Oral History Transcript — Dr. John Abbadessa
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John Abbadessa; August 23, 1996
ABSTRACT: Abbadessa discusses politics, budget and funding structure at the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as well as the specifics of funding the Stanford Positron-Electron Asymmetric Ring (SPEAR). This interview was conducted by Elizabeth Paris as part of her dissertation project on the early history of electron colliding beams in the United States. She is working on her doctorate in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.
Paris:Okay, we’re here with John Abbadessa on the 23rd of August, 1996, and we’ve just looked over the fiscal year ‘71 GCAE storage ring testimony from the hearings. And you were about to say something about H????
Abbadessa:Yeah. There were two Californians on the committee. There were two chairmen, I mean two Congressmen on the Joint Committee—Hollowfield, who alternated with Pastorie, that’s Senator Pastorie from Rhode Island, every two years as the chairman of the committee. They were both Democrats because Democrats controlled the House, [rather] the Congress in those days. Howsma was also from California, and he was Republican, very influential Republican on this committee. He passed away quite a few years ago. I’m not positive if SLAC was in his jurisdiction, but I think it was. In any respect, he strongly wanted this project. So we had a, well—
Paris:Can you think of another reason besides that it had been in his district, that he might want it?
Abbadessa:Oh, he was extremely pro-atomic energy. Most of the members of that committee were. Hollowfield very much. Pastorie was more of a real statesman, but he was pro-atomic energy.
Paris:When you say pro-atomic energy, do you mean the quote “AEC” or just some kind of nuclear energy.
Essentially all activities of AEC. Across the board the defense portion of AEC, which in those days was a major portion, with the manufacture the weapons, the testing of weapons, and what have you, the whole weapons budget was completely non-controversial. Everybody supported it. The other major activities, the second major activities, was reactor research, building the nuclear power plants, shipping support, the Admiral, Admiral Rickover [?]. This is more controversial, because you have public versus private power, and this was government, it’s like the TBA[?], public power. So in the industry you have a lot of opposition to the power program of AEC, but members of that committee I mean that was virtually a litmus test: if they weren’t for public power, they had a hard time getting on that committee. A couple of them were borderline, but most of them were pretty straight for it. I’m almost sure Stanford was in his area. Almost every member of that committee had a major facility. Bill Bates [?] out of Boston had MIT, Hollowfield had two of the power plants, Senator Anderson, very important, had all of Las Vegas. Price, who was the number two man on the committee on the House side came out of Illinois and Chicago and Argonee, Fermi.
So virtually all of them had a facility. But a few of them I think just had a very strong, genuine interest that atomic energy was extremely important from many points of view, electric power being one of them. But the enormous progress that was made a lot less knowledgeable in medicine, probably you are aware of the whole medicine area, industrial applications like hardening wood, these buoys out in the ocean practically put watching lighthouses by humans out of business. So there’s been a lot of applications of atomic energy that went well. Nuclear power, central station generation power has not gone well, which is extremely unfortunate. I also believe strongly in atomic energy. Because France and Japan are going merrily along with their breeder. Germany came in a little bit later because of the defense aspects out of World War II, but they have come along very strong. And the energy is just so important to your economy, and I won’t be here, but I’m afraid the day is coming where not assuming the nuclear option will prove to be very, very bad for this country, even to the point of becoming a second level economic power.
Paris:Well now all that you’ve talked about, all the programs all have to do with nuclear energy and really have very little to do with high-energy physics.
High-energy physics. In addition to the weapons program, in addition to the reactor program which were kind of the glory boys — and to some extent raw material because it supported the two — you got to the research ones; and you had biology and medicine which was fairly applied in many aspects. A lot of it was basic, but it was essentially applied. Then you come to the high-energy physics, and it’s not just high-energy physics, it’s more basic science. You’ve got high-energy, medium-energy, low-energy, mathematics, you have materielles [?], but it’s very heavily basic research. Basic research in the AEC budget with all these high priority things never had a very high priority. The reason being is you can talk about breaking up matter and things that are going to happen 20 years from now, and that’s not very sexy to the committee. The committee like things they can see results from in the near term, not the long term. One of the—I used to be with the General Accounting Office. General Accounting Office is under the Congress. It’s not in the Executive Branch. It’s part of the balance. And we used to audit the Executive Branch, and I audited the Atomic Energy Commission, TVA, the post office, all at one time, but mostly my career was with Atomic Energy Commission, and I came out with a lot of reports of the Atomic Energy Commission.
Then when their comptroller [controller?] left after I been to the GAO about 15 years, they offered me their job as comptroller, and I took it. The thing is, when you’re auditing, it was kind of an unfair game, because you know you look around, you find something wrong like a cost overrun or something, you throw 20 people in there reviewing everything under the sun. You got 20/20 hindsight, huge overrun, something had to be wrong, so you go in and you make a report and scream and holler and the Congress scream holler. Meantime, the poor guy that made the decision probably had a half hour to make the decision, probably had about one-tenth of the information, and you know, you just make a lot of decisions you didn’t have in auditing. And I was — built up quite a reputation in the GAO. I went in from a trainee auditor to number two in the whole audit division. I was also the director of their transportation division. So AEC offered me the job, and I just, I was kind of tired of auditing for 15 years anyhow, and I had the, uh, I wanted to see, you know, hey, am I going to be a genius like I am now using all this hindsight. If I’ve got to make decisions as I go. So it was very attractive.
Paris:And what year was this?
Oh, I went over there about, uh, I went with GA—well—In my, I’m going to give you a data sheet, I mean a résumé, just so you could have it, in case you have any question. But this will tell you, I’ve only been basically two jobs in the federal government. I was with the GAO from ‘47 to ‘62, I was with the Atomic Energy, that’s 15 years, Atomic Energy for 12 years, from ‘62 to ‘74. Then they wrapped up the Atomic Energy and changed it to ERDA. There was six jobs in the legislation, controller being one, the general manager, general counselor, controller and a couple of the other assistant general managers. So when they abolished the Act, they abolished our job. That’s an adverse personnel action. And if you add 30 years which I did with my service, you could retire. Now Seimens headed up, became the first guy at ERDA, and he offered three of us the same job. He very much wanted me, not because it was me but because he wanted continuity with his budget and we had a good reputation. We were ethical, and all of this. Which is very important. People got to believe you, because if you, if they don’t believe you, you’re not going to get the stuff in the budget like you should.
So anyway, I decided to go to AEC. Then I went to the State Department, believe it or not, with Dixie Lee Ray for about six months. Then she got fed up with Kissinger and she walked out, so I walked out with her, and I went over to the international. Then I’ve been about 15 years in consulting, mostly with the AEC and TVA jobs that I worked on where people knew me. I mean right now —. Could you hand me that thing? Right now, I’m not working full time now, but for friends I’ll do things. This is, you probably haven’t heard of it. You’ve heard of Livermore. Well, they are building the world’s most powerful laser facility. The guy who’s the project manager used to be my deputy, a guy named Al Greer [?], later became the controller when I left. Anyhow, he went with Stone and Webster [?], now he’s with the lab, and he calls me up. They’re building this facility, $300 million or something like that, and it will be the largest laser facility in the world, it will be very important, and it’s an international facility. We got donations from the Germans, from the Japan [sic], as well as the national. Well, the group that’s building this want to build it as not as a Livermore facility because, if it’s a Livermore facility, they get overhead G and A, it’s a bunch of stuff that you, has nothing to do with the bricks and mortars, and it’s about $40 million. So they want to save that 40 million so they can put in more fancy machines and what have you within the appropriation. The appropriation request is too low anyway. So they hired me to come in and justify why they don’t charge overhead and G and A [?]. And it’s, pardon this but I can’t say it any other way, whether it is or not is debatable; the thrust of accounting theory says that this is nonsense.
You’ve got to charge G and A and overhead, the director of the lab and you know the accounting department, billing, all these auxiliary things are supporting this thing. But that notwithstanding, we’re making a case that it’s not. We used setting up a project office, self-sufficiency, we ain’t going to pay any damn attention to the director anyway, but something like this sells very heavily on my personal reputation. The fact I’ve been there— Livermore, the strongest thing I did at AEC, and we’ll get the basic research in a minute, was computers. I absolutely, you know, saw the value of computers. This is 30 years ago. Led combining computing power and communications. You know, one was the biggest customer of the other. We were ten years ahead of industry in combining those two. Of course now, you know, young people like you think it’s always been this way. It wasn’t. But anyhow computers was— And I had a spreadsheet. I controlled every computer being purchased. Stanford, uh, not Stanford, Livermore, we had these Cray computers with the non-IBM or National Cash Registry [?]. Cray was the big scientific computer. And anyway, and I was also for consolidation and not put a computer at each of these sites. Well, with controlled thermonuclear, which is, I don’t know if you are familiar, okay, well with controlled — which might even come through and help us because it’s a little cleaner as long as people don’t catch up with the fact tritium is sitting in the middle of that stuff. But anyhow, controlled thermonuclear, you know, at Princeton, at Livermore, at LASSO [?], all over the country. I insisted that they—and it was easy to insist, otherwise you just don’t give them the money for the wrong computers. I insisted on a centralized facility with mammoth computing capability, and that we had communications tied in. We’re talking 30 years ago.
This was really revolutionary. We serviced the whole country out of that one facility. They passed an action, the Livermore University of California, to name that the John P. Abbadessa Computer Facility. They can’t do it until I die. So stick that over there. But this is the kind of stuff you used to run into. We had a budget review committee. This worked out great. We had something like 30 major sites. You got to realize the Atomic Energy Commission in my day was like two thousand people. That’s all. But the contractors had 144,000, and when you talked about Oakridge, you’re talking about Carbide, you’re talking about Hanford, you’re talking about GE, and there’s a combination. That’s an award I got there. Let me just slip by here. [sound of falling materials or equipment...] Oh, I knew I was going to do that. I’m sorry. Are we still working?
Hey, it’s just like that little thing—But see, what they talked about here is, “Citation to Abbadessa right here distinguished service, controller,” oh yeah, in the management of the unique industrial, university and governmental environments where the AEC worked. In other words, the Atomic Energy Commission—The government, like I say, is a couple thousand people, we got the money and we established a policy. You know, Sparf, English [?], McDaniels in this area. Then you had your industry running most of the sites with the manufacturing activities and weaponry. You had Bendix, Carbide, GE, oh, most of the major, DuPont at, uh, Savannah River, and then you had the universities running the lab. Brookhaven, the Associated Universities, Argonne, the Stanford, although that didn’t have a major lab. Livermore was the major lab close by. But it was a separate facility. But see the concept of people—Oh, the budget review committee. We had about 30 sites, all these laboratories, industry, industrial, the government sites, and I had a committee. On the committee was every assistant general manager: the one for production, the one for research, there was Sparf [?] English, the one for production, George Quinn [?], had ever assistant general manager, plus and I was then assistant general manager, plus we had the deputy general manager, who really, you know, outranked me, but not on that committee, because I was the chairman.
So this committee went over a three year period, visited every single AEC site. Now the strength of this was, you know, I was there for 12 years, which meant I went around that horn about five times. Most of these men also went around it quite a bit. But Sparf English know the most about the most about research, but he also know the other people’s problems. Quinn would know other people’s problems. So everybody would go, we’d get a lot of attention, went out, you know, director of the lab and all that kind of stuff, but we covered it, we had everybody on there, and then we took votes. And the, it was easier for a guy like Sparf English if he couldn’t get something because he realized in production there was a higher priority; they didn’t always agree with these priorities, which were essentially mine, but they — my first two or three years I was fighting everybody in the sun. But the general manager supported me, the commission supported me, the Bureau of the Budget. Anything that the commission did, as far as increasing or decreasing a budget, we just went to OMB and got it changed. And then we also worked with the Joint Committee. Matter of fact, I was attached when I was with GAO to the Joint Committee for about three years, so these relations, you know, helped a lot. But you had this committee, but this was kind of the perception: budget review committee reviews AEC program, at headquarters level you always get a fair hearing, and there’s this little controller cutting the budget in half and the rest of the committee, you know, sleeping. Now that’s, you know, kind of humorous, but this isn’t as— It wasn’t that far from the truth, as you might think—
Paris:Now how did you decide what your priority, you said that mostly they were your priorities.
Paris:And how did you decide what your priorities were?
Abbadessa:Primarily there was—Well, that nail isn’t there; there it is. Okay. Like I say, the first two or three years I wasn’t that effective. But I had audited AEC for about eight years of my 15, so I knew the atomic energy program. The budget review committee, I got to know it even better. Sparf English knew basic research better than I’d ever know it. Shaw knew reactors better than I’d ever know it. Quinn knew production better than I. But none of them knew all of them as well as I did. And fundamentally I really was the most knowledgeable person, you know, of the activities. Now I couldn’t build reactor, I could evaluate a reactor’s value versus an accelerator, you know, in the nation’s program.
Paris:How did you, did you listen to the various deputies and then take their opinion very seriously? Did you poll maybe public, did you poll Congress? I mean, how did you know what —
Abbadessa:Lots of things. First of all, these budget review committee hearings. Remember we went to every site every three years. And you’d go there, the lab director showed up, you know, you go to Stanford, Panofsky’s making the presentation, you go to Argonne, Wilson’s making it — So the top people came. And you go to a place like Berkeley, they’d break out all their Nobel Prize winners, and they addressed the committee and justified their programs. So you’ve got major input from the people, you know, running the program. I used to travel, travel, travel. Well, you can see right there, you can see how much I traveled. But I traveled all over that. Not to talk to the program people, but to talk to the lower staff. Because, when you’re dealing with the program people, you’re dealing a lot of merit but a lot politics, whereas if you get down to the lower level, you got much better stories. One minor point. I went to FFTF, that’s a reactor facility. Went in for something like 40 million bucks or something. That’s one of the few projects that we really got out of hand. So I made a visit up there to see the thing, and I talked to the man, not the program division director, the lab director at Westinghouse, I mean the project manager, and I wanted to kind of shock him. You know, so I had heard there had been an overrun, and the best feel I could get was maybe from 40 to 60. So I thought I’d shock ‘em, so when we met I said, “Hey, I understand this thing is getting away from us. I understand the estimate is $80 million now.” He says, “Grab it.”
Paris:He said what?
Grab it. So I knew we weren’t dealing with 60 million, we weren’t dealing—Because these people, you know, they’re not political, and that’s a real big help. So we talked to the program, the top people, we talked to the people on the job, maintained very close contact with the five commissioners. Everybody else had one boss to satisfy; we had five. When I’d go in with the budget, it was color coded. The pluses, you know blue for the chairman, red for Ramey [?]. The five colors represented the five commissioners, and so all the good stuff was color coded and all the reductions I had to make were color coded, and I kept them balanced. And they could not touch that budget, because as soon as they wanted to plus one of their things, you know, I’d come up with a minus. And, you know, with time they realized how it was put together. I’m not kidding you, the, we would get all the requests from the field, I would go—I did this for about three years and then quit—I’d come home over the weekend and I’d mark up the budget from what the field asked for and what the division directors, and we had a request column. And I’d go through and mark up. There was about 300 categories in our budget.
It was more, but there was 300 that got exposed to the Congress, and you got kind of line item control. So I’d go through and mark it up. I had that column, JPA markup, first column, then we’d have the budget review committee and we’d go to the commission. Then I’d have the budget review committee’s markup. When it went to the commission, we’d have division requests, committee’s recommendation, then we had the commission. At that point you’re not in control. At that point, you know, they’re the bosses, they’re sitting around there, “I want to add this” or “add that.” We never left the commission without an increase of about 20 or 30 percent—which you are not going to get from the Congress, and we know we aren’t. Okay. So you put in the commission. Then we went to OMB. Fred Schultz [?] was the examiner, been there for years, I’ve known him for years, trusted me as far as you could throw the Washington Monument. And you know, he would come in before he’d make the cut. He’d say, “Would this hurt?” And I’d say, “How much money you need, Fred?” and I’d show him where to take the cut that would hurt us the least, and he’d take it. All he was interested in is his directors give him a figure. Along as you can get to the figure, hell, he didn’t care what you— Once in a while he had a favorite, but for the most part he didn’t care. Okay, then the commission go way up, the Bureau of the Budget would take them right down.
Then we’d go to Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. A whole bunch of advocates, and every, Hollowfield wanting his reactor, this guy, Bates [?] wanted something for MIT, and they, Anderson adds in stuff for Los Alamos, and it would go right back up again. Then you go to the House. You know, now you got your authorization for something pretty close to what the Commission came up with. Then we went to the House. I, in addition to being attached to the Joint Committee, for two years I was attached to the appropriation committee of the House, and I knew all these guys and I knew the clerk that handled our appropriation. Again, all he is interested in was hitting a figure. He wants to cut, cut, cut, cut. That’s the role of the House. So I gave him the places to cut, pretty much. Some of them come in from a member or what have you. Now we’re way down, we’re below my figure. Then you go to the Senate, the Senate looks at what the President asked for, looks at what the House does, splits it in the center. And that’s at the, uh, I forget what that process was called. Conference. Conference committee. So it would come out of conference split 50/50. Then it would go to the two Houses, once in a while if there’s a major issue, like a defense issue or something, there would be some debate. Ninety-nine percent of the time it goes right through where the conference committee comes [?]. You had a House figure, a Senate figure, and then they reach conference. Then it went to the President and got signed. I’m not telling you a falsehood. For three straight years the final answer was within 2 percent of what I had marked up that weekend, and each of the 300 lines, I never had anything over 5 percent difference.
So this is kind of, you know, what the process was. And you know, you know the system, you work hard with the people. I mean the House appropriation committee wanted anything, bingo, we staffed it up immediately, you know, anything he wants. His chairman heard something, we’d go run it down. When it came to writing the report, we would draft the report for the clerk that he would take to the committee, because we knew the program, he was kind of lazy anyway, but we’d write up his draft report. And you know that obviously we are going to look out for ourselves in writing up the report. And like I say, once you left the commission, nobody, except in very isolated instances, cared very much what was in that program. Now Hollowfield had some specific likes, Senator Anderson, but most of them really didn’t care. The Bureau didn’t care, the House, the floor of the House, the floor of the Senate, it’s a numbers game. So now up to the commission, now the commission, they had some you know strong views, and not, and also considerable knowledge, and a guy like Seaborg [?], who was a Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of plutonium. I’m not so sure they’d award him the prize today, but they awarded to him back then. But anyway, the point I wanted to make on basic, we’re going to get back to your basic research, I was an extremely strong supporter in two areas: one was computers, and one was basic research. Why basic research? A bookkeeper had a little bit of accounting. I wrote, that when I was with GAO, I wrote the Blue Book Report that President Kennedy had in his hand at the news conference when he killed the atomic airplane. Now we wrote the thing up and pointed out that this just wasn’t going to go anyplace.
They couldn’t handle the weight first of all, and the shielding, blew this stuff all over the place, the wind currents. So it was, but I was the one that wrote the report. Now, this was driven primarily by GE at Lockland [?]. And I will never forget, you know once you get your report and you say this is wrong, this is wrong, this is right, you always go back and check to make sure you’re right. You don’t want to be wrong. Because if you’ve got ten big points and you’re wrong on two of them, all you are going to hear about is the two. I’ll drop the two and I’ll go with six strong ones and throw away the weak ones. But the ones I went with had to be right, and I worked hard on that. I talked with a scientist and he was checking some of the factual stuff in the report for me, and he came back, he says, “You got a pretty good report.” He said, “but you don’t have the real reason that we can’t do this atomic airplane.” And I said, “What have I missed?” He said, “Because 40 years ago.” I says, “Forty years ago?” Wasn’t even an atomic, you know, Fermi hadn’t even been, come along yet. He says, “Forty years ago we didn’t do the research on materielles [?] that was necessary to do the shielding on this airplane.” And, you know, it highlighted for me the importance of basic research to the future, because, if they had done the basic research on materielles that they should have way back, chances are everything taken together that this program would never have started, you know, they would have known the characteristics—and I’m getting out of my field, but the characteristics of this metal that was in this shielding that wouldn’t work.
So I always believed in basic research, and I believed in computers, and I would increase, even above the division, quite often because I’d scout around and maybe somebody got something in mathematics or this, I remember one time I added some money for our crew out at Argonne with the, on this microscope, some kind of fancy microscope, I forgot the terminology. Years. He was you know leading the field. And so they cut the money out, and I put it back in, and marked it specifically for the Micron — microscope, forgot it. But anyhow, it was basic research. Now Paul McDaniels is a very bright guy. He’s a bit of an elf, he’s a bit of a flake, but he was smart, and he knew his program and he knew people. So he caught on after a while, you know, that I’d take care of basic research. Well everybody kind of had a target. And when you start a budget you send out an assumption letter, and in the assumption letter that McDaniel would get you know it would say x number of dollars, give or take 4 or 5 percent, have a list of the major projects that we’d consider. Because we’d get requests for 500 line item construction. We’re not going to get 500; we’re going to get about 40. So I’d look at the list and take about the top 80, you know, to get the merits [?] going to do anything beyond that. Matter of fact, I knew we weren’t going to get the second 40. But to help you know, determine the priorities.
Paris:Did anybody else see that list, or that first came to you and you just—?
Pretty much me. This is pretty much, the whole budget at the AEC was pretty well controlled. You know, we might talk about it. Actually construction lists the members probably did get, but it would be, it was very simple. It wasn’t even my list. What we took was, when you asked for a construction project you asked for them to prioritize them. They know more, we don’t really know. Alright, so you’ve got ten divisions. And you’ve got 200 projects, but they have prioritized them. Now you know the broad priorities of weapons versus reactors versus ???, so you had, so you’d go along and take maybe the first eight of this list, the first four, the first twelve, and put them in the order. Then they did have — Then I give it to the assistant general management and told them to prioritize them. Then I’d get it back and I’d make the final, because Sparf English, his priority is going to have, you know, the basic research. But you get some help that way. But anyway, we—Oh. McDaniels. One time he came and put his request, and I can in a minute what he’d done was reduced his normal request, you know, for say his activity plus cost of living plus what the priority of a particular activity is, you pretty well know what his request is going to be. Besides, you’ve gone out to the field.
He came in on basic research with all low figures, and then has all more applied things—building prototypes or what have you as planned equipment, and he bought a lot of stuff at that on the theory I’m going to increase it. So he comes in and I accept it. And within two hours of passing out that markup, Paul McDaniels, “Aaaaaaaah! What are you doing to me? You usually increase basic research.” I said, “Paul, I’ve learned you’re just better at this than I am. You know your program.” “Well, let me redo my list.” So he redid it and did the damn thing the way he should have done it. But anyhow, we strongly supported basic research. Now, to get to this specific activity, the SPEAR— Oh, I ought to mention something else to you. There’s a, we had two parts to our budget. We had plant and capital equipment. And then we had operating expense. Okay? Now, capital equipment is equipment that lasts a long time. In addition, there’s equipment in this operating expenses, you know, maybe last a year or two. So you really got equipment in both areas. Now, plant, you need a line item, specific line item, a project data sheet, estimated cost, funding over, you know, five or seven years, you know, what the incremental funding is, and you nail down very tightly, because you’ve got a project data sheet, and GAO can come in, audit, auditing lately, it can audit against that. Now, most government agencies, and particularly DOD, would underestimate their plant, their line items. Am I running out of your time?
Abbadessa:Okay. I’ve got some of these if you need them. In order to get a project, they would, well they’d lie is what it is, but they’d understate the cost, because if you went in and said, “I want to build a submarine for a billion dollars,” it’s harder to get than if you say, “I’ll build one for $600 million.”
Paris:This is the Defense Department.
Yeah. And the Defense Department was terrible with overrun. Hardly anything they estimated—huge overruns, and GAO would have a picnic. NASA, same thing. At AEC we built up a pretty good reputation, and I, believe it or not, was basically very honest. At least I would never specifically lie, which some other outfits did. But on my construction projects, if it was one that was going to be tough to sell, then we’d have to go in with maybe a lower figure than I’d be comfortable with. But most of them, nobody really cared as long as you stayed within a billion-two or whatever your plant and equipment appropriation is. So I would take estimates and increase most of them, because something always goes wrong. And also the guys out in the field for the contractor have to get by the field office, who weren’t too sophisticated and the field office would kind of, you know, say “Well this costs too much. Take out $2 million.” The important thing was to get the project. So most of our plant items did not result in major overruns. FFDS [?] was my absolute worst, but anyhow—well, there were some others, but most of them worked out pretty good. But that’s very specific.
Alright, now, for capital equipment you’d go in with a total figure, say 30 million, or more than that, say 150 million, capital equipment, and you’re going to have it broken down by your various divisions—20 million for production, 40 million for weapons, 30 million for high-energy, for basic research. I keep — get this figure. I got you the ‘72 financial statements, because I, I’ll give you a copy of this if you want it. Research. Physical research, that’s the category I’ve been trying [to remember]. That included high-energy, medium-energy, low-energy, chemistry, controlled thermonuclear which later got broke out and put into reactors, metallurgy and material—this is where they should have done the thing for the airplane—mathematics and computer, you know, basic research on it. I mean we used to work on, 40 years ago, writing and have it recognized by the computer. I think now that that analogy come along when they talk about signing the IRS forms. But anyhow, that’s the category. Now, with physical research all you really had to justify was 30 million for physical research, and then you would say, “We need 30 million for items such as,” and then you would list, you know, your major items. Sometimes with money, sometimes not with money. Okay. Now, when you go over here, you’ve got your operating expense, and this is the big part.
This runs to 4 or 5 billion dollars. And you got equipment in there. Now, you’ve got flexibility, I’m sure you can see, right away. Depending on what your needs are for equipment. You know, if it wasn’t real heavy stuff that’s going to last 15 years, you know, you had a little money over here, because you always had more money in operating expenses, you had more demand. But you might slip a few equipment items over here. Now, what happened with this project is, unfortunately, they went in with this thing as a line item. Mostly because it was according to our rules, our accounting rules, and we had definitions, we had definitions on plant, capital equipment and operating expenses. But like all definitions, they are written like a big tent, and the comptroller interpreted, you know where, when. Now you can’t go wild, and you can’t go too far. So anyway, they asked for it as a line item. And they asked for it for several years. It never came close, not even close to getting up where it was going to fly as a line item, with the requirements we had for other construction projects in the program or even in physical research. I mean you had this thing over at Brookhaven that the Chinese guy, Tang or Ting, was building, you had Argonne with Fermi, and so you have a lot of demands for equipment, I mean plant, I’m sorry. In here, in addition to here, where you just have to justify physical research in a generic type figure, these were very specific. And something like high-energy physics, to get a line item was always a battle. Always a battle. I mean, get SLAC itself was a battle, get the Brookhaven stuff.
Now, we’d get help because usually the scientific advisor to the President was out of this area, and you know we had guys like Gerry Tape and Seaborg had a lot of clout. But they got a clout in a certain political area, but it isn’t Appropriation Committee, and the Appropriation Committee makes the decision. And I don’t care how you try to write up a high-energy facility, you’ve got to get in there someplace this is going to make us a lot smarter 30 or 40 years from now. And that’s just the kiss of death if somebody is considering building a reactor with a 3-year payout or what have you. So it’s very, very difficult. Anyhow, they came in. There was a committee, HEPA or some, high-energy, high-energy panel, there was a fourth letter, H-E-P-A, HEPA. Anyhow, it was an advisory committee. The commission had advisory committees for everything. High-energy physics, biology and medicine, weapons. We had more advisory committees than we had staff. But these were the top people, you know, in high-energy physics. Now Gerry Tape, I don’t know if you’re familiar, well Gerry Tape was at Brookhaven and was at HEPA until he became a commissioner. I don’t think Seaborg was, because he really wasn’t high-energy physics. But Gerry was, but anyhow they had a lot of people. A lot of them were lab directors. You know, a guy like Panofsky is on there. So you know how unbiased a view. But they had some pretty good guys. They had a guy named Vikki Wykof [sic] who was out of MIT, and they didn’t have major facilities, and Vikki was, he was the chairman at least at this time, and he was a very even-tempered guy, a lot of respect, so he ran a good committee.
So I never — First time I heard of SPEAR was Vikki Wykof [sic] called me. They’d had a meeting. I’d go before that committee every once in a while if they needed some figures. But anyhow, they had a committee meeting, he called me, he said he wanted to talk to me about a facility at Stanford, and I said sure. And says, he asked me should he bring Panofsky. And I said no way, because Wolfgang and I had—he’s great, don’t misunderstand me, but you can’t reason with the guy. I mean, all he can see is his project, the rest of the world— [ringing noise] Pardon me. Panofsky. He just, you know, anybody responsible for an activity is biased towards their activity, but some more than others. You know, there’s a few people had a project and say, “Look, I got a problem over here” and then if they don’t agree at least they understand. Not Wolfgang. So anyhow, he didn’t come. Just Vikki came, and vaguely it seems to me somebody else, but I can’t remember. Anyhow, Vikki told me about this project.
Paris:What year was this?
Abbadessa:It had to be, it got into the — well, I look this up, it got into the ‘70 budget or I think it was the ‘71 budget. So SPEAR. Oh yeah. We requested it in the ‘71 budget. The ‘71 budget would go up in 1970. So I would guess this is maybe, this meeting was the latter part of ‘69. Before they came in with their field [?]. But they had come in apparently several times before. So, and matter of fact McDaniel screwed me up, because I’m trying to keep that line item. “Unfortunately budget stringencies have put permitted us to put into the budget the line item which we had originally recommended.” I needed that like a needed a hole in the head. But anyhow, Vikki came in and explained to me, so I asked him a bunch of questions, and so I says well, it’s just not going to get in as a line item. They had some fancy figure around $20 million or something, and I said you know, it’s not the real world. So I says there’s a couple things we could do. I says go back and find out can they do it cheaper. And I says and get me a write up, explain it to me, both from the point of view of being a supporting facility instead of a main facility, is it physically connected to the building, and I’d work out the ratio of the value of that facility, depending what their new figure was for SLAC, which cost about $150 million or something like that. So I started here. SLAC was at Stanford, it’s in California. They got $167 million, virtually all of it SLAC, so SLAC must have cost, you know, 120 or 130 million. You okay?
So the ratio of this, you know, if it isn’t, if you got $150 million facility, and you’re going to put in a $80 million facility, you can’t call it equipment. In fact you couldn’t even do it at the 20. So they went out and came back with what, 7 or 9 million here. Oh yeah, 9 million, it was originally 17. I just remembered kind of the scope, but that’s why this is helpful. So they wrote it up and Vikki sent me a write up Panofsky prepared for me, and I reviewed it and we talked over the telephone. I says, “Vikki, I might be able to sell this as equipment. Might.” I says, “But it’s going to take some doing.” So he says, “Good.” I says, “Tell Panofsky to put in equipment.” So from these figures apparently he put in 5.6. It’s another advantage to this equipment. We, no matter how well you plan, you’re not going to get everything done. And we had very tight controls, because we’d get a budget, we’d give it to the division people in a budget format, financial plan it was called. The financial plan then would go to the field office, then it gets broken up, the division breaks it up to his field office, and the field office breaks it up with their contract. And there was always a provision in there that says you cannot overrun that line item. And we enforce this very, very strongly.
Although, because I had a figure to hit, the field guy, I mean the division broke it up, the field guy broke it up, so each contractor had a very small figure now. A few of them would overrun, but not many. But if you put that accordion back together, we were always under. In my 15 years of those 300 lines, we only overran twice, you know, the control figure in the budget. Plus that wasn’t even a control figure. The plant, the line items were control figures, total equipment was a control figure, total appropriation 4.5 billion, or whatever it is, was the control figure. So with our system, we never came close to breaking any of these things. And you could always reprogram; that is, you can take money from one to another, when you reprogram between appropriation between line items, we had a certain amount of flexibility. Not very much. You had to go to the committee. But, we had real good relations with clerks of both committees, and I’d call them up and say, “Look. Got a problem. Need to move 30 million from here to here,” and he would say “No problem” most of the time. Most of the time didn’t even have to go to them. Every once in a while he says, “Well, the chairman’s got an interest,” or he’s worried about what the chairman — The chairman’s got an interest maybe give me a piece of paper which means I had to go through the Bureau, but Fred Shultz [?] never gave us any problems.
So we could reprogram between these various spots. The other thing is, because we never had major overruns, and because nobody can spend everything in the plan, we would always have what they under-obligated funds—monies we didn’t use. Now, in theory unobligated funds should go for the same area, but you could reprogram, so you’ve got an enormous amount of flexibility. Now you’ll notice in this thing—that’s why I’m glad I’ve got page 2—they had, they came down from 17 million to 9 million. The obligation authority we needed for 1971 was 5.2 million. That’s here on page 250, I hadn’t read before. Alright, now, if you go back to 249, you’ll see in the third full, well, you can see the first paragraph to 5 million 250. Okay, “Specific funding will involve 1 million carried over from ‘70 to ‘71.” So that didn’t even cost us anything. We had 1.6 million of this year’s funds, so really all we were using— And then we said when you needed to get to this 250 over here, this carries a mortgage of 2.6 against next year’s equipment fund. So in effect, out of 17 they reduce it to 9 someplace and they reduce to 5.6, probably me telling them don’t worry, we can get you up to the 9 if we have to. Alright, we got 5.2, and I had a million dollars in this physical research left over from the previous year, I needed 1.6 which wasn’t all that much in that equipment, and I said I’ll fund the rest of it next year. So, that goes through pretty good. Now, when Panofsky put it in the budget and we have to get through, the Bureau was no problem. I just called up Fred, no problem. But then we went to the Congress. So I went up to see Howsma.
I went up to see Hollowfield and Howsma actually, and sat down, because Hollowfield was then the chairman, and both from California. And I told them that Panofsky wants this, I gave them the whole song and dance, and I said, “So we are going to come to you and ask for equipment.” Howsma says “You can’t do that.” I says, “Well, Craig, we can if you sprinkle a little holy water on it for us.” And so he just wasn’t convinced. But he didn’t want to put, Panofsky wanted, and Hollowfield said okay, so he says, “Well, you’ve got to get it through to the Appropriation Committee,” and I says, “Don’t worry about the Appropriation Committee. You just authorize it.” So that’s, we went up to the, you know, to the hearing, and you got Mr. Hollowfield. Hollowfield doesn’t even get into it. Howsma, you know, he was so dag-gone [sic] thorough, and he comes through and right off the bat he asks me if this thing’s legal. You know, on page 249, Howsma, “You’re selling them on the line item essentially for hardware for this accounting thing.” I don’t know what the hell that even means, and I said, “Well, that’s essentially correct.” Then Howsma says, “Do you think this is legal?” And I says, “Yes sir, it’s legal.” So he’s still not that convinced. So when you get toward the very end, it’s Howsma, “Good luck with GAO.” And that next sentence is real important: “Having told this committee we are in a lot better shape discussing it with GAO.” And we were, because if we tried to do this, you know, and hid it, we lied about it, we didn’t tell everybody, and GAO comes and audits and finds us building this damn thing out of equipment money, you know, we’ve got big problems.
But with GAO we went to— Oh, the House approved the thing, so it went right through the rest of the Congress without any changes. So I was in a position to go to GAO, which I did, and I says, “Look. We took this to the Congress, we had a full discussion, and they approved it. And since they have authorized it,” and then we went through my definitions and kind of, you know, they’re not that firm and all, so finally GAO went along with it. And when I told them that they had authori — you know, that the committee had approved it, the committee wanted it, they ???, they said, “They don’t want this. They don’t even believe you!” I says, “They authorized it. That’s all that’s important. Here’s the law. It says we can do it as equipment.” So we got together, and I worked a deal which, far as I know, is still going on today, lest people forget. We put out these statements every year. We were the only outfit in government that had financial statements, and that’s because it’s an industrial activity, and we rolled up everybody’s statement into our own. And in here—I’ve got a bunch of notes. Same format, okay. We covered each of the programs, including the physical research and research laboratories. Then we actually had financial statements. But we had plant and capital equipment, our whole plant and capital equipment, which I think is $8 billion, broken down by all its facilities.
We had AEC course by geographical location. That’s for the Congressmen. The Congressmen loved this. So then they could look up, and uh, what they did, they didn’t look up, what they’d do is phone me, “How much was spent in Nevada?” and I, you know, say, “Well, it’s on here, page so-and-so.” AEC costs by college and universities, AEC costs by prime industrial contractors, and a ten year summary of financial data, and then a map of the major facilities. But, this gave all the college and universities how much money, and they can look and Harvard can see how much MIT’s gotten and what have you, GE could see what Westinghouse, but it was all, you know, laid out here. And this is quite a political document. Incidentally, your University of California is first according to dollars, and Stanford is 30—Why did I have that checked? I didn’t do this. ??? ??? ???. Anyhow, they’re 38, I mean they’re quite a bit. Of course you have the eight major laboratories, Brookhaven and Argonne and what have you. Anyhow, we got together with GAO, and if you look at plant and capital equipment, U.S. plant and capital equipment by location, we have, it runs, yeah, $11 billion were for plant and capital equipment. And we have it you know broken down by each location how much. And even though it’s the plant and equipment appropriation, you look, you’ll see Portarick [?] nuclear center, Wisconsin research facility, now here’s my FFTF up in the, FFTF research facilities, feed material facility, MAM [?] laboratory, Betis [?], that’s the Navy, for Stanford, in California, you’ll see linea[r] accelerator and equipment. That’s the only subcategory that’s got equipment. And these idiots at GAO felt better if I would say linea[r] accelerator and equipment. Now who the hell’s going to ever notice that? So in here, even though nobody else has the equipment, so that was enough to make them think it was legal. So in any respect, that’s how we got—and let me see, I made some notes I think.
Paris:Why did Howsma give you such a hard time at the hearing if you had already told him and he’s a California Congressman and he’s in favor of it.
A couple things. One is, it’s all political. Now it’s in his area, so he wants to establish that it pass all the tests, the comptroller says it’s legal, the “good luck with GAO” I think was a little gratuitous, which I just as soon he hadn’t said. But essentially, these guys are very sensitive to facilities in their area. Now I went to him because, you know, I knew he would support it. And I told him, and I told him, you know, pretty much what I told you about the definitions and how you handle it, and I told him, I says, “Look, GAO, I used to be the number two guy at GAO,” — and I got some stuff here on GAO. I mean I got awards out of GAO that wouldn’t quit, including, when I was at GAO, I got one of the 10 Outstanding Young Men in the Federal Government. But, the guys on the AEC audit, I mean for the whole time I was on, all used to work for me. When I first went over there, you know, I just moved my desk into the office of comptroller, and, really, you gotta have a reputation for honesty and integrity and what have you. And, you know, like I say, I would never specifically lie, you know, I just wouldn’t do it. And if I got some, you know, I wanted to do something, I’d do it out in the open, and do my best rationale.
Now we could have lost it. You know, there’s enough testimony there that other members of the committee could look at it and say we shouldn’t do this. They didn’t. The Appropriation Committee could have stopped it, but you know, because the clerk goes through all of this stuff. But, you know, if you got the repu— You see, most budget offices in the government had really very bad reputations with the Appropriation Committee, because they were forced many, many times to lie. But I wouldn’t, no one could force me to lie. But the, and, you know, some things we just couldn’t do, and this is, you know, why with my friend Schlesinger [?], and every once in a while we’d have to say, you know, this can’t be done. But, the next sentence has got to be, “Instead, what about this?” So you don’t just say no, you give them alternatives. They might not like the alternative as much, but at least that’s better than nothing.
Paris:So you think Howsma was just trying to get this into the record about his skepticism, which he really didn’t have?
Paris:He really wanted the program through.
Abbadessa:You got it. You got it. Just so he could not be accused of, you know, he had a legitimate concern. The GAO would question this. But the chance of GAO finding it may be one out of 20, but it didn’t make any difference. I told him I’ll go to GAO, you know, I’ll sell it to GAO. Matter of fact, I had talked to GAO before his meeting. I says, you know, I can handle this. So these are the kind of thing you got to be right on. But Howsma cannot on the record support a facility that maybe could be questioned later, because then he’s in a position of having influenced and maybe for something that’s not right. So he’s looking for protection.
Paris:So, now in the end this—
Abbadessa:But there is no doubt. Have no doubt, Brother Howsma wanted this facility, in spades.
Paris:On page 251 at the end of the discussion Holifield says, “Alright.” Is that what you mean by the committee approves it, or is there some formal document which—?
Abbadessa:Oh no, no, no. No, no, that’s not. You get out of the Joint Committee an Authorization Act, and in the Authorization Act it will have, you know, what the various line items are, what the operating expenses — under equipment. I wrote it up to make damn sure. You know, I forget the exact figure, but $30 million of equipment for physical research for items such as: And you got this one listed with just the current year 1.6, but you had a little legend on there says, “The total estimated cost is 5 million funded with 1 million from prior years, 1.6 this year, 2.6 in future years.” So you lay it all out, and it’s a written document, and it’s passed the committee, and it’s passed the full House and Senate. So that’s where it’s authorized, and that’s where you go. Now this gives you more support, because now I’m in a position, and I’m talking GAO, this isn’t something I slipped through. You know, a budget’s a thousand pages. This isn’t something I slipped through. This is something we specifically brought to the committee’s attention because we knew, you know, it’s borderline, it’s debatable, and we were concerned that you might have a problem, so we took it to them. And not only is it authorized, but we discussed it.
Paris:So was Howsma also helping you by bringing this up and giving you these hard questions?
Abbadessa:He didn’t bring it up. We brought it up. McDaniels brought it up.
Paris:I mean the hard questions saying, “Is this legal?” Was that helping you, or was that just for him?
Oh, it really doesn’t make a heck of a lot— I mean those— You’re right, those were mostly for him. To some extent it helps from this point of view: he raised the question, the type of questions GAO would raise, and I gave him answers, and he was satisfied. Why the hell aren’t you satisfied. So it could help a little bit, but the important thing is this authorized in the law. Authorization is a law. And then it’s Appropriation Act’s a law, and it didn’t get touched, and it’s laid out in the same detail. Plus it was brought up in a hearing, because we were concerned. And McDaniels brought it up. Howsma didn’t bring it— In theory Howsma shouldn’t even have known about it, which he’s not too bright with it — he suddenly knows it’s 7, 9 million or something, but McDaniel brings it up ??? ??? Howsma, “Was it about 9 million?” Yeah! You know. One of the bigger things I testified in Congress was something called Dixon Yates [?], way before your time. Dixon Yates, was TVA — private industry was trying to TVA out of business. So we had Gore, Anderson, all these guys, Democrats, wanted this plan. The Republicans nein, nein, nein.
So I met with Senator Anderson, because I was going to do the testimony. And that was Senator Anderson, and we had green paper. I mean, it’s so distinguished looking. And I prepared a schedule showing him, and I had two or three questions. So I’m sitting there and Anderson comes up and he reaches out, up he comes with this green piece of paper, all the AEC people recognize it immediately as GAO. You just can’t always control them. But anyway, the key thing to this is it got authorized, it was fully disclosed, and that’s what’s important. If we tried to sneak it through, it might have even worked. GAO might never have caught up with it. But if they had, and they audited AEC pretty good, and I doubt that we could have built that facility without them noticing it. And when they saw equipment fund, schew!, right through the ceiling.
Paris:What was it that Vikki said that convinced you to go to bat for SPEAR when he first came to you? I mean I’m sure lots of projects tried to get your support.
Abbadessa:That’s right. A couple things. First of all, I think in my 12 years that Wykof [sic] approached me maybe twice or three times. He wasn’t like a Wilson who was on the damn phone —
There is a guy named Dr. Wilson. I forgot his first name. He was up at Fermi. So mostly just the respect with which the community held the man, that very seldom had he ever been to me, and I’m in, you know, I’m fully aware I’m in no position to evaluate a scientific facility. But this is a man that’s the chairman of the high-energy committee, is saying that it was important, and he initially came to me on how could he get it as a line item. That’s why, you know, I had to tell him, in all honesty, you can’t, but possibly we can through equipment. But you’ve got to get the estimate down, and you’ve got to give me some rationale that I could— And I told him of the kind of things that were important. I knew the ratio to the big facility would be very small dollar wise. I had to and I got in writing from, not from Vikki but from the budget justification, that it was a support facility to SLAC because somehow it measured something or tuned something. I forgot what the hell the justification was. But the basic answer to your question is because it was him. And I never, never once tried to interpose my theories on what, you know, should be built. You know, I’ve listened to a lot of people, look at estimates, and finally had to make a decision and draw a line here or there.
But basically the scientists decide, because I got no background whatsoever to make any kind of a judgment. Now, one of the things, you know, oh, over that kind of a period of time a lot of things come up. You buy into something and then you see the results and you can find out was the person dependable, or did he kind of snow you. Obviously if he’s dependable, his next request you so consider it; if the guy’s snowed you, then his next request has got a tougher route to go. So there is a lot of factors like that. And we operated with, unlike nobody in the government to my knowledge had a budget review committee like we did, and that budget review committee like we did, and that budget review committee was great, because you got, it helped keep down animosity, because everybody, you know, saw other people’s problems, the voting, sometimes a problem, because we voted like Lincoln’s cabinet. Lincoln’s cabinet say is eight people and each of them get one and I get nine, but I tried to do it so it comes from them. But it comes time when you, you know that’s why you’re the chairman. But 90 percent of the stuff went through with everybody agreeing to it. But it would be interesting. I remember in the Commission meetings I would get before budget hearings I’d get a call from the Commissioner, “Come on up, John, I want to talk to you,” and but this went into the blue, red and yellow thing, and you’ve just got to keep it balanced. And the other thing, you ever hear of Admiral Rickover? Rickover.
Paris:A little bit.
Abbadessa:Well, he was a power. He’s, with that do [?] line and everything. He to me was the greatest American I ever worked with. He had 103 nuclear submarines surrounding this country, make them have that do line [?] when 40 percent of the planes didn’t work or what have you. Little guy with the Navy, and he was something. Nooooobody liked him. He was very sarcastic. Ed Murrow interviewed him once on television and he just chopped it. You could not say anything nice to the admiral. I remember he came to a committee meeting, and he sat down there and when it got all over he was walking out. Now one of the things he did, is he always sent gifts to people. Not very— But that thing I got you know to my retirement, that’s from the Nautilus, the first submarine. That’s one of his good gifts. Most of it’s just junk. But he’d send pineapples. And Seaborg was kind of a political type guy, even though he was a scientist, and I remember the admiral is walking out and there is this big table, the five commissioners, the general manager, myself and the general conference and then all the staff is sitting down. So the admiral is walking out and he’s almost out the door, and Seaborg says, “Oh, Admiral, I wanted to thank you for the pineapple you sent me.” Bad, bad, bad. You just don’t thank the admiral, particularly in public. So Rickover just like that said, “Why,” he says, “you’re a one pineapple person. The comptroller gets two pineapples.” But he was something. He—Go ahead.
Paris:You said that it could never go through as a capital project, that you were fairly sure of that. Was that because McDaniel would never recommend it as one of the Division of Research’s — you didn’t think he’d ever do that as one of their construction projects, or, even if he did, it wouldn’t make it—you know, you said that you gathered then all the divisions and looked at theirs—that it wouldn’t have made it through that second round?
Abbadessa:It’s more the second than the first, because Paul, well, a couple things. First of all I’m sure Paul thought it was important. Second of all, some people got more than other people, and Panofsky was very persuasive. And I suspect that McDaniels, he never did put in as a line item, because I suspect—and I’m not positive—it either got knocked out by the field office, or in his own view review, you know, with his top people like Waramy [?] and what have you, they had projects of a higher priority. And like I say, it was high-energy physics, and it was tough. We’d do well to get any high-energy physics facility to get one every three years or something. So I doubt that Paul would have eventually come in with it, but he might have. But it’s academic. My rationale was beyond McDaniels, beyond the commission. It would never survive, you know, up in the hill, or even with the Bureau. I think Paul says, “Unfortunately budget stringency has not permitted us to put it in the budget as a line item which we originally recommended for it.” I don’t know who he recommended it, because it never—And he says a relatively large device costing several million dollars. Boy, he’s a big help. He is a big help.
Paris:But you didn’t talk to him before you went into that hearing, right?
Abbadessa:Oh, I’m sure I did.
Paris:So why would he say something like that?
Paris:Why would he say something like that?
Abbadessa:Oh, you can’t, you can’t, division directors, you know, these are big egos just like ours, and most of the division directors were fairly savvy. But I’ll tell you, scientists, you know, we try to keep them out of the room for testifying, because while they’re good scientists they don’t have a— Most of the testifying I try to get the division directors to do it, because we had good division directors. But in the final analysis I ended up doing a fairish amount of the testimony.
Paris:The fact that Hollowfield and Howsma were on this committee before, these years in ‘65 through ‘69 when SPEAR was being proposed to the Division of Research — now I understand that you weren’t seeing it at all — so did they have also no knowledge that it was being given to the Division of Res — Could they help it along from their position where they were at the GCAE [sic] or—?
Abbadessa:If Panofsky, and Panofsky could— See, most of— We had a pretty well disciplined outfit. GE would no more go to that committee, you know, but the lab directors every once in a while would go directly to the committee and it comes directly back to us, and they’re in trouble. But to the best of my knowledge, they were not aware of this. When we sat down with Hollowfield and Howsma, it was on the basis of a final lap. You know, you’re going to see this in your Bill; let me give you the background on it.
Paris:And they didn’t know before you sat with them really anything —.
Abbadessa:I doubt it. I don’t remember specifically. Panofsky might have talked to Howsma. It wouldn’t have surprised me. But no pressure came from the committee for this. This thing came, like I say, Vikki, I said, “Tell them to do it,” then it went back out to the lab, they prepared the estimate, it went right on through and came to us and we sold it to the Commission, which wasn’t hard with Tape and Seaborg on there. And then after the committee approved and after we got it through the bureau and it was in the President’s budget, we then decided to go up and talk to Howsma and Hollowfield.
Paris:Earlier you called McDaniel an elf and a flake, and I was just wondering if you could think of any specific instances that made you think that he was like this in specific—?
Abbadessa:Well, one thing is when he’s 60 years old he marries some gal ??? 26 and he has a lovely wife. But it was more than that. McDaniels, like I say, he was brilliant, no question, and he knew his area. But he’s so—I remember one time, well, a couple things. We’d get in these hearings before the Commission where he has lots of support. You know, he had more sup—Well, when it was Seaborg and Tape he had more support. Well, he had two out of the five in his pocket, and in many respects, certainly in the scientific area, he had more support than I did. But the kind of things that Paul gave me, I remember one time I knocked something out, for good and valid reasons, I’m sure. And he made some kind of a pitch in the Commission, you know, put it back in. And the way he went to the Commission was he called this, uh, he says, he would never do it on a personal basis, “This action by the committee,” he says the fact we made a reduction in say metallurgy, “the insult to metallurgy,” that’s the way he would refer to the cut. The other thing, and you get this argument going on with the Republicans and the Democrats today on welfare and Medicaid. He would have say 70 million for a program. He’d asked for 90 and we give him 85. So he’d come into the Commission, “I’ve been cut 5 million.” I said, “Like hell, Paul. You got an increase of 15 million. Your cost of living is only 3 percent to 2 million, so you got an increase of 13 million.” And then he’d say, “Well now,” he says, “we’ve been cut 5 million,” just like I hadn’t said anything. But he knew what he was doing. But he, I don’t mean it in a bad—the guy is not vicious or anything. He’s just a little bit from the— He was a lot better scientist than he was an administrator, put it that way.
Paris:Let me ask you one last question. Why do you think you were such a successful auditor, say in your first years, and then later on of course you built on that, but you talk about your fast rise in the General Accounting Office. What do you think made you such a successful auditor and then successful later with budgets?
Well, hard work is a good chunk of the answer. I had, and still have, an enormous energy level. Many of my awards and promotions or what have you always seem to refer to energy, you know, energy level. I did work hard. It’s hard to answer this kind of question. But I’m bright, you know, I’m intelligent, work hard, get along great with people, and also I write well. Now in auditing, finding the problem is the easy part. I mean, average intelligence, you’ve gone to school, you add up a set of figures, they don’t add up, this is not hard, finding what’s wrong. Two things are important if you are an auditor. One is the ability to sell the recommendation, and this takes a certain, you know, amount of strategy, personality, having the guy’s respect. Ability to sell. Because in GAO you made your reputation if the agency accepts your finding. If you got a big fight, then that’s not so good. And the second thing is the ability to write. Ninety percent of all auditors are lousy writers. Based on best I can tell 90 percent of all engineers and lawyers are lousy writers. So, if you’ve got the ability to write.
Ten thousand years ago I had a spinster lady called Ms. Evans for English, and you know she taught you transition and she taught you how to write, and if I had never had that course I might not have been as good. But basically, you know your job, but that isn’t success; the success is the ability, in auditing—and to some extent the same thing as controller of the AEC. The comptroller there’s a third thing, and that is, you’ve got to win your battles. Now, you can lose one occasionally, but you can’t afford to lose, and the best way to do that is to have a very good sense of what you can win and what you can lose. And if I, you know, how much a reactor costs and do we have a cost estimate, I’m going to win every time against Milt Shaw [?]. How to build a reactor, you know, I could listen to ten people tell me Shaw is not doing this right, I go someplace with it and who is going to listen to me? So I can’t win that one. So the first two or three years, you know, I had a hell of a time over there, even with the reputation I brought, because you know now I’m inside that camp. But, as you won battle after battle after battle and you had the support of the General Manager, which was very important, and people you know after you win enough of them they figure well the only way we’re going to really get this is to work with this guy, not to fight him. And as soon as you get past that point, then you’ve got it pretty much made. But there’s nothing too much different. Intelligence, hard work. And you know, I worked hard. I mean when I came out of—I never made any money in government. Nothing. You would not believe.
I got offered jobs as much as three times my salary I was making in government, but when I left in 1972 I was making $42,000 a year. Period. Putting kids through school, buying a house, buying a car—I never had $2,000 in the bank at one time. Never! When I went with IAEA [?] I moved from a $42,000 taxable job to $75,000 nontaxable, so I knew I was going to be in pretty good shape. And but I borrowed $5,000 from a guy named Bob Kola [?], headed up the credit union. So I said, “We’re going to do this right,” so I borrowed five thousand and went over on a boat, you know, instead of flying, first class, the whole works. When I got over there, of course, money started rolling in from then on. And when I didn’t need it anymore. [laughs] When I needed it, I didn’t have it. So I paid him back a thousand dollars a month. In five months, and I think it was two years or something. So I get a letter from Kola, and I open it up expecting a little pat on the head. First thing across the top of that page: Never borrow money from me again! Because he didn’t even cover the administrative costs because I paid it back so fast and he didn’t collect all of his interest. But, you know, then I went to consulting. I was making $279,000 just from the consulting. But I was making around 250 and my retirements and investments another 100, so now it all goes to the kids. Fortunately, I’ve got five grand-kids. They got all their colleges all paid for. The three girls have $50,000 more for all of their weddings, and the boys have $50,000 more for — But they each got $100,000, $25,000. I’m not sure $100,000 is going to do it when they go to college, but you can see, you know, 11 hours, 10 hours, 12 hours, 8 hours, retired, 12 hours, 12 hours, 10, 12, 10, 12, and that’s through a Saturday and Sunday. So you need hard work. And got trips to Vienna, trips to Vegas, trip to Disney World with the kids. The personal stuff’s in red, but you can see most of it’s in black. Okay, can I give you a couple things?