain about something?
DUFF: No, he never did. Normally he would have talked to Julian, but it was Sunday. Paine and Webb and everyone else--Webb would not call Paul Haney direct, instead he would have called Julian and had Julian call. I've talked to people in military public affairs, and my impression is that if you were acaptain or a major on an air force base, your relations with Washington would be almost nil. You would report to your commanding officer, and he would report to Washington. It's much more in line. But at NASA, they've always gone about it that way.
One of the reasons that public affairs was so much fun at NASA was that every public affairs officer in NASA knew everyone else in public affairs because the agency was so small. The impact of a launch and a mission was so huge on the agency--not just for manned but also unmanned missions--that the entire public affairs organization would be mobilized. So everyone would come to help. Everyone had an assignment. It made the job much more interesting. It made public affairs a much more interesting assignment at NASA. For example, we never had enough of our own people to man the public affairs operation in Houston. If we just had our own people, so we would get people in from Headquarters, from Ames [Aeronautical Laboratory] and Lewis [Flight propulsion Laboratory] not so much from the old line agencies, but certainly from Marshall, and we would go to the Cape [Canaveral] and get assignments. In fact, you were likely to get an assignment to go the Cape through launch and then go immediately to Houston, and in those days, you might go to the carrier. You worked together, and you not only worked together but, because you were working away from your home base, you tended to be in the hotels together. It was a very very close relationship in the public affairs organization.
It didn't occur to me until I left NASA, but I was the first public affairs chief, the first functional director of public affairs for NASA who had come up through the system. Julian hadn't. I don't want to emphasize it to much, because maybe it was accidental, but they would tend to hire someone from Washington. Until I got called back to do shuttle public affairs, the public affairs officers, who have been relatively few, had all been brought in from outside, usually by the administrator. When I came back to do public affairs for the shuttle, I knew practically everyone in the public affairs function in every center, had worked with them, roomed with them, knew their first names, and knew whether they were good or bad, strong or weak.
MAUER: That was one of the things that made public affairs at NASA different. One problem is that, like other aspects of NASA, each center is an island unto itself. The problem often is that there isn't enough communication, whereas in public affairs you had to get down and work together at times, which meant that you were having personal relationships and an ability to communicate. Am I hearing you correctly?
DUFF: Yes, and that's very true. Considering how relatively small Public Affairs was, that was truer of us than it was of some people. There was a lot of that moving back and forth in NASA, probably much more than in the average line federal agencies such as HEW [Department of Health, Education, and Welfare]. Some reporter once quipped that when we went to the moon--what was it he said? A good phrase, something about hotel vouchers and rental cars. It was a ping at the very high level of travel of a lot of NASA people, although some people obviously didn't travel frequently, people in the procurement office, for example.
But one thing that distinguished a career in NASA was that the average NASA middle manager would have been at many centers and been there [in the system] for a long time. It's true that there was a lot of movement around. Someone would say, "I was at Houston for awhile and then I was at Kennedy [Space Center] and now I'm at Marshall for four years." Of course there were people who never went anywhere, but they all saw each other. Even if you spent your whole career at Marshall, for example, you would go to program reviews here and program reviews there, the countdown, appropriation meetings, and so forth. They're doing more of that by closed circuit television, satellite television, now than they used to, but those airplanes were in the air all the time. That Gulf Stream fleet that they had was always taking engineers back and forth.
If someone was going to look at the NASA animal, what made it what it was, it was a relatively small group of people, most of whom knew each other. For example, the alumni association, [NASA Alumni League] which I'm working with--with other federal civilian agency has an alumni association? These guys think of themselves as alumni of NASA. I think it's good for NASA. I think one of the reasons that the alumni association is good for the agency--and I hope agency does everything it can to encourage it--is the morale that's represented by the fact that people want to be alumni. That's a value. Every young engineer would rather work for an outfit that has an alumni association that one where people say, "Gee, I've put in 20 years, I'm sure glad to get out of that place," particularly now when federal service is so much less attractive than it was 30 years ago. The federal civil servant has become the whipping boy of so many politicians and so many presidents, unfortunately. They play to the grandstand by saying, "Those lazy federal employees."
MAUER: I have more questions but I also have a sense that you need to go.