Interviewee: Mr. James Webb

Interviewers: Drs. David DeVorkin and Joseph Tatarewicz

Location: His home, Washington, D.C.

Date: March 8, 1985


DR. TATAREWICZ: Last time we talked about portions of your career going up to your time at Sperry. There are a few other questions that have occurred to us about that period that we'd like to ask you about. Some of these questions have to do with your work in civil aviation and the issues surrounding the development of aviation from barnstorming to an actual transportation system.

As we understand it, some of the histories reported reluctance among the financial community to invest in aviation.This was due to a rather large number of accidents that were occurring, the reputation that it was dangerous, and a reluctance among insurance companies to get involved in aviation. Was this a concern to you and a concern to those who came to see you?

MR. WEBB: It was a concern to those trying to remove each obstacle to regular airline service -- especially the risk of large court findings, against a foreign airline in favor of a local person who claimed damage. An agreement to limit the liability to $10,000 was pushed by the International Technical Committee of Aerial Legal Experts -- where I served on the Advisory Committee to the American section. Later I mention the work of Brooks Parker in insurance.

I don't remember it being a major concern of those who were pressing hard for the United States to adopt a policy of developing aviation at a rapid rate. In those days aviation was much like space today. It required advanced work in many of the sciences and the very sophisticated engineering disciplines. We were trying very hard to get the government to recognize that the normal approach to government contracts did not apply to aviation.

However, in those days, Brooks Parker from Philadelphia organized a company called Parker and Company, which sent a number of people to South America to survey the Pan-American routes so that Parker could write the insurance. He was a wealthy bachelor interested in fencing, very interested in the United States Olympic teams and things like that, and so he took a real interest in starting the industry of insurance for aviation. They brought I think the Connecticut General in with them, and a good many of them developed very rapidly.

Now, part of their concern I think was not just the number of accidents aviation had, but the question of how the government would regulate this industry; whether you would have the kind of profit limitations on these materials that would make it impossible for people to advance private research money. A lot of this was cleared up.

It was in this general period that Parker sent Les Cizaek of his firm and Mr. Harris Hull, who is now General Hull and has been working at NASA for the last several years, to South America. They surveyed the routes that Pan-American proposed to fly, and got together the materials which enabled Parker and Co. to carry the insurance on Pan-American.

That kind of thing was going on. Les Cizek and Hull also took a large interest in the groups that we had working toward more attention to aviation by the government. You have to remember, there were very active people like General Billy Mitchell and others who were pressing forward. At that time I was a director at the National Aeronautical Association, a national organization, and I was president of the greater New York Chapter of the National Aeronautical Association. Cizek and Hull were both members, and there were many others who were interested in aviation who were members and met about once a month in order to do what we could to push forward.

The National Aeronautic Association published a magazine.I think it's still being published. I myself wrote quite a number of editorials for that magazine, blind.

DR. DEVORKIN: "Blind"?

WEBB: I mean, my name was not signed to them. I was helping out the editorial staff of the magazine.

DEVORKIN: What was the name of the journal?


DEVORKIN: And the blind editorials were largely written by you? Were they written by other people as well?

WEBB: Yes, they were, but I think I wrote about half of them.

    In other words, the whole thrust of our group was that the United States needed a policy for the rapid development of aviation.

DEVORKIN: Roughly during what years were these editorials appearing?

WEBB: They were appearing in the years before World War II, beginning about 1933, '34, '35, when I lived in Washington, and then continuing in 1936 when I moved to New York, and continuingright up to the war. In other words, we were pressing to see aviation have a bigger place in the sun. We were of course keeping in close touch with other people who were interested in aviation.

I remember very well, after Bernard R. McFadden had begun to take an interest in the Greater New York Chapter, the Air Force was being put together to organize in a big way for World War II. General Ira Eaker, who went to England and set up the 8th Air Force there (he was a commanding officer until Jimmy Doolittle took it over), sent for Mr. Morgan. Morgan was president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America that I described to you last time as being made up of both airplane companies and manufacturing companies. So Morgan and I came down and met him, and talked to him about this fact:

President Roosevelt had offered the long Range Strategic Bombing Mission to the Navy, and the Navy had declined it. The Air Force was then given it and they began to move. That was the point at which General Eaker said that he and General (Hap) Arnold needed some help from us through the Aeronautical Chamberof Commerce, the National Aeronautical Association, and various people who were interested.

We said we would. As we were leaving, going out the door, I turned back to Ira and said, "Ira, can you think of anything else you need?" He said, "Yes, we need a song for the Air Force."

So I got busy and talked to Edith Lumsden, Bernard McFadden's assistant, and got him to put up a thousand dollar prize for the person who could write a song acceptable to the Air Force. McFadden still flew his own plane although he was about 75 years old. I served on the committee of three, with General Yount and a woman officer or wife of one of the officers. A large number of songs were submitted. We put them on records and played them and finally awarded this thousand dollar prize to the man who wrote "The Wild Blue Yonder," and he was given the check out at the Cleveland Air Races the following fall. I remember perfectly well, when he got up on a chair to receive the check, he fell down -- it was outside, a nice green yard -- and all of that sort of vividly sticks in my mind. But I did personally get McFadden to put up the prize and served on the committee to select the song for the Air Force. Much of that isn't known today.

DEVORKIN: When Roosevelt called for the process of defining the program, why did the Navy turn it down, and what kind of a structure did you use to step in?

WEBB: I do not know why they turned it down. All I know is that General Eaker told us that the Navy had turned it down and the Air Force had to move very rapidly. I think it's fair to say that a few of us, of which I was one, had studied the question of procurement of aircraft materials. The point was being made that you couldn't buy it like shoes, that you really needed a designcompetition, and that what the government needed to do was not have an arsenal type of manufacture, but to state its needs to industry and let industry find skillful ways to meet those needs. That is basically what we did in NASA.

Dwight Morrow, who later became ambassador to Mexico, was the head of the commission -- the Morrow Board -- that wrote a very thoughtful report back about 1926, before Lindbergh flew. This report was debated extensively in the Congress. They did adopt design competition instead of price competition for aeronautical materials known to be different from the others. When the decision was made to begin to build up the Navy and the Air Forces, along about 1933, '34, a provision was made to exempt from the 7 percent profit limitation, which was imposed on that very large program, equipment and scientific apparatus for communications, navigation, target detection and fire control. It was private money invested in research in those fields that improved the gunnery and performance of our ships and the gunnery and performance of our aircraft.

TATAREWICZ: How did you go about conveying the specific needs to industry? How did you and the Association provide this help?

WEBB: Well, that wasn't our job. Our job was to try to create a framework within which this relationship between industry and government could take place. Now, the government had to talk to industry about what it wanted to buy, and the conditions under which it would buy it and pay for it. Industry had to look carefully first and decide what responsibilities it was prepared to accept and how much it expected to be paid for it.

What our group was interested in doing was just what a lot of these groups are now interested in, like the Space Institute. A lot of people who want to be promoters, want something more done than would be done without their efforts.

Now, there were a lot of people, of whom Tom Doe was one, who said, "Well, all this is going to take place anyway. You boys are just like a fellow running downhill with a snowball gaining, getting bigger and bigger all the time, you're clapping your hands and saying 'Here she comes, boys, here she comes, boys' -- you're not doing anything that snowball wouldn't do anyway, because it's got the need and the capacity and so forth,the position to do it."

So there were a lot of people who felt they didn't want to participate and contribute the funds needed and there were others who thought that we ought to go faster than we were going. It was in that period that I became the treasurer of the Aviation Exhibit for the Aviation Industry and was responsible for handling the money and seeing that it was properly administered.

DEVORKIN: Would you classify yourself as one who wanted to see it go faster?

WEBB: Absolutely.

DEVORKIN: Was this for the war? It wasn't wartime yet in '39.

WEBB: No, I think basically I, and those associated in this kind of endeavor, felt that aviation had much more to offer the country than the country was going to get, and that we ought to do the things necessary to develop aviation as a strong, vital force.

Remember, that was the period from 1930 on, when they were shifting from the old open cockpit planes that they'd had before, into the more modern type of plane. NACA was developing streamlined cowling for radial engines, landing gear that could be retracted and still function when they needed it, and variable pitch propellers. Boundary layer work was being done by men like Dr. Dryden, and a lot of very basic subjects were being investigated in a different way than they had before. That was when they began to build the wind tunnels.

DEVORKIN: Were you at all in a position in the thirties to comment upon or work on the structure of the NACA? Did you ever engage in essays in the NATIONAL AERONAUTICAL JOURNAL about NACA at all?

WEBB: No. Not about the NACA. I did with respect to the Sperry Company and with respect to industry, and to a certain extent with respect to these kinds of organizations that were advocating increases, both in the Navy and the aviation arms of the government.

DEVORKIN: Certainly in that regard, but what about in regard to how the NACA defines its problems, who the policy makers are within NACA?

WEBB: No. I did not get into that. Remember, I was pretty busy. I was holding down a full time job in a company that doubled every year for about five years. We went from 800 people to 33,000. We went from an annual volume of about five million to 500 million. We were operating 36 different factories, and I was the personnel director and assistant to the president, then treasurer, then secretary-treasurer, then vice president.

DEVORKIN: In rapid order.

WEBB: That's right. So I had a lot to do there. But I was very interested in these other subjects, and the officials of the company were prepared to let me put time on these other subjects. As I told you, I traveled to Washington about once a week.

TATAREWICZ: Was this primarily on aviation?

WEBB: I had lots of other interests here, too.

DEVORKIN: What were they?

WEBB: I was interested in personnel administration, labor relations. The Walsh-Healey Law had been validated by the Supreme Court, and industry was going through a major transition, in which collective bargaining was not accepted. There were bitter controversies. They had the sit-in strikes up in the automobile plants, and all of that affected my daily work and the problems we had; how you introduce things like production controls in a factory that's doubling every year, so that you actually keep up with where things are, what time they're needed in the assembly line, and how you can test them to be sure they'll be effective when you put them into an assembly.

I've always been interested in different subjects, and I was very interested in Congress and how it dealt with these matters. I had many friends down there, and had many occasions to talk with them about their interests and mine.

When I was in Washington, I lived at what is now the University Club. It was the old Racket Club in those days. Many public figures lived there. You had Joe Martin who later became Speaker, you had Ham Andrews from up in New York, you had Piatt Andrew from Massachusetts, and I could name off maybe a half a dozen more who lived there at this bachelor club during that period. So naturally I fluxed with these people at meals, evenings and so forth.

And remember, I had been going to night law school in addition to work I did up on the Hill and with Governor Gardner. So I then applied that time I'd used previously for the night law school to these other activities.

DEVORKIN: Let me move back to the meeting that you had with Eaker, when Eaker brought you in about the long range strategic bombing that the Navy had turned down. How deeply did you get into the design of that whole program? Did you get right down to such things as acceptance testing?

WEBB: Oh no.

DEVORKIN: And deliverables?

WEBB: No, I only got into it to the extent that Tom Morgan, who was head of the aviation industry and for whom I worked, and with whom I had worked intermittently, was to ask for recommendations about people. He was asked to release people from organizations and to use his rather extensive acquaintance in the aviation field and the marine field to help the Air Force with any problems that they had, particularly that of getting personnel.

    I guess half of the first rate officers that Eaker took to England with him when he formed the 8th Air Force came from Sperry Company or from our immediate friends.

DEVORKIN: Did you have a hand in picking them?

WEBB: Well, sure. I mean, we helped persuade people to go.

DEVORKIN: Was it difficult to persuade people?

WEBB: Not terribly. Those people who felt that the war was coming to us, as it had already come to Europe, were ready to go and do their part.

TATAREWICZ: I'm curious about some of the issues in civil aviation which were active at about the same time. You mentioned the attempt to promote aviation as a dependable service, rather than something else, and I'm wondering to what degree you might have dealt with such issues as certification of machines and pilots, for instance? Was that an issue?

WEBB: I dealt with that only to some extent. Lindsay Warren, who was active in the House -- he was a Congressman who was one of the best parliamentarians, they always called on him to preside when they had a very tough question -- and chairman of a committee on finances of the House of Representatives itself (which mainly dealt with a lot of matters that related to individual Congressmen). He was very interested in their organization authority. He was very active in the first grant of reorganization authority to President Roosevelt. Roosevelt used this authority to reorganize the set up for civil aviation. A group of us used to meet fairly frequently, maybe about once a month, here in Washington. They'd come from various places. Bob Woodruff had come up from Atlanta. He was the head of the Coca Cola Company. Baxter Jackson, who'd come down from New York, was head of Chemical Bank. Fred Vinson, who later became Chief Justice, was either judge or a member of Congress at that time. Senator Walter George, of Georgia, lived at the Mayflower and would frequently join us. We'd just meet and have dinner in a hotel suite and talk about the affairs of the nation. We had a lot of exchange of ideas. Of course, I was a very young fellow, and I mixed the drinks and made myself useful. Max Gardner was there. There were quite a number of people who took that kind of a personal interest in thinking about the problems of the country. They had personal friendship that drew them together, too.

TATAREWICZ: What about the other aspects of taking a new and somewhat experimental technology such as aviation and turning it into a civil system, such things as registration, an air traffic system, and airports?

WEBB: My answer, when you asked me that before, was that the group that I was with was interested in having the government set up machinery to do what it needed to do, and not in trying to be experts with respect to how they did the certification and how they did this and that.

DEVORKIN: So in case of the improvement of the mail, when the government reinstituted the contracts for delivering the mail to the commercial airlines, while the specifics about the problems of why the military pilots were crashing all the time were of concern to you, you simply wanted to see that a mechanism was in place to improve their record. Is that a good description?

WEBB: I don't think it is. I think what those like myself who had learned to fly, had been in aviation and knew the top people in aviation were concerned about was the fact that you had gradually, following the impetus of the Lindbergh flight, begun to see some airplanes like the old Boeing twin engine plane that would carry about maybe ten people, and could go transcontinental. You had TWA flying the D-C 2s, the D-C 3s. These were a different kind of and class of airplanes than the open cockpit fighter type of airplane that the military services were flying. So it was really an effort to get back to using the best equipment that we had, and to relieve the Air Force of this burden, that they had been asked to carry and which they were not equipped to do.

DEVORKIN: So it wasn't so much the problem that fields weren't well marked and flight plans weren't fully thought out or well designed, but it was really the quality of the airplanes themselves that made it dangerous.

WEBB: And the operating technique. Remember, these airplanes were flying the mail before Jim Farley cancelled the airmail contracts. And they were then set aside, and the Army tried to fly it with inadequate equipment and with pilots who were not trained for that kind of work, particularly flying at night under icy conditions and things of this kind. What we were trying to do was get the carrying of the mail and carrying of commercial passengers in the country back in the hands of the people who had the best airplanes and knew how to run them.

TATAREWICZ: This issue of seeing to it that the government does what it needs to do in order to solve the specific technical problems -- were there people in Congress who didn't think that it was the government's job to promote such things or to see to the establishment of such a system?

WEBB: I don't remember that that was a basic issue. There are always people who think the government ought to do the minimum, others who think it ought to do more, and I don't think this was any different.

It's perfectly clear that you had to have some kind of a subsidy to put an airline system together, so you really couldn't leave the government out if you depended on the government for subsidies.

I do not want to over-stress my part. I was just one of a number of young guys. I was in my early thirties, I think, inthose days, and I was working along with older, more mature men who had had much more experience.

DEVORKIN: You were moving very rapidly to the very center of this activity. In fact, you literally had been in the center of it.

WEBB: I was dealing with the people who were the movers and the shakers. I was going along with them as they made their plans and carried them into effect.

DEVORKIN: Do you have a feeling that you moved along with them or they brought you along?

WEBB: First of all, when I was with the Rules Committee I was in a key place to make the aviation people seek me out. When I moved uptown to the law office of O. Max Gardner, and we were the general counsel of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, again there were a good many of those people in the industry who were in and out every week talking about some problem or another, since he was the general counsel of the industry. When I moved to New York, many of those interests were maintained as well as I was able, with the agreement and blessing of Tom Morgan and the top people there. I could put in a good deal of time on these things, as long as I didn't let my work suffer at the company.

DEVORKIN: I think that very well describes your role, or position with these people. I wonder if we could move back to where we ended up last time, and talk about some of those issues.

WEBB: I think it's important not to give any implications that I myself was responsible for a lot of this. I was a young man going along, solving problems, working with older men, and they were making these decisions, enlisting friends and doing what they could to help push things along.

DEVORKIN: But your experiences were very, very important.

WEBB: I learned an awful lot.

DEVORKIN: Yes, exactly. That's why we want to identify who you learned these things from, who your best teachers were in the real world. Was it Morgan, people of that sort, or Eaker?

WEBB: Well, O. Max Gardner, who had been governor of North Carolina and was a great friend of President Roosevelt, resigned as the Democratic National Committeeman. Therefore he got a blessing from Roosevelt who said, "That's the way they ought to do it." This gave him a wide open door to many clients who began to come to him, because the President of the United States had said "He's not trying to remain a Democratic Committeeman while he practices law, although he's a former governor." He had whole industrial representations. Cotton Textile Institute was a tradeassociation, and Governor Gardner was their counsel, and the National Rayon Weavers' Association, at the same time. Here was a man capable of representing both the rayon weavers and the cotton people in a manner satisfactory to both of them.

DEVORKIN: That's amazing.

WEBB: He was a very skillful man when it came to political matters.

DEVORKIN: Exactly. I can imagine someone who worked with that sort of a tight rope.

I'd like to move now to the postwar era and reconstruction. We have a line of questions about your role in the postwar reconstruction of science and in the federal funding of science.

WEBB: Go ahead.

TATAREWICZ: First of all, the connections between the military and science during World War II were of a very special kind. There were a lot of people who wanted to see some kind of a relationship continue on a broader basis between government and science, such that the scientist would be available to be consulted to work on particular problems that were of concern.

Did you have any contact during the war with the management of science for defense?

WEBB: Well, I told you that I knew Lloyd Berkner. He was a commanding officer in the Naval Reserve unit here. He was with the Bureau of Standards and was working with Dr. (Vannevar) Bush and people at the Carnegie Institution, and was a very close friend of mine. I learned a good many things from him.

     DEVORKIN: Did you mention that you didn't have any direct contact with the NDRC, the OSRD, acceptance testing, which would have gone on in military labs?

WEBB: That's right.

DEVORKIN: So you were very much beyond that, but were you talking to them about postwar needs, industrial R and D needs, the place of the scientist in setting policy?

WEBB: I had gotten to know Stark Draper, up at MIT (who did the guidance for the Apollo) in the Sperry Company because we were manufacturing the equipment based on his use of gyros for gun pointing. Naturally I learned a good deal from him and Lloyd Berkner, and from our salesmen in the Sperry Company who had come down and contacted me. We had company conferences in which the problems of getting modern equipment picked up and used were discussed. I had that kind of familiarity with it. I was always interested in procurement and the problems by which thegovernment got its work done, from the days I worked for Mr. Pou, and from the days I was flying in the Marine Corps before that.

    So I can't say I had any specific ideas or input with respect to these structures in Washington through which the scientists actually interfaced with the military.

TATAREWICZ: Did you have any other experiences similar to the one you told us about in adapting the radars for air control, for instance?

WEBB: That's the most spectacular and striking one. We were developing techniques to train both night fighter pilots and night controllers so that they could fight effectively at night. We were well aware that a lot of the military people didn't think radar was very much in those days. A great many of the senior officers in the Navy didn't particularly want radar on their ships because they thought it would be a signal to the enemy as to where they were, for instance, among other things. I was aware of this but I was not an active person in it.

TATAREWICZ: I know that after your active duty in the Marines, you went back to practicing law again for a year.

WEBB: Half time. When I was down at Cherry Point, Governor Gardner was appointed by Roosevelt to be chairman of the committee on War Mobilization and Reconversion. Jimmy Burns, who later became Secretary of State and who was then in the Senate, came on as the full time person running this. Gardner told Burns about me. Burns sent for me, I was at Cherry Point, and talked to me about coming up here with him. When I talked to the people in the Marine Corps it was perfectly clear to me that my duty was there and so I stayed there. This was about three or four or five months before the end of the war. As soon as the war was over, I decided I would come to Washington and open my own law office and be independent of anybody else. I didn't want to have to ask a partner where I could put my time.

When I went to tell Governor Gardner that, he said, "If you're coming back to Washington and not going back to the Sperry Company" -- which I didn't want to do, I told you I didn't want to tear down something I'd helped to build up -- "I wouldn't feel comfortable if you didn't come with my firm."

    I said, "I've got a lot of other things I want to do with my time."

So we agreed that I would work as a lawyer in his firm half time, on the projects for the firm, and I'd have half time to work on the things that I thought were important. That was the basis that we had arranged.

It didn't last more than a few months before Truman appointed Gardner to be Under Secretary of Treasury, and he asked me to goover to the Treasury with him. He said, "We've got 106,000 employees, we've shot up our substance as a nation, and you're the only person I can put my hands on who's had experience with large organizations."

So I went with him on the understanding that I wouldn't have to stay with his firm. If I stayed with him six months in the Treasury I'd fulfilled my obligation and I'd be free to go wherever I wanted to go.

DEVORKIN: How did you feel about that?

WEBB: That was all right.

DEVORKIN: It was exciting, wasn't it?

WEBB: Well, it was pretty interesting getting into the Treasury at that time.

DEVORKIN: Was that the closest you'd been to a President at that point?

WEBB: Yes. Truman was President.

DEVORKIN: In the Treasury you had a number of contacts with what was to become NSF and some of the decisions and policies that were involved in it.

WEBB: The first thing that I got involved in in a substantial way was the fact that Lindsay Warren, who was the Congressman I mentioned to you, had now become Comptroller General of the United States. The Collector of the Port of New York had about a billion dollars worth of goods charged to him personally, because there'd been great controversy between the Customs Service in the Treasury and the GAO people as to how to classify certain articles coming into the port, like tobacco.

DEVORKIN: That was the fellow running the Port Authority?

WEBB: Yes. This was the United States Government Collector of Customs at the Port of New York. He had to collect the customs or they had to be charged to him personally. And because they couldn't agree on the classification, it was charged to him personally.

    Well, obviously, I saw that I shouldn't sit there and let that go on, because this was just an intolerable situation. So I got Lindsay Warren, who was Comptroller General and who'd been one of the group who met with us up in the hotel about once a month to talk over the affairs of state, and said, "Lindsay, we've got to straighten this out. This is not what the government ought to be doing."

So he and I and Governor Gardner went to work and we got thematter straightened out between the General Accounting Office and the Treasury.

    Later when I became Director of the Budget, we employed the same technique with respect to the record keeping and accounting of the government. The Bureau of the Budget had the legal authority to prescribe certain of the accounting forms and structures. The Comptroller General had it and the Secretary of the Treasury had it, and there had been internecine bickering and warfare between those agencies for some years. Again I took the initiative to get Snyder and Warren together, both of whom were close friends, and said, "Look, we ought to get this thing straightened out."

Well, we agreed on a very simple formula: we would form ourselves into a committee and let it be known we were working on this problem; we would not let any alternates or substitutes come to the meeting. There would be just three men there, and there wouldn't be a meeting unless all three of them could be there. We would not decide who was going to do anything until we had already decided what was going to be done. We'd first wrestle with the question of what ought to be done, then who would do it.

Item by item, we got the whole thing straightened out. It has persisted all these years and evolved and improved, and is now the Joint Financial Management Program, enforced by the Comptroller General.

DEVORKIN: Is there something magic about a trio, a group of three like that? Because you, Seamans and Dryden were also a trio who thought as one. You made up your mind as one and then you stuck to it. Is there something magic about three, or is it just the people involved?

WEBB: Well, three is easier than four, and two isn't enough. I don't say it's magic. You've got to have three people who want to work together, who want to get a problem solved. That was what we brought to it.

DEVORKIN: That's very interesting. In this trio, when you were straightening out this thing in New York, what was your role? Were you the communicator, the one who designed the memoranda or the directives, and then convinced people to do things?

WEBB: No. I got Lindsay Warren to say he thought we ought to settle it, and then got Governor Gardner to appoint someone from Treasury, and Warren to appoint somebody. They got together and began to work it out.

No, I was not expert enough to start drafting the technical memoranda on a complicated matter like that.

DEVORKIN: You were a negotiator, in a way.

WEBB: I was a facilitator. I was for getting the problem solved, and I was willing to take the initiative, rather than waiting for somebody else to take the initiative.


DEVORKIN: I do have a record here that between '44 and '46, Bush attempted to extend the OSRD as the Research Board for National Security. Through this period we have some evidence that you were involved in the definition of this type of board and its governance, that is, how the power and the funding was going to be directed from Congress through the scientists themselves, which was what Bush wanted, or from the Congress through the military to the scientists. Could you tell us about this?

WEBB: My recollection isn't entirely clear, but I remember that Lloyd Berkner came to me and said, "You've had a science board for the Navy and a science board for the Air Force and a science board for the Army, and you've had some success and many difficulties. In order to go into the postwar period, we've got to put these together in one and Bush is going to head it up."

He wanted me as Director of the Budget to assist them in any way that I could, even if it was simply by letting the services know that the Director of the Budget was supporting this.

So I was aware of what they were doing. I went to one meeting with Bush, Berkner, and some others. But I did basically what Berkner asked me to do. There was this effort to bring together what had been three different scientific efforts, into a unified one.

I do not remember any point at that time relating to not making appropriations to the military services and having them bring the scientists in.

TATAREWICZ: This would have unified military support. But there was no sense, at least at that point, that it would be turned into some sort of a civilian mechanism of science?

WEBB: I do not know.

DEVORKIN: Did you therefore go to people like Alan Waterman at ORI, Office of Research Invention in the Navy, and talk with him about how this was going to go?

WEBB: No. I relied on Berkner to tell me what he thought I could do. He came and asked for my help and I did basically what he suggested.

DEVORKIN: He was your contact?

WEBB: That's right. Of course I was doing the same thing in the field of management, which was my own field. President Trumanset up an Advisory Committee on Management Improvement, and we operated this out of the Bureau of the Budget's office. Frequently when some large appointment would be coming in with a large budget, we'd have them meet with the President's Advisory Committee on Management Improvement, and ask them, "This is a large amount of money, a large increase. Tell us how you're going to improve your management so you get more for each dollar, and we are going to report to the President."

We used these kinds of devices.

DEVORKIN: I see. What are some of the more memorable issues that came before you in that capacity? It sounds like a very interesting position to be in.

WEBB: This was a very minor activity for me, as Director of the Budget. I had the whole government to look at, and the President's needs to meet, his staff needs, and I don't remember that there was any particular thing. When the unification came along, that was a different matter. We had to structure administrative management in the Bureau of the Budget, separate from the Estimates Division. They were constantly working on how you set up the Marshall Plan, how you set up the housing program, how you coordinate the military services and science and technology, and a thousand other things that they were trying to provide the staff support for the President, to use the President's influence to get people to do a better job of management.

TATAREWICZ: At what point did you get drawn into the discussion of setting up a National Science Foundation a civilian funding mechanism for post-war science? This is the first real entrance of the federal government into science in a big and unified way.

WEBB: We adopted a policy in the Bureau of the Budget to try to pick out one activity in the government, each budget year, and put in a great deal of information about it so people could see what the whole government was doing. We did take the research and development expenditures one year, which I think was 1947 or 1948 or so. We had a section in the back of the budget book that drew together all of the expenditures that we could find that were being made in the area of research and development in scientific endeavors in the whole government. That was the first really complete look that anybody had had at this activity.

Now, that generated a good deal of interest. It came at about the time Bush was emphasizing his report "Frontiers of Science." John Steelman in the White House was getting very interested in this. He saw it as an interesting field of activity that he could pursue as an assistant to the President.

    Since President Roosevelt died and President Truman came in there'd been a general sundering of the previous lines of friendship, communication and so forth. As I've indicated, Bushhad far more authority through his closeness to Roosevelt than he had through legislation, and I believe he and others like him were convinced that unless the government funded advanced scientific work, it would suffer. To keep moving on in the way that these very brilliant scientists who had come over from Europe and worked on the atomic bomb, as well as in many other scientific fields, the electronic field and so forth, you had to somehow have a mechanism to get government money into the support of science. But you couldn't surrender to the government the selection of the scientists or the science field to be given.

DEVORKIN: You couldn't surrender that to the government?

WEBB: That's right. So they came up with a write-up which basically said, there will be a foundation. It will be run by a part-time board of directors appointed by the President. That board will then select the full-time director, which will insulate them from the direct governmental pressure. President Truman didn't want any part of that, because he took his role as President in coordinating the whole government very, very seriously, and we worked with him on many matters in that field.I got interested in this, and so did Elmer Staats, who was working in the Bureau of the Budget then. He later became Comptroller General; he has just retired as Comptroller General.

At that point, the President made his position very clear. It was my duty as Director of the Budget to support his position, which I believed was right anyway.

DEVORKIN: Did you have a direct reception with the President? Did he tell you this?

WEBB: Oh yes. I talked to Bush quite a number of times about it. I talked to Senator Alexander Smith who was sponsoring the legislation.

DEVORKIN: How was it talking with these people? When you were with them, were they listeners? Was Bush a good listener? Was Truman a good listener?

WEBB: The scientists were not very good listeners on the question of whether the control of the money going into basic science should be on the basis of decisions made by the scientists themselves or not. I mean, no matter how many times you said, "The President has got a constitutional role as coordinator of the government, and he can't surrender this role," they always came back to the fact that science could not exist as it had previously been known without freedom of choice by the scientists pursue the things that they thought were interesting and important. That was where the thing broke apart.

DEVORKIN: What was your role in bringing it back together?

WEBB: Well, having had a part in writing the veto message that Truman gave, which is a job the Director of the Budget has, the question came, what do you do next?

About that time I was leaving to go over to the State Department and others were picking up the cudgels. But I did follow as Under Secretary of State the recommendations of the First Hoover Commission, that we appoint scientific attaches in embassies abroad, and in several other classified sections that related to american scientists abroad, and their interrelation with our foreign affairs activities.

TATAREWICZ: You mentioned in previous interviews, and this has also been mentioned in a number of histories, that there was a tension between Bush and the administration, and particuarly a tension between Bush and Steelman. To what degree did you perceive these tensions?

WEBB: I didn't see it as something that was inusuperable or of any great difficulty. You had tensions among lots of people with a housing problem, or treasury problems, labor problems. I don't think Truman felt terribly at home with Bush or Conant, these people who were really what you might call intellectuals.

But on the other hand, I think he had a very clear, open mind, to do his job the best he could and treat everybody right.

It wasn't a personal animosity, but Bush had a very special relationship with Roosevelt, as an intellectually oriented person. I think you have to bear in mind that Bush and his associates in OSRD and the war had to convince a lot of fairly strong-minded admirals, generals and others, of the utility of the scientific method and carefully planned research and development based on scientific findings. You had to have a sound theoretical base and then move out with your research and development on that base. I don't think many of the senior military people understood this in the same way.

In the development of the Duck, for instance, the scientist pushed the Duck, which is this amphibious vehicle that was used for landing. This was something that the scientific people all pushed very hard and helped develop, and that the military then accepted but were not enthusiastic about. I think there were many, many illustrations like that. But that's really to be expected in a wartime situation when everybody's trying to do everything as nearly as possible right away and get the war over with.

DEVORKIN: But after the war, in postwar planning, I know there was a lot of planning for the next war; atomic power, atomic propulsion, atomic warheads were what everyone saw on the horizon.

WEBB: The 70 group Air Force. We had equipment all over theworld and were stacking it on the deserts here in the United States. There was a lot of desire for letting it stay there and buying new equipment that would be based on research and development not dated by World War II. There was a real shortage of money. We really had a very serious financial problem, which President Truman had to wrestle with.

DEVORKIN: So he had to establish priorities?

WEBB: That's right.

DEVORKIN: From the point of view of the history we've been looking at, namely the development of missile technology in the immediate postwar era, we'd be very interested to know from your standpoint, where did this stand in priorities, in development?

WEBB: I can't tell you that. I went around and looked at some of the things that were going on. I went out to the Applied Physics Laboratory and saw the development of the Bumblebee. I got to know Gibson, Luke Hopkins and the other people out there. In other words as a staff senior person around the President's entourage, I really went out to have a good personal look at that. I went through every major river system in the United States to see what their problems were with respect to the development of irrigation, reclamation and flood control. I did a lot of going out and really talking to the people on the spot, getting to know them.

DEVORKIN: Did you develop special personal interest in seeing through any of these projects, like land reclamation?

WEBB: No. I was trying to do my job as Director of the Budget. I was trying to measure the requirements of the Central Valley of California as against the measurements of the Columbia River and the Tennessee River, all of whom were clamoring for funds.

DEVORKIN: How did you make decisions and come to the decisions in that kind of position? Did you have people you could trust?

WEBB: Yes, I had a lot of excellent people in the Bureau of the Budget at that time.

DEVORKIN: How did you gather them around you?

WEBB: I didn't. Harold Smith had already gathered them. They were there when I got there, and all I had to do was work with them, take advantage of their ability and become a bridge between them and the President. Much of that I accomplished by taking two or three of them with me to see the President, on many different occasions, so they could deal with him directly. Then when they got back to their office they could say to their staff, "I've just talked with the President and ...." as follows. It made a lot of difference to them. That had not been done for them before.

When I went around the country looking at the river systems, it seemed very clear to me we ought not to bring in any more irrigatable land up in the Pacific Northwest than had a chance to succeed with the first generation of farmers. They were bringing it in so fast that the first generation of farmers on the land would fail. When the second one would pick up and use what the first one had built, they would fail. It was about the third generation before they could succeed.

So I felt the government ought to restrict that development to something where the first guy going on the land would have a chance to make it.

In the Central Valley of California it was perfectly clear that the influx of salt was a very serious problem. I made the recommendation that we run the Central Valley of California about 10 percent above the rest of the irrigation projects.

But those are not scientifically worked out decisions. They're worked out by doing the best you can do, thorough staff analysis, talking to the best people you know, and thinking about the total milieu with which the President has to deal.

DEVORKIN: But in a sense they are scientifically arrived at.

WEBB: They're impressionistic. There really isn't an array of data that you could call scientific.

TATAREWICZ: What about the information gathering systems? You obviously couldn't personally inspect everything that you had to make a decision on.

WEBB: Right.

TATAREWICZ: Did you find the information gathering systems, the administrative systems at the Bureau of the Budget, adequate, or did you change them?

WEBB: They were excellent. They were excellent. Harold Smith had built up in a relatively short number of years a very excellent staff, and they were very innovative with respect to finding out those factors on which the President's decision could firmly rest. That was the criteria for that.

TATAREWICZ: So you could just use the existing systems to get the information you needed supplemented by these personal impressions?

WEBB: They went to work on the problems, generated the information, and were pushing me. It wasn't me pushing them. They were pushing me to help them get on to a decision that they thought was rational.

TATAREWICZ: Did you have any particular favorite people that you would rely on as advisors in specific areas?

WEBB: Well, you say favorite. I tried to find the man who hadthe best knowledge and the group that had done the best analysis. I used whatever powers of reasoning and observation I had, knowing that the President had other sources of input to a decision, including the political input from members of Congress and Senators and so forth.

I didn't have just a little coterie, like a kitchen cabinet or anything like that. I dealt with the organization the way it was structured when I got there. I made a few changes as time went on, but by and large, I took it as my job not to reorganize the place but to get the work done. Secondly I tried to give the President absolutely first class staff work on every problem that we had that he turned our way, and to give the same kind of service to anybody that he assigned a Presidential job. We flew right around that person; if he was a member of the Cabinet and he had a Cabinet committee on say food, our resources would be available just as they would be to the President. The third basic policy that we followed was to deal directly with the President on every major matter. We did not take any instructions from him second hand. He knew that, and was satisfied with that. That eliminated a lot of trouble for me and for the President. There's always somebody who calls you up and says "The President wants you to do as follows." I answered always, "I don't take second hand instructions from the President. I'll see him tomorrow and ask him about it."

DEVORKIN: That could be interpreted as protecting turf or something like that.

WEBB: Could be.

DEVORKIN: Were you ever accused of that, and what was your answer if you were?

WEBB: Every budget director is unpopular like that. Everybody wants to make his case to the President. I always made it easy for people who wanted to appeal over my decisions to talk to the President. I'd make the appointment for them to go to him. I wouldn't make it hard for them to see him.

DEVORKIN: I understand.

You mentioned a bit how you made your move from the Bureau of the Budget to Under Secretary of State. Could you expand a little on that?

WEBB: There wasn't really too much to tell. Mr. Acheson had been vice-chairman of the First Hoover Commission. I had been liaison between President Truman and President Hoover during that commission. I followed closely the work of it; I had the Budget staff check with the Congressional staff as to where the votes lay and what could be put into legislation. That way we helped guide the Hoover commission to doing the things that would result in forward thrusting action.

In this operation I'd come to know Mr. Acheson. I also knew him when he was Under Secretary of State. Soon after the election -- I can't remember exactly when -- Clark Clifford came to see me. I knew a Clifford was a very close, trusted part of the President's White House. He said, "The President is going to appoint Mr. Acheson Secretary of State, and he would like to you to go over as Under Secretary. A certain amount of orderliness is necessary in our foreign relations, and the President feels that you could provide that and provide it in a way that he would feel happy with". He felt satisfied that I woul not be doing anything like undercutting the Secretary of State, which has happened in some cases. In other words, I would fit right in with Acheson to help enforce what he and Truman wanted.

I asked Clifford what Acheson thought about that. He said, "Well, he's for it, but you go ask him." I did, and they both asked me to come and I said I would.

DEVORKIN: Before we actually talk about what you did as Under Secretary of State, we'd like to know some background details. You are, at this point, about 42, 43 years old. You had a family by that time. We're very interested in getting a profile of your personal life, where you lived in town here, your children, your wife, what your outlook on life was. You're moving really fast here. Did you have a chance at any point during this time to step back and assess your life and think about where you were going?

WEBB: My wife and I have always been together through whatever situation. She was the youngest child in a family of five children. Her youngest sister was 15 years old when she was born, so she was always sort of the darling of the family. Her father was a Washington lawyer who did a lot of representation of foreign governments, Supreme Court work. He was a highly respected man; he taught at Georgetown Law School in the evening.

DEVORKIN: What was his full name?

WEBB: Charles A. Douglas. When she and I were married, she came to New York. I had moved to New York.

DEVORKIN: When were you married?

WEBB: In 1938. And so we've always been very happy together. We moved back here. We had one child, Sally, who was born while I was in the Marine Corps, and two years after her birth we had a son. Those are the only two children we had. So we just went on living as we always had lived. We had a small house out on Rodman street, just off 34th.

DEVORKIN: Crosses Reno, I think.

WEBB: Well, it isn't Reno at that point, it's 34th Street. Reno comes later. It was a relatively small house on a small lot. I didn't get my living expenses up above my salary. We lived on my salary. I spent most of my time working, and she worked with me, in the State Department, where you have many invitations every afternoon to some embassy party. She went to most of them, and I didn't. I didn't go to the afternoon parties. She relieved me of that.

DEVORKIN: Did she enjoy these things?

WEBB: Not terribly. She did enjoy the people from other nations.

DEVORKIN: It was a sort of a duty?

WEBB: Well, partly that, but she likes people and she enjoyed the people.

DEVORKIN: What was her educational background?

WEBB: She didn't go to college. She went to school in Paris for a year, and she went to Cathedral School, and also to Holton Arms for a while.

DEVORKIN: How did you meet your wife?

WEBB: I met her through a lady from my home town of Oxford, North Carolina, who lived up here, and was married to a real estate man here. She was a sister of Robert G. Lassiter, for whom I had worked. She was a very good friend of the Douglas family, and when I was stationed down at Quantico, I used to come up to visit her on the weekends. She said, "I've got a girl I want you to meet," so she invited her to come around one Sunday afternoon. I met her, that was the start.

DEVORKIN: As you were going into the Department of State, what view did you have of your life? You'd been very high up in Sperry, and you are now in the upper echelons of government. Do you see yourself as a career government civil servant? Did you have any idea that you might get back into industry in the future? Were you in it for the duration of the Truman Administration or what was your feeling?

WEBB: I didn't have any long range plans. I was a lawyer and was admitted to the bar. I was a qualified aviaton pilot and a person who liked his own independence and I would probably have practiced on my own with a few clients rather than get in a firm and try to make all the money I could, if I had my choice. I was always interested in government, and proud of the high quality of government people. My idea was to do each job as well as I could and take advantage of opportunities that came my way, or proceed in this manner which I would have set up for myself.

DEVORKIN: Let's try to plot out the course of the next interview or two. What should we be doing about the 1950's? After 1952 you become President of Republic Supply. Should we simply ask you in chronological order, how you moved from one position to another, and the progress you made?

WEBB: There are only two things that are important. One is that I was constantly working at the organizational matters for these different companies. They were all progressive, thrusting companies, and my job was to help them. They were all growing and Oklahoma was developing. In other words, I was doing the same thing I had done all along in other companies and in government, in the way of organizing, management and so forth.

The second thing that I think is important is that I went out there because Senator Robert Kerr asked me to go. I basically joined his group of companies, and he saw how I worked and I saw how he worked. I was determined not to have my life completely controlled by him or anyone else, in a business way.

So at the end of five years, I asked him the question, "Are you satisfied with my work? Have you made money on me?" He said, "Yes, I have, and I'd like to have another five year contract."

I said, "No, I've got a good man to be president. I'll be chairman of the board and I'll work for you half time and do a good job.

In other words, I had established my independence before I ever got into the space program back here, so I didn't have to establish that over again, and Kerr respected that. Lyndon Johnson respected it. Of course Kerr told him that I was the kind of person I was. Those are the two things that are important, as they enabled me to move ahead with NASA without a lot of problems I might otherwise have had.

DEVORKIN: Do you have a feeling we should move on with NASA then in the next interview?

WEBB: Yes. I don't think there's very much left to cover in Oklahoma. I did work hard to establish the Frontiers of Science Foundation of Oklahoma.

TATAREWICZ: You did cover parts of that in your previous interview.

DEVORKIN: That helps us a lot. There may be some very specific questions we would ask about that period, but otherwise in the next session we will move into the NASA years.

WEBB: That's all right with me.

I think you'll find that both Levine and others have done a pretty good job on the NASA years. I don't know that I've got an awful lot to add to what I wrote in the Foreword. Sayles and Chandler did a better job than they've been given credit for. The book has been used by a number of people interested in the dependency relations of government contractors.

DEVORKIN: What we would like to do is ask you to flesh out some of the treatments of your work and your direct involvement during the NASA years with the programs and issues that they talk about.

WEBB: All right. But let's not go over the same ground they went through thoroughly. I think you can accept them as responsible scholars. They've done a pretty good job.

DEVORKIN: But certainly you want to comment more about some of the comments that Rosholt made on the administrative history of NASA?

WEBB: I made my comment in the Foreword. You see, I had the problem that he was saying something that I didn't think was right. I didn't want to suppress his material and say "Let's not publish it." I didn't want to censor it or ask him to change it. So I took the chance of writing the Foreword, and I think time has borne me out.

In our consideration of the 1961 reorganization Dryden, Seamans and I not only had to develop our views about the work we wanted done in NASA, but we had to learn how competent the people coming in were to do the work. This feedback is a large part of what we gained by having those two years in which the centers were reporting to Bob Seamans, as well as the fact that we clearly controlled and evaluated the adequacy of the building of three billion dollars worth of facilities to become the base for NASA's capability.

In other words, through Seamans, he, Dryden and I made the decisions that related to how this three billion dollars would be spent. Each center director tended to want to build a whole little NASA in his place. It was very important to have the facilities program planned and constructed on a NASA-wide basis. Also it was important to have enough time to size up the people. If you look at the people we chose, they were pretty good people.

DEVORKIN: Yes. We've read enough in Newell and talked enough with you to know that there is much material that we wish to flesh out, and so we'll continue with that next time.

WEBB: All right.

DEVORKIN: Thank you very much for this session.

Webb 1 || WEBB 3

Rev. 09/06/96

© 1996 National Air and Space Musuem