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Interview of Robert Frosch by David DeVorkin on 1981 September 15,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
This interview reviews Frosch's early schooling in the New York City Public School system, his education at Columbia University and, in detail, his varied career as a physicist and a science administrator, beginning with his work as a research scientist at Hudson Laboratory and then as Assistant Director and Director of the Theoretical Division. Other topics and affiliations discussed include: Advance Research Project Agency (ARPA); United States Navy; United Nations Environmental Programme; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (administration, research and development techniques, business practices, reorganization, communication); Naval Research Laboratory (NRL); Navy Radiological Laboratory; National Academy of Sciences (NAS); Wallops Center; Dryden Flight Research Facility; Goddard Institute of Space Studies; Office of Naval Research (ONR); JASON Foundation for Education; Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA); Office of Management and Budget (OMB); SOLRAD (SOLar RADiation Satellite Program); Enterprise; Mansfield Amendment; CLOT test (combined loads orbiter test); Gamma-Ray Observatory (GRO); VELA Program; Atomic bomb; relationships between US Navy and NASA; militarization of space exploration; space exploration policy; sonar navigation; musical theory and acoustics; project management theory; satellite communication systems; underwater acoustics and modelling; remote sensing; seismology; shuttle flight testing and preparation; I.I. Rabi; Henry Foley; Charles H. Townes; Ivan Tolstoy; Frank Press; Jimmy Carter, among others.
This is Tape 6, Side 2. It is now September 15, 1981, and we are talking again with Dr. Frosch. Could we go back now to your reasons for leaving ARPA for the Assistant Secretaryship of the Navy for R and D in 1966?
I guess, the basic reason was that I was invited to.
Part of what I say is a reconstruction of what happened, but what I am about to tell you happened before I knew it was anything involving the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I was Deputy Director of ARPA, and my predecessor as Assistant Secretary of the Navy was Robert Morse, the one who was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, not the one who was Assistant Secretary of the Army.
The same name?
Well, there is a difference in the middle initial. I had known Bob Morse, anyway, for years, because he was in the Brown University Acoustics group, and a professor of physics at Brown, and so I had known him from the early underwater acoustics days. And in fact, had seen them a few times socially in Washington. He called up, oh, 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon, and said Paul Nitze, the Secretary of the Navy, would like to have a briefing on ballistic missile defense, ABM, which was a project that ARPA was engaged in then. "Can you do this tomorrow morning at 9:30?" I said, "Yes, I can do that." He said. "Can you bring some stuff on the general program of ARPA too?" And I said "Yes, I'll pull the right boards and do it." He said, "Well, you know, normally we would ask Charlie Herzfeld who is the director, but can you come do this. And will it be all right with Charlie?" I said, "Yes, Charlie's out of town. I do what he does when he's away." I went down the next morning to brief Paul Nitze. I had half an hour, and I really did my briefing in less than half an hour, but we talked, I guess, for two hours. I later discovered, or concluded, that that was the job interview (laughs).
See, the idea was, how can this guy come and tell me about his agency at the drop of a hat and so on and so forth? I didn't know that at the time, but a few weeks later I was at a meeting at Lincoln Labs, as a matter of fact, and got a phone call from Johnny Foster to inquire whether I'd be willing to take that job. Of course I was willing to take the job, because I knew a little about it. It was interesting; I had not been thinking of leaving ARPA, particularly, even though I had come there originally for two years, and it was now, I guess two and one-half years or so. I agreed to go. I remember calling my parents to tell them I was going to be nominated for this, and my father's reaction was marvelous. He said, "Gee, Franklin Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. That was the first reaction. The second reaction was, won't you have to get out of the regular Civil Service; is that a good thing to do? The answer was, yes, I thought it was a good thing to do.
Well, as you then moved to the Navy, could you give me a rundown as to why the position was open, first of all?
Oh, essentially because Bob Morse had decided to leave, in part because he had been ill for awhile, and while he was recovered, he had been at that for several years. I later learned — I didn't know it at the time — that he had had an offer to come and be president at Case, what was then Case Institute. He then had to take on the task of combining Case Institute and Western Reserve into what is now Case Western Reserve. So, it was coming open because he was leaving.
Now, he was a physicist.
He was a physicist.
And you were certainly identified as a physicist. Was this a traditional position for a physicist?
It's a good question. There wasn't much tradition because there hadn't been very many incumbents, in the sense that there had been a position called the Assistant Secretary for Air, and that was changed sometime late in the Eisenhower Administration to being Assistant Secretary for Research and Development. The first incumbent was Jim Wakelin, James Wakelin, whom I guess is a physicist, and then he was followed by Bob Morse, and then by me.
You were the third.
I guess I was the third. But I don't know services, because the jobs keep dividing and combining, and being relabelled. It's been relabelled at least once since I was there. It's now called Research, Development and Engineering, or Research Development and Systems, or something like that.
Yes. How many people did you have working for you, and what kind of training did they have?
Well, directly for me, I basically had a small staff of, I guess, half a dozen professionals, I'd say, and secretaries. Because basically it is a staff position. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy is a little odd compared to the other Assistant Secretaries for R and D, because it is both staff and line in the following sense. It is staff to the Secretary of the Navy, and in a way to the CNO, but legally to the Secretary of the Navy and to DDR and E in a way which is not terribly well defined. It is a line position in the sense that the Assistant Secretary of the Navy R and D then (I don't know if it is still the case, although I believe so) was the R and D Assistant Secretary who had line responsibility for the Navy R and D budget, had the signature authority for that piece of the budget.
Yes, that's exactly what we saw.
The staff was partly military and partly civilian, and I can't remember exactly who came when and so on, but there was a series of Naval officers. An aide, of course. There was always a captain who was an aide, and a Marine aide, usually a Lieutenant Colonel, and then several special assistants. Usually, I would say, some of them were engineers and some of them were physicists. That's officially what it amounts to. I found one old friend and colleague on the staff, essentially because of the Brown group connection — Bill Raney had been working for Bob Morse — and in the course of time, I brought a couple of people in who I had known for a long time, and whom had been with me in ARPA. Harry Sonnemann being one, and later on, Sam Koslov. The military officers covered Air, usually, and after awhile, submarine, and they generally had technical backgrounds. The Air officers generally were aeronautical engineering duty officers with good graduate degrees in aeronautical engineering. The submarine officers usually were operating officers, and there would be several others.
It worked as a kind of informal group; that's what it really amounted to. People would come in and out of my office, gated by the aide, and we'd work on problems. The theory that I was working on was that my staff didn't have any line responsibility. They didn't have any authority over anybody, but they were informal eyes and ears, and part of the trick was that nobody ever could be quite sure what their role or authority was, so that they would be likely to be talked to. They were a route to me around the system, if somebody wanted to use the informal route. That is, I couldn't myself go and talk to a project officer's assistant and find something out, but one of the special assistants could make a phone call, go and wander around in the system. The theory I operated on was that you use the informal system extensively, that kind of an informal system, but you do not take action other than informally, using the informal system. If you discover some horror or some marvelous thing through the informal system, you then figure out how to regenerate it through the formal system with benefit of clergy, and then you act on it. It's a means of finding out what things you want to do that way.
I had to be careful about that because of course, my major means of working was through the appropriate flag officers in OPNAV and in the Materiel system, who were in some cases double-hatted to me. There was one other line authority that the Assistant Secretary of the Navy R and D had, which is that the chief of Naval Research reported directly to the Secretary of the Navy, which meant, in practice, to the Assistant Secretary for R and D, so that the whole 6.1 (the DOD budget number for Basic Research) research line came out of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy's office.
Who was the chief at that point?
Tom Owen, it seems to me, was the chief then or shortly thereafter.
He was not in your office? He had his own office?
No. He had his own office, wherever ONR was then, but he considered himself as part of my staff, as well as running ONR. There were other linkages. The controller of ONR was also my controller for the Navy R and D budget, and at that time it was Mary Ayres Ferguson. who is now retired, who is a marvelous person. She was then a GS-18, and she had started in the system as a GS-1.
(laughs) That's amazing. That's real upward mobility.
Absolutely, first class. She was really a standard setter for that kind of thing. She was on my staff, and on the chief of Naval Research's staff. And then there was always, depending on what particular reorganization had taken place in OPNAV, some flag officer who was responsible for research and development from the CNO's point of view, and that Admiral regarded himself as double-hatted to me. Then later on, there were people over in Naval Materiel who were formally, or informally, double-hatted to the Assistant Secretary's office. I guess depending on your point of view, they were either on my staff in some sense, or they were set to watch over me and prevent things or whatever (laughs).
Okay let me ask you. You mentioned air and submarines; did you have anyone specifically marked for Naval Research in space, or space vehicles?
No. No. There wasn't that much going on in the Navy. There were two kinds of things going on. There was some stuff going on at NRL, some very classified, some not classified at all. Then of course, there was a Naval officer on the staff of the Air Force space business, and I would have contact with that guy, but the Navy was not, except for a couple of rather special things — which it had backed into, really — terribly excited about space, partly because it had many other things that it wanted money for, and partly the politics of space. Essentially in the Defense Department, space belonged to the Air Force, on behalf of the whole Defense Department, but the service rivalries make problems. I think people who say, "Oh, they're being selfish," are being shortsighted. The Navy didn't see much profit in trying to get a role in space, because what they figured would happen — and they were right — was that, if they got a role in space, they'd have to pay for it, but they wouldn't be able to control it. What they saw as happening would be: the Navy says, "Hey, it wants a Naval communication satellite," then the Navy budget would pay for the satellite, and the Air Force would run it and control it.
In fact, they were quite correct. That's exactly what would have happened, and in fact, it is what did happen.
When did that change take place, because I know in the late fifties, NRL was really responsible for all the tracking and data acquisition.
Well, it changed partly when ARPA was invented for the space business, but then it changed almost completely when NASA was invented. And then the NRL got almost entirely out of the tracking business. They did some things in the classified business, but really because they were experts, and partly because the Navy was interested. They had some astronomical interests, you see.
They continued those, but NRL is, in part, a contractor to NASA; that is the only way to describe it. but there is a linkage between part of NASA and part of NRL. Herb Friedman, for example, has a linkage with NASA, even though he has always been at NRL, and that whole group does.
As does Richard Tousey and people like that.
Yes, all the people that are interested in astronomy and astrophysics, and that sort of thing.
So in a way, they had to..
A classified group has a link with the Navy and a link with the Air Force.
I see. You had no particular oversight interests in ..
Well, I had some, but there wasn't much to have an oversight interest in. Most of my connections with space things were really because I had a connection with the Defense Department interests, with the intelligence business, and all the rest of the communications business, on behalf of the Navy, and the Navy was a user of all of that. There was always — with Harold Brown, and even more with Johnny Foster, there was a kind of collegiality assumption about all the R and D people in the Pentagon. That is, there was an R and D group which was like an extension of the staff of DDR and E, so that we all would meet, and we would have budget arguments, but there would be a certain amount of knowledge of everything that was going on. So I had that entre' into space. I had relatively little to do with NASA, that I recall. Sometime in this period, and I don't remember whether it was ARPA or the Navy, I think it was the Navy period, Len Jaffe invited me to come over and sit on the advisory group that was looking at the ERTS applications. Not because of my Navy connection, but because of the kind of thing I had done in the marine world, in the ocean world, and in the ARPA earthquake business. That is, sensing, and the connection was: "what about remote sensing for some of these purposes, and what are the alternatives, and so on." I remember sitting and listening to a long discussion of the sensing of snow-pack that were left out of the discussion, such as that there didn't seem to be enough ground truth work being done.
What's ground truth?
Well, I guess it's an intelligence term; but the point is, they were talking about ERTS, Landsat remote sensing, and I didn't think they were doing enough to make sure they had data from the ground that would confirm that they were sensing what they thought they were sensing. There was a great deal of fuss about getting enough imagery to estimate the thickness of the snow pack, not only its area extent, and it seemed to me that that was not necessarily much of a problem in the sense that I could think of instrumentation systems that you could airdrop, or whatever, that would give you data back, and that not enough had been done in that line. Incidentally, when I came into NASA, I still thought not enough had been done in that line, and one of things that Tony Calio spent quite a while doing was trying to improve some of that, not so much for the snow-pack thing, which was pretty far down the line, but getting more ground science, and so on. We'll get to that later.
Is there anything that you can tell me about the reconnaissance aspects of these kinds of satellite programs that you were involved in?
Well, only that I had been aware of reconnaissance programs of various kinds from the ARPA period, and I was in the group that had access to the data from that. But from that point of view, it was less an interest —it was always fascinating to know about the technology, but less an interest in the technology than in keeping track of the intelligence material, so that I could use it as Assistant Secretary of the Navy R and D from the point of view of, what is it intelligence of all kinds tell us that has a bearing on what I ought to have in R and D program?
Right. What I would be interested in, if you can talk about it, in the reconnaissance line, is the development of large imaging optics that were used, that obviously in this day and age would have some interest to astronomers. This would be from the ARPA and from Navy.
Well, all I can say is, if I knew, I probably couldn't tell you, but in fact, I never had anything to do with any of that aspect of it.
The sort of hardware was kind of a given for what I was doing and I was never involved in any of that question. I was told some things later in NASA, but certainly at that time I didn't have any window into that at all.
I see. I would like to know how far I can go in asking questions, not possibly of you, but of people who would know the answers to these kinds of questions as I ask, until I hit the barrier of classification. Would you give me some guidelines?
My guess is, not terribly far. The difficulty is that, I would say, the things held most closely in all intelligence areas are going to be the technology and technique details.
Now, it might be possible to pursue the historical aspect in the restricted sense of not so much what was done as who were the great men; who were the important groups; was it contractor A or contractor B who had the good ideas or built the best machines or whatever.
Oh, you don't know the names of contractors, then?
Yes, but I don't know whether that's inside or outside the line.
Who could I talk to who would know?
Well, I can tell you who I know knows, but I don't know whether he would feel free to tell you, and that's Dave Williamson.
Yes, you mentioned him last time.
I mentioned him last time, and he would be a good one to talk to. He would also be an expert, not only on the subject of who did what to whom in the reconnaissance area, but in the question of who you ought to talk to now, who would tell you what it is you can.
You could use him for that, I think, if he's willing.
Increases his priority another notch.
Yes, I think he's an important guy.
Okay, well, let's move on. As far as my interest in NRL, of course, their major series in SOLRAD and LOFTI, you had no direct involvement in that?
Well, yes, I knew about that. SOLRAD I did have quite a lot of involvement in, now that you mention it (as always my recollection is hazy), but there was a question of whether we should do SOLRAD.
So it hadn't been done?
I'm trying to remember. There was something about SOLRAD in my Navy period.
There was a whole series of SOLRADs.
Well, there was a question of whether we were going to do the next SOLRAD, whatever it was. Then there was an argument that it wasn't worth doing, because somebody else was doing something or other. It was all part of the competition. I would say, from my point of view, that the Air Force was hellbent to make sure the Navy did nothing whatever in space. That is, having been given the mission, they wanted to have it totally and exclusively, and just not have anybody else in the business of building anything that went into space. Now, that's not even unreasonable politically, and some of that, I would say, was reflected in some of the staff in DDR and E, who — partly because some of them had come out of the Air Force system, either directly or from the Air Force contractor system.
Can you tell me what DDR and E means?
Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
Okay. That's what it's called now.
No, that's what it was called then, Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
Oh, over all the services.
Over all the services. That was Harold Brown and then Johnny Foster. Now they've sorted things out in some other way, and Dick Delaver's title is something different. And Bill Perry's title was something different, but it is essentially the same office with slightly different responsibilities.
Now I understand.
And so I always felt there was a slight bias in that direction, which they would deny, but it was there. But the other aspect of it, which is also not unreasonable except when carried too far, is they always like things to be tidy. Just like the OMB people like things to be tidy. If space was supposed to be in the Air Force, then space, goddammit, was supposed to be in the Air Force. You know: we don't want the Navy doing this, in spite of the fact that the guys at the NRL were having brilliant ideas which they wanted to carry out, and were very good at it. It always bothered some of these guys with the tidy minds to have a Naval Research Lab involved: "Why were they doing space when we told the Air Force to do space?"
Well, I just felt they didn't understand about diversity. My theory about that kind of tidiness: it is like a pile of sand. From time to time, you discover the sand is all over the sand box, and you go through and you heap it into neat piles, and say, "Johnny, you get that pile, and Susie, you have that pile." and so on. But after the kids play for awhile, you know, the sand is going to be all over the place; but you don't want to go around every ten minutes and tell everybody to scrape their piles up into neat piles or they can't play.
The question is, what's the interval, and there are always people who every time there was one of Susie's grains of sand over near Johnny's, wanted to get it back into Susie's pile.
That's a great analogy (laughs). Did you find yourself as a strong advocate for NRL's space programs with the Defense Department?
For specific things, yes, because they had some very good ideas, and they convinced me. Let's put it that way, that they were doing some things that nobody else was doing sensibly, and that it was worth doing. Some of their programs were cheap solutions to problems. There was always a question of whether it was a cheap solution because it wasn't a complete solution, but frequently incomplete solutions are good, too.
That was in the case of SOLRAD, which was an inexpensive —-
SOLRAD was an example; my recollection of the argument was that it was one of these arguments of you didn't need the data, and besides, they weren't going to take it very well. That kind of thing.
Who said that?
Well, I don't know, somebody's argument. I think in DDR and E someone said, "We really don't need this data. It's of no interest. It's of scientific interest, but it's of no defense interest." which as I recall, was wrong, because the people who were saying that didn't really understand the communications implication of the predictability of that kind of solar business, and the necessity to understand what was going on in order to have some possibility of predictability or even warning. Then it was one of these usual things, why spend this money now when next year the Air Force or somebody is planning to have a grand glorious design for a satellite that will do everything; it was always that kind of a battle. I sometimes accuse the budget types of having only two kinds of programs: the cheap ones which don't do it well enough, and the ones that do it well enough but are too expensive. You don't do either because the cheap one isn't worth it, and the expensive ones cost too much, so you never take the data.
Isn't that something of being what's happening nowadays with Halley's comet mission?
There is some of that, sure.
Yes, we can come to that.
Now, the other area in which there was a lot of action was the question of communication satellites, and some in navigation satellites for the Navy. I was on both those battles in the following sense: Because — and this is an interesting example of budgetary philosophy — because there was movement towards the satellite communication system, there was the perpetual, and let me be pejorative and perhaps caustic, the perpetual kind of ignorant economists, view. I'll say where I mean the point of ignorance is: we have to allocate resources, and so there's a fixed part of resources we're going to allocate to communications. Therefore, if we start to put money into satellite communications, we ought to phase out HF communications, which was a very effective way of making the Navy against satellite communications, because the Navy knew precisely what was going to happen.
The first thing that would happen would be the start of the phase out plan. Then there would be, for some budgetary reason, a delay in the satellite communications. That's the first item. And the second item was: at that point, nobody was all that trusting of satellite communications. even in the middle '60s. You know, you had all sorts of questions like: What's the real reliability? Are we going to have another one stored in space, or another one stored ready to launch? What happens in wartime? Do we really understand the jamming of satellites? Now, we realize it is difficult to jam a satellite but then we didn't. All these arguments were boiling around, but the one fixed point I had was, goddammit, you cannot touch our HF communications until you deliver satellite communications. Don't tell me what you are going to do for me next year. The other thing was that we had again this rolling psychology. This model of a satellite communications system really isn't as cost-effective as it ought to be. You know, next year the technology will be somewhat better, so let's do it next year.
Who was saying this again?
This was mostly out of Systems Analysis, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis, Einthoven, Russ Murray and that crowd.
Who was the first one?
Allan Einthoven, and I'm not sure it was him; I'm putting a name on the group. I'm not sure he had a view at all, personally, because I never argued that one with him. Some of the people in DDR and E were pushing the satellite communications, and they were eager to get it going; they would quite happily sacrifice current Navy communications completely just to get some satellite communications going, which was a poor idea from the over-all defense point of view. The real difficulty you get into in a bureaucracy is not the one that people think it is. The problem is not that bureaucrats don't do their jobs. That's what the reporters like to think. The real problem is that they do do their jobs. They insist upon doing them! They insist upon doing them very well, and whether they require doing or not. It's the guy who says, "Hey, it is my job to get satellite communications. Get out of my way!" That can be a real menace, because in the process of getting everyone out of the way, he may destroy a lot of other important stuff. Then it turns out he doesn't quite succeed in time, and we have nothing.
The whole business of how you transition from technology A to technology B has really been too much victimized by politics, budgetary politics. This was an example. After awhile my view was simply look, satellite communication, while I love it, looks as if it is going to be, for the Navy, something which is always next year. We are not quite ready in this budget. There is one more study, or somebody's got a brand new idea, and we're so busy optimizing it to be the world's final best ultimate that we're never going to have it, so please don't touch my HF communications. And this was on all levels, you know, we wanted to upgrade the HF communication system. This was a communications system in which, when messages came in to a modal point in the net, they were put out on punched paper tape, and the guy read the punch paper tape and carried it over to the next machine. You know, it was all a big paper shuffle, and as a result, when you got to a point of congestion, the system, instead of getting bad, just collapsed. We wanted to put in some more automaticity, and the argument was: why are you you piling money into that system, next year we are going to have satellite communications. I must say that at that point I thought it was a great idea, but I was cool to the process, because it looked as if it would destroy a lot of things on the way. It was not a good transition.
So people outside of you own purview were pushing satellites. You supported it in general, but didn't want to replace something that was already in place, the HF.
Until I had a known quantity, and even then there was a question: we argued so strongly for diversity in the strategic system. Isn't this an opportunity to have diversity and a system which can degrade in one of several ways without collapsing? Why is it really a trade-off? You would have to show me a very strong fiscal argument to say that you should not, in fact, have some of both systems, at least for a while, and in fact, for defense, I'm not sure I don't still feel that way. That unless you really have a wartime, not very vulnerable satellite system, (and there are all sorts of nontechnical issues involved in that) hadn't I better keep some HF? It has some properties that satellites don't have; the mix may be much stronger. There are all sorts of questions like that.
Navigation. What happened was, in my time, I don't think there ever were any communication satellites available to the Navy. Now, partly, that was the Vietnam War, and whatever satellite communication was put in place was essentially sopped up for running communications in that war. Remember, that was the first war in which the President could talk to the marine or the army guy in the foxhole; and unfortunately too many people gave in to that temptation. It was the satellite that did that, but I think, you know, if we hadn't been fighting that much war, the satellite business might have been put in place and used more generally. On the other hand, there might not have been enough pressure to spend the money to put it into place. My recollection is that at no time while I was ASNR and D did the Navy have any regular routine satellite communications. Maybe it was just beginning to come in, but my recollection was that we didn't have any. It is easily checkable. I may be wrong. The picture with navigation was similar. The Navy had Transit.
The Transit was?
The Doppler navigation satellite.
At the same time, we had been developing Omega, Omega being a low-frequency global Loran, a hyperbolic system. Omega was pretty cheap — a few tens of millions of dollars — for this system. I was in favor of completing the development and putting in an Omega system, in spite of the fact that there clearly was a great future for Transit and other kinds of navigation. You have to remember where we were technologically. At that point, a transit receiver was something between a 50 and a 100 thousand dollar item. It was not available commercially, and nobody could see that the price was going to come down. It wasn't an easy thing to use.
On the other hand, an omega receiver was also not cheap, but obviously it involved no technology that anybody wanted to keep classified, and you could see how to make it relatively cheap based on the Loran model, and it was clear that you could proliferate receivers. It was in my mind, at that point, a trade-off between an elegant system which looked as if it was going to go on being expensive and therefore restricted to a few users for quite awhile, and a not-so-elegant and not-so-accurate system which, however, was absolutely global with no problem of waiting for the next satellite to come by. It was there all the time, with a lower accuracy, but so what. Lower accuracy meant a mile instead of a fraction of a mile and for most marine navigation purposes, that was not too important at the time. I wanted it. In the end I won. We did have both, and we still have Omega, and it is still used in some places, although what has happened is that the digital computer chip revolution has collapsed the price of the Transit receiver.
The receiver, yes.
And furthermore, another battle I did win, (I guess it happened while I was there.) was to get "a version of a transit receiver released for commercial sale." We did finally get that untangled, and it did go out on commercial bid and begin to be available. Of course, even without the chip, the price would have come down by a factor of three or four. Actually, I think it has come down closer to a factor of ten or twenty, even.
Hmm. Who was against it?
Well, there are always people around who have this, to me, curious idea that you shouldn't release anything, because you are thereby giving the opposition a little more time, and they would never weigh in the fact the advantage of our having better navigation for everybody in the U.S. who was navigating. It was entirely a kind of psychology of denying the enemy without taking into account that at the same time you pay a price by denying yourself. This is still a live issue in technology transfer. The issue is, to what extent are you willing to give something away in order to have the advantage of proliferating it inside your own system? If you don't take a chance on giving it away, then you can't have the complete benefits yourself, and that somehow never gets drawn as a proper argument. It's always drawn as: you're giving it away to the Russians. Somehow, you can never get the argument clear: no, no, no; I'm giving it away to myself, and the Russians are going to get some too. You know, each case is different. There are some cases where it isn't worth proliferating it to yourself, because you don't want to give it to them. There are a lot of cases that are in between.
This isn't the case in, I would imagine, with our reconnaissance satellites? There the technology is ...
Yes, there I think there is a good deal of sense in being very careful with the technology. There also is a question as to whether, in a given case, the technology is the secret. Almost never is it the case that technology is a secret. It is not the case that I whisper in your ear the key information, then you say, "Aha!," and the world is forever after different. Usually I can tell you all about how it is done, and you say, "Now say that again," or, "I haven't got a factory that can do that." You look at the technology for Fairbanks Gravity Satellite. This is the relativity experiment.
Now, there the key technology is the ability to make the most spherical gyro. Now, there is technology. You know, you can tell people what the tricks are that you learned, but, boy, that doesn't mean they are going to set up a set of machine tools and start turning out superspheres very fast. It is just not like that. I guess the best example, the best other example of that is the question in the Manhattan Project, where there was, in a sense, a secret and the secret was, how many neutrons per fission? If you were simply told not only is it more than two, it's more than two by enough so that you can take some losses, then you knew you should keep going, whereas, if somebody said, "Hey, it's 1.98 and that's it," you wouldn't waste that much money, because you couldn't get a chain reaction. So there, in a sense, there was a secret: "Yes, we've proven it can be done."
That's very interesting, your observations about the need for classification in some cases and not in others. Were you constantly faced with this kind of decision as things came up in different parts of Naval R and D? Were there any set guidelines of policies, or was there a tendency of your staff or other staffs in R and D to classify everything?
The tendency of R and D people is, in most instances, not to classify things, to regard the process of invention and discovery as depending a good deal on interchange of information, and on using bits of information that aren't supposed to have anything to do with what you are working on, but are really crucial. It's frequently the key to the process. So generally, R and D people stand on the side of: "We will gain more by having an open information system, so that we can use the whole country's technological and scientific capability," rather than: "We must keep this from the enemy." There are always some areas in which there is consensus that we cannot have complete openness. The openness problem can be exaggerated. I have been part of a classified community. It was a community of scientists and engineers who were doing classified work in a particular area, and the community of people who were cleared and were interchanging information was quite large — large enough so that there was no worry, not enough criticism. Everybody knew what so-and-so was doing, so he could not go on doing something stupid for a long time as sometimes can happen when there isn't anybody who knows what he is doing, who has an outside view of it. This is sometimes the key, because you can get caught in your own thought processes.
That community was large enough and it could certainly be said that not everybody who might be useful knew about it, but in fact, if the subject were unclassified, the outsiders wouldn't pay much attention to it, anyway. Nonetheless, I participated in a number of battles, the purpose of which was to open up the subject to wider publication on the grounds that it had gone on long enough classified, that what we were protecting was not protectable or not worth protecting any more. We would get more gain from opening up. I don't know if we talked about the underwater acoustics issue with regard to classification. It was a period when I was arguing that by keeping certain of the facts classified, by keeping the research on certain frequency ranges classified, it became obvious from the literature that there were frequency ranges that were missing from the literature, and therefore, it was obvious what we must be engaged in doing. That was not classification; that was exposure. We'd be much better off if we made sure that we were publishing something uniformly across the board, even if we weren't publishing everything. That theorem is: if you can't lower the signal, raise the noise.
Was that during your Navy years or ARPA years?
This was before that. Part of it was in the Hudson Labs years. The classified community — the Navy community, the Navy Lab community and the contract community generally — agreed that certain areas should be declassified, that it would be beneficial, to do so. We fought a battle, literally, to get it declassified, and did. I have also fought the other way to keep something classified, occasionally, because I thought that it wasn't really basic knowledge that was involved, and the benefits of declassification were not all that important. It really was worthwhile holding onto it.
Could you describe the Navy's overall policy for pure science in your various centers, because in addition to NRL, you have the China Lake —
No, we had 15 laboratories and centers.
Yes. You have 15 bona fide at least.
Most of them were engaged in development work, rather than in research work. The Navy came out of World War II tremendously impressed by the effectiveness of the scientific community's participation and the importance of research. There were some people in particular who fought to establish the Office of Naval Research.
The bird dogs, or, they were called, or similarly.
No, no, there was a name. There was a particular Captain or Admiral, whose name I forget, who was the leader of this.
And so they established an Office of Naval Research, which really was a basic research place, with an eye on applications for basic research. It was NSF before anybody thought of NSF. That tradition persisted through my period in the Navy. It may have gotten somewhat eroded now. But there was a very strong tradition, not uniformly believed by everybody. There were always some admirals who said, "Now if I could only get my hands on that crazy long-range money, look at what I could do for this problem I have right now." So I was always the barrier between the research people and the people who wanted to sacrifice all future things to solving immediate problems. It is still a problem today. There was a strong Navy tradition that said there was something sacred about basic research, that it was very important for the Navy to be involved in it, and a very well worked out philosophy of why you did research. I guess I grew in my research career as part of that ONR view, and there are a lot of arguments for it. There was the argument of knowledge, whatever else you may do. It may take awhile. The mere fact that you don't understand today what a laser is good for, or what it would be good for, if you had such a thing, doesn't mean you should close your eyes to it, because history tells you that the exotic things are frequently terribly important a little bit later. By being in the research business, the Navy had a window into the research business. It knew that was going on. It was a sponsor.
There was the human part of it — by being part of research, it had contacts, people who were in the academic and the industrial community. They were part of its circuit in an informal way. If somebody turned up with a very peculiar technical question somewhere in the Navy, the odds were that you could ask ONR and they would go down a layer or two and somebody would know who the real expert in things like that was in the country, and could have you talking to him in two hours or two days, or whatever. That was very important. Then there was what has more recently been called the "smart buyer." That is, if you have knowledge of your own, you can't be gulled, whether purposely or accidentally. Somebody can't sell you a lead brick painted gold if you have an expert around who just looks at it and says, "That's a lead brick painted gold." It's not a defense against fraud. It's more a defense against confusion and buying the wrong thing in the wrong way, because you specify it wrong, and so on. It always comes out sounding like you're defending against fraud, but is more likely to be against confusion. There was this set of relationships and views that had been built up, but it always takes defending, because there is always somebody who says, "This is a very tight budget year. I don't see why we ought to spend 60-million dollars, or whatever the number is, on something he happens to regard as exotic. Why is the Navy spending 3-million dollars a year on geology, for god's sake!" What do you say? "You know, you are thinking of geology as land; this is the bottom of the ocean." "Well, why in the hell do we want to study the bottom of the ocean; we are not going to go there, you know." You say, "Well! You know, you might." And then these things come out in funny ways. It turned out that a good knowledge of the bottom of the ocean turned out to be rather interesting for Polaris Navigation at one point. Enough so, that a lot about the bottom of the ocean was, and probably still is, classified, because it can be used in interesting ways.
Hmm. What effect did the Mansfield Amendment have on these arguments for the relative importance of research and development in the military, especially in your experience?
Well, my feeling was that the Mansfield Amendment, by rights, should have been regarded as irrelevant.
A pun intended. In the first place it got dubbed Mansfield because Mansfield introduced it. Apparently, as I understand it, there was a retired Air Force guy on his staff. (I hate the fact that it was an Air Force guy. It sounds terrible. It happens to be an Air Force guy; it could have been a retired Navy man or a civilian or something.) A staff member who had been very upset in the service by some of the dingbat things he thought AFOSR was doing. AFOSR is a perfectly good outfit, and they usually do sensible things; but he had been impressed by something. He wanted to get that stuff knocked off. That, plus feeding on Mansfield's feeling in the sixties — I guess it was the sixties — about the military and the universities, and so on.
All of that came together in the Mansfield Amendment. I'll tell you exactly how we handled it. It is interesting. The first point, in my view, is the following: There is no such thing as a piece of research which I cannot, or most trained people cannot, look at and say almost instantly, "This is why it has a military implication." similarly, it is also the case that I have never seen a piece of military development that I couldn't look at and say, "Gee, I can do an interesting science or engineering job with that; the two feed on each other." They are not distinguishable in any sense, other than a kind of untestable theological sense. We were asked by Johnny Foster's office, I guess, to take the Mansfield Amendment and go through some drill which will weed out the "irrelevant" items.
Yes, this is what I want to find out.
All right. My staff got together. We just sat in my office. There was a kind of round low coffee table, and some reasonably comfortable chairs around it. That was part of the way the office was set up. Somebody brought in the 2500, or the 6,000, or whatever the number was, of sheets of paper on which the projects in the Navy R and D budget were described. We said, "We're going to sit here and we'll go through them one by one. And we'll put the obviously relevant ones in that pile; and the obviously irrelevant ones in that other pile; and the ones we can't agree on in this pile. And we'll filter them again, and we'll see what we get."
Who prepared those pieces of paper?
Well, these were the standard pieces of paper that every project had. There was a form that every project had to prepare, which was the project description from which one prepared the budget material, and the congressional testimony. The project manager, whoever it is, does it. If it's ONR, it's the ONR office that's got the project or the contract. There is a little bit of ambiguity as to what is a project, and so on, but we can leave out those details. There we were with those thousands of pieces of paper. Well, the main thing we learned out of this was that project managers do a terrible job of describing what they are doing! Half the titles have nothing to do with what the real thing is. When you read the description you discover what it really is. So one result was, "For god's sake, write these things so they mean something, and put titles on them that make some sense."
Were they good advertisers of the programs, or bad advertisers?
Well, they were poor advertisers in the sense that most of the project managers are interested in the project, not in filling out the forms, and they do not, again contrary to the views of bureaucracy, spend their life trying to rewrite their job description and their project form for a promotion; they spend their lives trying to get the job done. You know: "We've got to fill out the form 246 or whatever it is, again! Oh my god, this is the annual. Well, let's do it." So someone does it, and does it badly. Sometimes it was so badly done, by the way, that somebody would have to go out of the room and call somebody up and say, "What the hell does this mean? What is your project?" But not too much of that. We went through it. And in the first run, we discovered that there was not a single project for which somebody on the staff didn't say, "I know why, I'll tell you who that's important to," and we'd say, "No, we've got to cut it; we've got to offer something up, fellows. Nobody would believe us if we come out of this and say, 'I'm sorry. It's all relevant.'" We went through and we found a couple of sacrifices which were things of which you could say, "We understand why they are potentially interesting and important. We understand how you could use it, but we think it's not really on target, or there are three other ways to do this. and so we don't have to do that one."
Is there any chance you recall which ones you finally looked at?
I really don't know. It might be possible to find out, in the sense that there was some paper trail that led back to the Congress that said, "We've done this exercise." led to DDR and E and then to the Congress, but whether anybody has that, I don't know.
And, you know, I just went back and reported. And of course. most people who have been in the military R and D business for a long time, or any time at all realize, really realize, that almost nothing is done which turns out really to be irrelevant. The laser: one comes back to the laser, a beautiful example. The laser started by, I guess, it was Norman Ramsey asking what it meant in statistical mechanics to have a negative temperature. I mean, now here's this guy going around giving lectures, saying, "Now here's a situation in which you have a negative temperature. What do you mean by a negative temperature? Well, you mean that the distribution of states, instead of being: exp(-hv/rt) is inverted." One interpretation is the temperature is negative. People said, "what the hell is that all about." and furthermore, "he's doing it on an ONR contract," which he was. You could make a big thing out of that. I would have given the wrong rationale at that time. I would have talked about the thermodynamics of optical systems and propellants and chemistry, and so on. These things are easy if you think about them for a certain time. Remember the very famous one: why does the Army spend whatever it was spending, $50,000 a year, to study why potatoes turn brown?
Oh, you mentioned this.
Remember the Secretary of the Army was grilled on this in an earlier era, long before any of this about the irrelevance of research, and he gave the wrong answer, as I recall. He said, well, I'll have to find out about it, Sir," and Congress knocked the project off. The right answer is simple. The right answer is: the U.S. Army feeds a million people a day, feeds them potatoes three times a day, and you have to allocate something like, I don't know, half a pound of potatoes per man per day. That's 500,000 pounds of potatoes a day, and potatoes cost ten cents a pound, that's $50,000 a day. My estimate is that we're throwing away potatoes because they turn brown in the process to the tune of 5%; that's $2,500 a day. You think I shouldn't spend $50,000 on the possibility of finding out how to save $2500 a day. You don't believe in saving money. In fact, that's probably correct. I suspect that's exactly why Natick (I'm sure it was Natick). Natick Labs, was studying that. Now, Natick Labs studies zaney things like that, but they have been the producer of the most money-saving and logistics-improving foods for Navy, Army, Air Force and NASA in the whole history of the business. I mean, they do the stuff that other people regard as dumb problems, but they do it in a very sensible and sophisticated way. Money well spent.
The trouble is, it's very hard to get a trail on many of these technology developments that will enable you to prove the economics. That's not a statement about technology. It's a statement about the state of affairs in the methodology of proving anything in economics. It's also a statement about the nature of the subject. It is hard to produce a trail from finding something you can label as the discovery. Because it is usually not; sometimes it is "the discovery," but frequently, even if it is as much "the discovery" as Alexander Bell on the telephone, you've got a trail behind it which goes to lead acid batteries, and electricity going through wires, and Benjamin Franklin, and carbon granule resisters, and so on. He, too, was using technology in a new way. Then you have a long trail after him of, why was it introduced, and why wasn't it, which has quixotic and peculiar and idiosyncratic things in it. It's just hard to prove. There's a high noise level.
But when you are in the business of managing development, where do you draw the line? Where do you say, "Aha, we can use that?"
All right, let me tell you my model. My model is a model out of electrical engineering, really. (My consciousness of this model came late in the process, but it was what I thought to be a signal detector in effect.) I have a very high noise level of presentations and sale pitches and information, and stuff I see in journals, and things that people want to do. Out of it I want to produce products for the Navy, knowledge products and development products. I'm trying to detect those things in the stream that for one reason or another I'm convinced are going to be important products. In fact, the whole signal theory now becomes operative. I have a problem of missed detections. That is, things I should have realized were going to be important, or that would have been important, that I missed. I have false alarms; namely, the things I look at and say, "That's terribly important," which turn out to have no significance whatever. I have correct detections: "Hey, that's important." and it really is. I also have correct dismissals: "Don't tell me about that, it's not important," and it turns out it really wasn't important. You have all of that. In fact, you could make a quantitative theory of this and interpret it in terms of signal statistics. and so on. You are also inventing; there's also a reflexive effect. I reserve the right, all managers do, to have an idea of my own occasionally. I wasn't just a filter for other people's ideas.
I was putting something into it. One of the things, by the way, that an ASNR and D can put into it is that he probably has a broader view of what's going on in Navy technology and R and D than anybody else. Occasionally he can say, "Hey, that fits with that." or he can understand the connection between communications and navigation. That's an easy one. It is not always easy to see the connections between a communications system and what kind of explosive you should use in a missile, but there can be a connection in the sense that the communication system means the logistics is different, and therefore, you could design the system differently and use a different explosive than you could otherwise. I'll give you an extreme example: I am now chairman of a panel on Naval Aviation for the Naval Studies Board of the National Research Council. One of the things I have introduced for the group to look at is something I'm working on, which I call "Make It Work." which really has to do with the question of "how can you manipulate questions of reliability and maintenance, not in terms of an individual project, but in terms of the Navy logistics and procurement system, so that you optimize over the whole system, and not just the object." For example: if you can make some electronics so reliable that you don't have to worry about repairing it in the fleet: suppose you could make all your electronics that reliable. That might be worth a lot of money.
You might be buying a very expensive machine, but you might not have to have any electronic technicians at sea. You might not have to have spare parts at sea. It might reflect all the way back through the ships that carry spare parts, and the depots that have spare parts, and the training system, and so on. Nobody ever seems to look at the system that way. That's not the fault of the people so much as the fact that you have to divide everything up into pieces; and what you tell every individual manager is, "Hey, optimize your piece." A project manager gets no great credit for fixing up a logistics problem over there, for changing an ammunition ship. He doesn't get credit for that. He gets credit for making his ammunition cheaper. And nobody will ever know if he made the ammunition ship more expensive. The system isn't designed that way, but —
But the assistant secretary for R and D —
Could sometimes see that. What I've just given is an example of something he couldn't do much about. He didn't control the whole budget, he controls some of it. You can't trade off R and D versus personnel, or personnel versus logistics. Nobody can, because the system doesn't allow it to be done.
Okay. Let's talk about some of the other specific things that you worked on while you were Assistant Secretary. You were involved in the Law of the Sea Conferences.
Yes, some of them.
Oh no, that was more during your UN years.
That was more in the UN years, but there was some beginning in the Navy period. I don't remember when all that started. Certainly, it was starting then, because I remember testifying before Clayborn Pell on the Navy view on whether there should be a Law of Sea treaty. I remember exactly what the tenor of the discussion was. Clay Pell, who knows better, because he's a Coast Guard Reserve Officer, was saying, "We have to have an international law of the sea conference and treaty, because there is no law that applies to the sea." I was saying, "Well, golly, Sir, there's 3,000 years of customary practice and common law. It's an old body of admiralty law." He was saying, or somebody was saying, "But for example, we don't even know what the status of law on an oil platform at sea is." And I was saying, "No, I don't think that's right." They'd say, "What is the status?" "Well, it flies the flag of the United States. My presumption is, it is at the very least, a ship of the United States; and all the law that applies to any criminal case that happens on the U.S. flag ship will apply." It was that kind of discussion. My attitude was then and still is, that it is probably not a good idea to try to put the legal framework in place before the thing happens. It's really not a terribly good idea. You ought to think about the problems, think about the contingencies, but if you enact a lot of laws for something nobody's ever tried, you are probably going to have the wrong legal framework. You'll discover you've got a funny set of laws that really are doing the wrong things.
Does this apply to the present interest in developing a space law?
I feel that way about it. I think it is worth discussing.
But I don't think it's worth having a lot of legislation for something that hasn't happened. I was asked for my attitude on the famous Moon Treaty.
I guess, what I testified was that I — what was the phrase? I had a lovely phrase. It was something like "massive unconcern" or "monumental lack of interest." You can look it up. It's in the testimony, but essentially, it meant I had absolutely no interest in it whatsoever on the grounds that, in the first place, if we had a treaty now, whatever the treaty was, it would be ten years before anybody cares. What will really happen is, people will do what seems sensible. If the treaty is in the way, the U.S. will walk out of the treaty and insist on having another treaty. I mean, all treaties — people forget — all treaties have escape clauses. I don't know of a treaty that has an escape clause that has more than a year's notice. You know, a treaty is a treaty. It's not legislation forever. It's like talking about the uncontrollables in the U.S. budget. The only reason they are uncontrollable is that Congress isn't willing to pass another law. You know, they are not constitutional. Even the Constitution is changeable.
A law's going to develop. Only it has to develop more naturally than that, I think.
You also developed, or aided in the use of sonar for fisheries. Collaboration with the Department of Interior. Is that anything major and something we should talk about?
No. I wouldn't call it major. The fisheries guys realized, or maybe we told them, or maybe they finally listened, that they could do better with sonar than they had done. Of course, then they came and said, "You guys know a lot about sonar. Can we get access? It's terribly classified, we understand." We were saying, "Well, that kind of sonar hasn't been terribly classified for 15 years." I don't remember what lab they went to. They could have gone to any one of several and worked with them. YYou asked me about laboratories before.
Right I mentioned China Lake, and we were going to talk about NRL. We also have the Mansfield Amendment in there. Certainly, at most of these places some pure research was being done.
But not much.
I spent some effort trying to get some of them to do more real research. Incidentally, let's deal with the question of pure research and basic research.
I insist that those are not equivalent terms. Basic really refers to the question of: how broad is the result of the research? How many things does it underlie or apply to? The most basic kind of thing is relativity. It changes your view of everything, in a sense. Then the perception of the negative temperature thing that I mentioned. That's pretty basic because it illuminates a whole area having to do with radiation and matter: and out of it you get a lot of stuff. That has nothing to do with whether it's pure or not. There is a lot of basic research which, in fact, has come out of applied motivation.
I see. Sure.
That was very characteristic of the 19th century theoretical physics. A lot of the applied mathematics (that in itself says something) which is used as fundamental physics came out of engineering problems. Some of it came out of hydrodynamic questions and some of it came out of acoustics questions. Rayleigh's Theory of Sound broke a lot of ground in applied mathematics; he invented perturbation theory, for example. He was trying to solve problems like the vibration of bells, as well as theoretical problems. I tend to say, "Look, pure has to do with what your motivation is. Are you doing it because you want the answer for something else, or are you doing just because you are following the subject?" Basic is a different question. It has to do with: is it fundamental or is it just a solution to a problem that you happen to want. I am getting nowhere with this lecture, people just go on talking about pure and basic.
You mean, while you were in the Navy, did you have reason to discuss these nuances with —
Oh sure, because I had given a lecture even at ARPA having to do with impure research. The Case for Impure Research —
Yes, right. That's one of the —
Okay, and that set of arguments carried on thereafter. The Navy Laboratories were then, and are now, technically very competent. To the extent to which there were problems, they didn't have to do with technical competence, they did in a sense have to do with relevance. I closed one laboratory completely.
That was Hudson.
No, I closed one Navy laboratory completely. There was a place called the Navy Radiological Defense Laboratory, which was in the San Francisco Navy Yard, a big laboratory, a couple of thousand people, as I recall. There was always pressure to close something, so that was part of it; but part of it was just looking over the Navy laboratory system. It was a laboratory in which there was competent technical work going on, but you looked at the laboratory and said, "What does that laboratory do?" The first thing you discovered was, it hadn't been a radiological defense laboratory for a number of years. It had that work in it still, it had started with that mission, and it was doing a little bit of everything, and a lot of what it was doing was interesting, but it was not likely to be very central to the Navy's concerns. There were one or two things in it, I don't remember what, that were very good, quite important, should be preserved; but in the end, we closed the laboratory, took the things that looked most important and put them some place else, and just abolished the place. There were some biological things that were important.
What were they set up to do as a radiological outfit?
Originally, they were set up in the first full flush of nuclear war discussions, to do the physics and engineering of protecting our ships against radiation in event of a nuclear war.
People have lost interest in that, and I have never had any interest in it. I just don't believe that that's a very sensible enough scenario to spend a lot of effort in doing something about it. Now I get lots of arguments. I may be wrong, but that was my perception of it and that was what I did. I tried to close another laboratory, which was the one at Panama City. In fact, I got within 24 hours of closing it.
What stopped you?
Bob Sikes, Congressman Sikes. It is in his district and it was a straight political thing. Again, it was not that it was incompetent. It was that it was a mixed bag of funny stuff which seemed to me could just as well be done elsewhere, and we didn't need that place. And I got to the point where I had the Secretary of the Navy's concurrence, and it was going to be announced 24 hours later. Bob Sikes got to everybody and put the political screws on, so we reversed field. I said, "Okay, if I can't get rid of it, then goddammit, I'm going to fix it" (laughs) and we moved some things in there, and changed directors, and did a bunch of other things.
In the case of the San Francisco facility, was there any cry against that, in support of it? Did you —
There was some internal to the Navy, but they never got any political interest. It was a weak case. We weren't closing the yard. We were closing something in the yard. In the case of Bob Sikes' thing that was all that was in his district. And after all, he was the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, that we dealt with. I nearly did it, but not quite.
What was your contact with direct funding sources, as Assistant Secretary for R and D? Did you testify any?
Oh yes. I defended the budget before two authorization and two appropriation subcommittees, plus other committees that had particular interest in, or had to do with, the budget.
Okay. So you were well familiar with this whole process, because —
Oh yes, I was.
The whole process, so it was much like what you were doing a few years later in NASA.
Oh yes, it's very similar. You had to construct the budget. You had to decide what to put into it. You had to defend it internally. I had to defend it inside the Navy and with DDR and E but not with OMB, because the Secretary and DDR and E did that with OMB.
I had to carry it before Congress and get them to appropriate it.
Okay. You have a number of publications during your years as Assistant Secretary. The first was: "A Concept of a Large Aperture Seismic Array."
Well, that was left over from ARPA. That just happened to get published later.
Yes, and we have already talked about that kind of stuff.
We talked about that.
Then there was a paper with James Snodgrass, E. Wenk, S.R. Keim and Robert Morris.
Keim and Bob Morris, yes.
On the University's Role in (I presume oceanographic) Research."
I don't remember it.
This was an IEEE.
Oh yes, I do remember it. But I don't remember either the paper or how we put it together, how the collaboration worked.
Yes, soon after that you wrote a paper yourself: "The Navy Counting on the Universities For Help in Oceanographic Research." and that was published in Navy, Volume 10, in 1967. Does that bring you any?
Yes, somebody wrote it, and I edited it and put my name to it, but I'm not sure. A lot of these — I don't know about that one — but a lot of these were speeches which were taped, and which I then edited. That's a characteristic. I very seldom write a speech. I normally give it, and if it's something which is intended to be archival, I ask for a verbatum transcript and edit it into something publishable. A lot of the published stuff bears the scars of that. It still looks like a speech, rather than an essay.
Well, that's a good technique to get your points across, because you did give speeches on systems engineering.
Yes, that turned into a paper in Spectrum.
Right. And "Emerging Shape of Policies for the Acquisition of Major Systems." That's a fascinating one.
Yes, I gave a lot of talks. There was one at Hershey, Pennsylvania. There was a big DOD procurement discussion at Hershey, Pennsylvania. I don't remember the date. And I cannot find the manuscript to that, by the way, although, the points made in it were points I made in a speech at NASA last year, which were then published by the journal of the procurement association I talked to. The guy who would tell you about it is Stu Evans.
Stu Evans: he's the procurement guy at NASA, a retired Rear Admiral, Navy, whom I had known in the Navy as a procurement man, although I didn't bring him to NASA. I was delighted to find him there. Well, I got up at this Hershey thing. Somehow or other, it was known that I had peculiar ideas about procurement, and Tom Morris was the DOD guy who was in charge of procurement.
It wasn't Tom Morris.
Pete Malloy. No, Pete Malloy was the guy who got Tom Morris to put me on the program. I was the lead speaker, and I essentially said, "Look, you guys don't know what the hell you're doing. The Emperor has no clothes, in R and D procurement at any rate." I went through a long litany of what their problem was. The key central point was: the procurement system is designed to buy shoes, it is designed to optimize the problem of buying something which exists. The shoes exist. You can test them, you can look at them, and there you are. When you go to buy R and D, you've got no shoes. You are not buying an object; you are buying an objective. You're not trying to exchange money for something already available. The gospel at that time was that the fixed price contract is the advanced contract: the cost-type contract is the rudimentary thing we ought to get rid of. I simply said, "Look, a fixed-price contract is a triviality. It's not advanced." It's childish. You've got the shoes. I've got the money. I like the shoes. You like the money. We look at the objects; we trade them, trivial.
You can't use a fixed-price contract for R and D. It's a silly idea, because you have no shoes. You have no objects. You only have an objective you are trying to get to. I elaborated on this whole process, and why fixed-price contracts were simply not going to work in that business, because you couldn't write down what it was the price was supposed to be fixed for! You couldn't do total package procurement, which was the other gospel of the era. Namely, in one contract you buy the R and D and the development, and the first production, and you have an option for second production, and so on. How are you going to do that? It's going to be seven years before you come to the thing you want to produce. You haven't any idea what it's going to be. You're going to write a contract now to buy it? It's just a silly idea, but it was the gospel of the time, and I was the skunk at the garden party. You know, (laughs) they got up after the talk and said, "It's very interesting, but now, let's get to the serious business of deciding how to do procurement." (laughs)
I'm fascinated. It seems like what you're saying is such an obvious, logical thing. Why didn't people see this?
Well, who was I talking to? I was talking to a group of people who have come up through the business and economics route, for whom R and D is a king of exotic thing done by nuts, anyway. Here is another nut trying to explain to us that what we know is true in business, isn't true in R and D.
Don't they have R and D in business, too?
The R and D people in business suffer the same way from their financial and procurement people. You know, most of the accounting and economics and procurement systems grow out of a world of certainties, not out of a world uncertainties. The R and D and the technology part is often off in a corner of the corporation, and is quite frankly considered a pain in the neck. You know, the idea is those guys won't stay put. They keep wanting to change things. They have these funny ideas that you want to use uncertain systems in procurement, and so they can't deliver on time. You've got to cage those guys, put them in a box to so you can do proper business. The fact that the whole business depends on what they do gets lost sight of. I'm exaggerating, but I'm not exaggerating too much. It's clear, for example, from the past ten years, that General Motors and Ford came under the control of business people who, in fact, had a whole misperception of what the business of General Motors and Ford was. They didn't do their R and D homework. Well, what I'm pretty sure happened in the case of General Motors was that the R and D part of the system was happily doing its R and D homework, but they were sort of walled off from the rest of the system, and the real stuff they wanted to put into the cars wasn't put in. I'm not sure that's the case. I'm sort of guessing, but I think that's right, and I've talked to some people who gave me some internal evidence that suggests that it, indeed, was right.
Are there any things from your Navy years you think we should still cover? We did talk before about the demise of the Hudson Labs?
Yes. There's only one anecdotal thing which I might mention. which is not directly on the line of development but may be useful. It was a peculiar experience. It didn't have anything to do with R and D, but was interesting, nonetheless. You remember that at one point. Paul Nitze, who was Secretary of the Navy, was appointed Deputy Secretary of Defense, and a man named John McNaughton had been nominated to be Secretary of the Navy, and was killed in an airplane crash, just about when the transition was to take place. The circumstances were such that nobody was willing to let Paul stay as Secretary of the Navy. They wanted him to be Deputy Secretary of Defense. So he had a transition. Meanwhile, the Undersecretary of the Navy, who was Bob Baldwin, had also resigned to go back to business. There was no Secretary of the Navy and there was no Undersecretary of the Navy. I was acting Secretary of the Navy for a couple of weeks. Chuck Baird, who was going to be Undersecretary of the Navy, was on leave. He came back and was Acting Secretary, and I was Acting Undersecretary, and still had my own job.
It was an interesting period. One of the interesting things that I want to mention is that at that time there was no Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. It hadn't been created yet. One of the things which is assigned to the Secretary of the Navy by law, and which I did as acting Undersecretary, was being the final appeal authority for clemency in the Navy justice system. This is something which, by law, belongs to the Secretary of the Navy. There is no appeal court. He is the final appeal for clemency, and that had been delegated to the Undersecretary of the Navy. The aide came in one evening and said, "Look, the Judge Advocate General wants to talk to you." He said, "If you don't want to do this, we can just put all these cases aside until there is an Undersecretary, but I would like you to undertake this task." I said, "Well, what is it? Tell me what I'm going to do?" He said, "Well, I have a pile of cases in which the clemency board has made recommendations to the Secretary. I will provide any legal or other advice you want, but your task is to be the final judge of authority, the person who says this guy gets clemency and this guy doesn't get clemency." "Okay," I said, "If that's what I'm supposed to do, then that's what I'm supposed to do. Trot them in." They started bringing me piles of folders. I got a pile of half a dozen thick folders which were cases for clemency or not, and the recommendation of the board, and the recommendation of the Judge Advocate General, and whatever.
You know, I didn't know what to expect. First case I opened is the case of a guy who was in federal prison for the murder of his Korean girl friend when he was assigned in Korea, and I don't remember the exact circumstances; and he has served five years or six years of a twenty-year term. Do you remit the term, or what? And then there was a whole procession of these sorts of cases — rape, accusations of rape, murder, fraud, robbery and so on. I suddenly, for one time in my life, found myself a judge. It was a very interesting experience, because I found myself going back, in a way, to my religious background, and my father's passion for justice which I mentioned. I found myself saying, "Okay, I'm supposed to do this, and I read through the goddam files and made a judgment on them. Usually it was easy to see why the board of clemency made a particular recommendation and that was it, but sometimes I didn't agree. I remember a Marine Corps case which actually got to the point of the Commandant coming to me to ask me to change my mind, and I just absolutely wouldn't because I thought it was a very bad case. It was a very interesting experience. And I discovered something else which I suppose ought to go into the historical record. I don't know what it reflects. And that is that the JAG staff —
The Judge Advocate General's staff, the lawyers, was delighted with this, because it seemed that for a long time the tendency had been to sign off on the board of clemency report without really reading the file. They felt it wasn't that they wanted to tell anybody, "it's important, and you ought to read the file." The idea that somebody just sort of automatically took these files, and read every one, and took it seriously, they liked. It may have changed the tradition a little bit. I have the impression that I had established the fact that it was serious, and that thereafter, other people took it seriously, too. It was an interesting experience, because it was out of my line.
Yes, it was a very interesting thing to be involved in.
Well, let's discuss how you came to leave the Navy for the United Nations Environmental Program.
Yes, okay. Well, let me say first, of course, you will have noticed that I made a transition in there, across a national election boundary, and in fact, went from a Democratic administration, having been — I suppose, a congenital Democrat into a Republican administration, although philosophically I tend to sit there, too. I was interested in continuing a number of things, and so I served — I guess — two and a half years in the Johnson Administration, so I made that transition. The real reason for leaving was that, gee, I'd served six and a half years; that's a long time. In fact, it turned out to be the longest time any Assistant Secretary of the Navy, I think, has served in office since Franklin Roosevelt, when the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was The Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and there wasn't anybody else.
You know, I just felt now, I could go on longer. I really don't want to be the longest-lived Assistant Secretary of the Navy. There comes a time, and there is never a good time, when you say if I don't shift now, I'll then probably be staying another four years, and that's going to be ten and a half years as Assistant Secretary. That's too long in the tooth. I just decided that that was it. I was going to shift into something else, at the end of this. It wasn't that I was bored, or that I didn't have interesting things to do, or that my work was completed. It was just time. In fact, towards the end of that time, Elliott Richardson, who was going to be Secretary of Defense and who, I guess, was Secretary of Defense for an "augenblick," interviewed me and asked me to become Director of Defense Research and Engineering. But by this time I had made arrangements for the UN thing. I didn't want to be DDR and E anyway, for a variety of reasons. Among other things, I didn't think I could afford it. The salaries had plateaued for a long while, and so I didn't think that was a good idea. I didn't want to do it, anyway, for a lot of reasons, and had determined to do something else. So I said "no" to that.
Now, how I got to the UN thing: I had determined sometime in the summer of '72 that I'm going to leave. I didn't have anything in mind. I was a member of a U.S. exchange delegation to look at oceanography in the Soviet Union. Bill Nierenberg was the chairman, and I had agreed to go do this, because I had continued to be active in the ocean with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission delegation leadership, and so on. I was on the plane with the delegation, going to the Soviet Union. There were two other delegations on that airplane, and I found myself sitting in a seat next to Bob White, who was then the Administrator of NOAA. And we got to talking: "What are you going to do? Leave the administration?" He thought he might leave; but he might stay on. (In the end, he stayed on.) What am I going to do? Well, I'm going to leave. And what are you going to do? Well, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm kind of looking around.
I'm confused about one thing. That was the end of Nixon's first administration, into the second, so even with that kind of change, same person, you were leaving?
Yes, yes, but there were other reasons. I just decided that was the time.
That was enough.
That was enough.
Okay. There was Watergate and everything like that.
Yes, but Watergate, I guess, hadn't really quite erupted. There were rumors of something, but nothing had much happened. There were other changes. I had served with Mel Laird and Dave Packard, and they were leaving. There was kind of an "all change," anyway, and so there it was. Bob White asked what are you going to do?" and I said, "Well, I don't know. I'm going to do something, but I don't know what. I'm looking at this and looking at that." I don't even remember what it was at that point. And he said, "Why don't you take the UN environment job." To which I said, "What UN job?" He told me that he had been involved some in the Stockholm Conference, and so on. He told me this, and so I said. "Well, that sounds kind of interesting." He said, "Well, Chris Herter (who was then the Assistant to the Secretary of State for Oceans and Environments, but it later turned into an Assistant Secretary of State position) is on board, and Shirley Temple Black is on board, and she was heavily involved in the Stockholm thing. Why don't you talk to Chris about it? Nothing much else to do on a long airplane ride to Moscow anyway.
They were all on this plane?
They were all on this plane, you see. There were three delegations on the flight. I didn't know what they were going for. At any rate, they were all on the plane, and so I had a preliminary conversation with Chris while we were on the plane, and Bob White suggested I would be a good guy. Now, you understand this is a UN position, but the way you get into a senior UN position is that your government recommends you for it.
In fact, the politics of this one was that it was clear that there was going to be a senior American somewhere in the UNEP thing, because the U.S. was going to be a major supporter of it.
This was UNEP?
UNEP, United States Environment Programme. I'll come to why the spelling is peculiar that is in a moment. The UN Environment Programme. After some discussion with Chris Herter in the State Department, and with others, it became clear that I was acceptable to the new administration, that it wanted to use me, and that I might be a good representative. See, there was a senior American post. The head of it was clearly going to be Maurice Strong, who was a Canadian. The number two guy therefore, could not be from the Western Bloc, but had to be from the Third World. That turned out to be an Egyptian, Mustafa Tolba. Then it was clear that one of the Assistant Executive Directors, an ASG post, of which there were going to be two, could be, should be, an American. I talked with Chris Herter and I read some of the Stockholm literature, and I went and talked with Maurice Strong, and everybody said, "Fine." This was all worked out in the fall, and my adventures with the UN began Inauguration Day, because I reported to work in Geneva the next day.
You were stationed in Geneva?
Well, the intent was for the headquarters to be somewhere, and at the time I agreed to take the post, everybody thought the headquarters were going to be in Geneva, and between that time and the time I reported aboard, it became clear the headquarters were going to be in Nairobi.
Right, that's what's on record.
Compared to some other places it could have been in, it was a very fine place. I remember a particular weekend, when we were packing the house in Bethesda, when Jessica and I were going around in our separate orbits packing things and moving things, and meeting occasionally and saying, "Nairobi! Nairobi? Well, why not; we'll try anything, why not Nairobi?" It turned out to be a fine place.
Yes. It's still quite a change.
Still quite a change. But there was no headquarters in Nairobi. The organization was established on the lst of January. I joined it on the 20th of January, and in Geneva, because no negotiations or arrangements had been made with the Kenyan Government (the host government) or anything. We didn't move to Nairobi until August. Then for six months or so we were in Geneva. What happened was that I was in Geneva. We hadn't sold the house, and the family was in the United States. The house got sold in June, and everything got shipped to Nairobi. Then, in June, the family joined me in Geneva and we lived there in June, July and part of August, and then moved to Nairobi. It wasn't quite that bad, because with a brand new organization, with the UN being in New York, I had enough people legitimately tell me, "You've got to go to Washington, you've got to go to New York." So I was back here a few times. In effect, I left selling the house to Jess, and so on.
You have children now?
How old were they at that time?
Well, let me see. They were born in '60 and '63, so Lizzie was 12, I guess, and Marjorie was 10. We transitioned them in school as well, which meant going to an unknown thing called the Nairobi International School.
Was it UN based?
No. it wasn't. it was a curious object which was run by a U.S. corporation in San Diego. It was essentially an American school, although it was labeled Nairobi International School.
A private school?
A private school.
What was the organization? I'm just curious.
Well, it was a thing called the International University or something, which I had never heard of, which I think was really just set up for the purpose of running a couple of schools in oddball places that couldn't otherwise have a school.
I never had cause to find out much about it. The school was not as good as we would have liked, and better than we expected. It had the advantage of being multi-national and sort of exotic. You know, being in Nairobi and doing what could be done with the school made up for whatever deficiencies of library and faculty there sometimes were. The kids did all right. They were put a year ahead when they got into that school, which was probably more a tribute to the private school they went to here than the school there. We assumed they would lose that year when they went back to the US, whenever it was, but as a matter of fact, they didn't. They each ended up a year ahead.
I see. That's interesting. Well, your position there, your role, your duties, your responsibilities. What were you up to?
I was Assistant Executive Director in charge of program, and there was a fund, a voluntary fund of money, which was handled by the Assistant Executive Director for the fund. I was responsible for the program of the organization, both that which would be carried out without any money, and that which would spend the money. It was entirely different than the ASNR and D, because it precisely split those powers. I was responsible for carrying out a program. The other guy was responsible for watching over the money, but that really was not the issue. The difficulty is that the problem was that nobody wanted a gigantic new operational UN organization. The idea was that this organization, which is a perfectly good idea, should be a leverage organization. It should be the world's conscience and operate only in the sense of getting other people to do things about the global environment.
There is a very complicated history to what this word environment meant, but it meant more than most Americans think of as environment. It meant not only pollution questions and nature conservancy questions, and all of the things we normally think of as environment, but it also meant a collection of issues that had to do with: How does the whole question of environmental preservation, and all of those issues fit in with the economic development of the third world? Is it advantageous, disadvantageous, and so on? After all, the UN is increasingly a great machine for doing two things: a little bit of peace-keeping, and a lot of economic development. That was the issue. The way we were supposed to operate was being invented. Stockholm had a conference, but it was a political event more than anything else, and it produced a report which had all sorts of odd things in it, all sorts of sensible things in it, too much in it, and here we were a new organization. We had to invent something to do in the way of operating, and that way was going to be both by persuading governments to do things in their own programs, and more importantly, by operating through the other UN agencies. You have to understand that the UN is not a thing, it's a complex, which we normally think of as the United Nations. There are a whole collection of things called the specialized agencies that constitute the United Nations System, but are not part of the United Nations. The Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, are separate treaty bodies, most of which antedate the UN. They have their own international treaties, and their own governing bodies, and their own budgetary systems.
They are attached to the UN almost by courtesy, but increasingly by administrative arrangements and conclaves. They all view the Secretary General as first among equals — that kind of thing. It can be very complex. Now, UNEP is an interesting example of the confusion, the complication. It was set up as part of the United Nations under the Economic and Social Council, which is in effect a committee of the whole of the General Assembly, but with its own 57-nation governing body. Most of its spendable money came from a voluntary fund, and a little bit of its central core administrative money, but not enough, in the UN budget. It had an environment coordinating board chaired by the Executive Director of the UNEP, but the board consisted of the Secretary General or Directors General of the other agencies of the UN system, not including the Secretary General of the UN. This board reported to the Economic and Social Council. Politically, it was very complex.
The executive director is essentially in the position of Secretariat to the governing council. Now, the first thing I had to realize, not learn, but realize, against all my instincts, was that this is not a relationship like the President and the Congress. This UN arrangement is a system that comes out of parliamentary thinking, and the governing body is all, and the executive is the secretariat to the governing body of government. It does not have a balance of powers role. It doesn't have a separate constitutional policy. It draws its powers from the governing council. That is the way it is legally, and it takes a little getting used to for an American who hasn't lived in the parliamentary system.
And your experience was getting used to that.
I had to get used to that. I had to find a way to operate, and I had to accommodate to the UN time scale.
You were working with a program, but you didn't have any control over getting the money, or tracking the money, or anything like that?
Well, that I worked on with my colleague.
Did you work well together?
Yes, that was straightforward. My colleague was a man named Paul Berthoud, who is the senior Swiss in the United Nations, remembering that Switzerland is not a member of the United Nations.
Oh, I see (laughs).
He's a very, very fine fellow, marvelous man, a long-time UN civil servant, very wise guy, good friend. We worked well together. We had our difficulties. The difficulties are more caused by the peculiarities of the UN system.
I know that you left, indicating a certain amount of job dissatisfaction.
Well, I ended in sheer frustration. Now, maybe my time scale was wrong, but I got to a point where Icould not take the managerial situation, which was partly UN and partly the peculiarities of the people who were involved at UNEP.
Was it because it was too separated from anything scientific?
No. No, it just took too goddamn long to do anything! And too much Mickey Mouse. But the Mickey Mouse was partly UN, and partly a reflection of the very odd managerial styles of the guys I was working for. In some ways they are brilliant fine people, and in some ways it's just an ambiance in which an American manager has trouble. You can't have an organization with a hundred professionals that has two separate levels of management committee at the top of it, with an executive director who is away 97% of the time. I kept the statistics one year.
Who, nonetheless, has it as his policy that the management council, the senior management council, in his absence, can only make either unanimous decisions, or decisions inside previously established policy. Yes, that's just zaney!
Who was that executive director?
Maurice Strong who is in many ways a brilliant guy. He told me once, "You know, I don't like running organizations. I like setting them up." Mustafa Tolba, who's a very good friend, came out of an Egyptian management process. His idea of the reason why you have a meeting of the management group is so that he can come in and tell them what they are going to agree to. Well, you know, that's a different view of management from mine. One day, we literally found ourselves discussing the logistics problem of the toilet paper supply and how this was going to be procured. It just got so that the administration guy wasn't really allowed to do administration in our normal sense. I wasn't quite allowed to run free and develop a program within some guidelines. I told several people that I had not had so much assistance from my superiors since I was an apprentice graduate student! That was frustrating. Then it was very hard to get things done in the system. I lost my patience and my temper, and just came home one day and said, "I'm quitting, period."
Did you have any options?
You see, I had a three-year contract, and this was in the spring before the contract would have run out. Now, that made it more acute, because I could have signed another three years; but I felt either I leave now, or I commit myself to more time. I didn't think I wanted to spend another five or six years at this. I was impaled on the problem: what do we do with the kids' schooling? The contract ends in January. Either, I'm going to stay until the next fall, or this fall, and adding it all up I said, "The hell with it," even though we were extremely happy in Kenya. Really, from that personal point of view, we wanted to stay there. Not indefinitely, but a couple of years more, we would liked to have lived there. But I came home, just fed up, and said "I'm going to go in tomorrow, and I'm going to quit." My family was somewhat shocked, and so I didn't do it the next day, but I finally went in and said, "Look, I'm going to leave in the fall, and start looking for a spot." I guess I had a couple of feelers, talked to a couple of people.
Did you have an offer from Woods Hole?
No. I called Paul Fye, who was then the President and Director. Now he is the President and not the Director.
What's his last name?
Fye. All these things tie up together because I had known him for years from Woods Hole, but in fact, he went to Woods Hole from having been director of the White Oak Laboratory of the Naval Ordinance Lab, I guess it was called. I had simply called him and said, "Look, one of these days I'm going to leave here. I don't know when, but I'm not going to be here indefinitely. And one place I've always been interested in was Woods Hole. Is there anything doing?" And so, when I wanted to leave, he, in effect, constructed a job for me. We can come to that later, but that's what happened.
Well, is there anything else we should talk about during the UN years?
Well, we got a few things done. Probably the major thing was something Peter Thacher and I got done. Thacher should have been my assistant or my deputy, but couldn't be, because that would have two Americans together, and you couldn't do that politically, so he was the head of the Geneva office. But he and I conspired a lot on things to do, not because he was an American, but because he had some ideas, and I had some ideas and he had been in the UN and in the U.S. delegation to the UN for a long while, and understands the politics very well. We were able to organize a meeting which turned into some agreements on environmental control in the Mediterranean, which was very successful.
That's a very sensitive area, too, isn't it? There's been a lot of work.
Yes it was. Politically, it was fascinating, because we had a meeting to get together and figure out some actions for the control of pollution and environmental things in the Mediterranean.
There were so many different countries in a small space.
Well, let me tell you about that. It's interesting. FAO was against doing this, because they had a long term plan for doing this, and they were convinced that it was politically impossible to do anything short term.
Food and Agriculture Organization. We decided that we had done enough work so that it was politically ripe, and we called the meeting, which we held in Barcelona. The only one who was obstreperous was the delegate from FAO. He didn't really have the right of the floor, because it was a government deal, which obviously I couldn't chair, and we found a chairman. (And that's another interesting tale about chairmen in the UN.) Everybody came, except Albania, who never comes to anything. When I say everybody came, the Israelis were at the table, and all the Arab states around the Meditterranean were at the table. In spite of Cyprus difficulties, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus were present. They really thought there was an environmental problem, and for a thing like this, as long as it didn't have gigantic political visibility, particularly at home, so nobody could grab it and say, "Ah, the Tunisians sat at the same table with the Israelis," they would come and discuss it. We had one very nasty moment when the Greek and the Turk got into a slanging match across the table. It wasn't until the translations came clear, the interpretation came clear, that the trouble wasn't Greek and Turkish politics: they were both urban architects, and they were arguing about the right way to deal with the sewage system.
It was really quite successful, and some concrete actions came about. I enjoyed it. The problems were fascinating. I enjoyed a lot of it, but it came to the point where I lost my patience with managerial details. It may be that it was a mistake in the sense that, if I had slugged it out for another few months, I would have gotten more comfortable with it. But after all at the time I decided to leave, I had been at it for two years and a bit.
What fascinates me is that, while at Woods Hole, it appears that you worked on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, and I'm wondering what the connection is between your work at Woods Hole and your UN years where you were worried about waste.
Well, the radioactive waste thing wasn't really something I did at Woods Hole. It happened while I was at Woods Hole, but that was working on a national Research Council Committee, an academy committee. I was asked to chair the Committee on Radioactive Waste Disposal. I suppose, it was because of the geophysics connections, Woods Hole was a neutral place, and the UN connections, etc. You know, I guess by then I had some reputation in the technological community for being able to do that kind of thing, and I had been on NRC committees before.
During your UN years, were you concerned with radioactive waste disposal, or was it normally just urban problems?
Well, it was a peripheral issue. There was an issue; there was always a perpetual nuclear reactors versus coal, versus oil issue, but we were looking at a wider range of issues. That was just particular one.
I had some cooperation and some battles with the International Atomic Energy Agency, partly about waste, but not so much.
Is there anything else that we should cover on these years?
Well. I don't know that much of it is relevant, except in the sense that it gave me another window and view of a kind of political process, and was fascinating from that point. I got to know a good deal about international organizations and politics, and how they operate and so on. That was useful. I told people, since, that I sort of charged that whole UN period off to education. It was interesting.
Well, should we go on, then, to Woods Hole?
Okay, you indicated that they basically created a position for you.
Yes, well, they simply invented the position of Associate Director for Applied oceanography, which there had never been one, and it was not even clear they needed one, although there were some tasks to be done.
Was it the idea that you were going to go there just for a short period of time?
No. I'm not sure. It was my idea that I was going there forever. That was where I was going to be for quite a long while. There was, I think, something of an idea in Paul Fyels mind, and he suggested as much to me, though it was not cut and dried, that he was going to retire pretty soon, and that I was an obvious candidate to be director of the place. That didn't happen for a bunch of reasons. It will be interesting to talk to you further about it, perhaps. There was not a defined job. It was really, "Come here and see what there is to do." There were two specific things that were put in my portfolio. One was a small program in marine policy. It was a postdoctorate fellowship program with a couple of staff people, looking at the question of the law of the sea, science at sea, the whole implication of the ocean for national policy and vice versa, whatever the postdocs wanted to look at. A lot of them were lawyers and wanted to look at law of the sea, but there was an anthropologist and an economist who were looking at fisheries and the fisheries people, and so on.
You had already done some of that at the UN?
I had done some of that in the Navy, I had that program, and I took over supervision, although it wasn't strictly necessary, of the Ocean Engineering Department there. I spent a lot of effort trying to get some larger scale inter-disciplinary projects started. Partly to connect the policy people more with the science, partly to build up some of the engineering with some of the science, partly because the Institution needed to have a more interdisciplinary view of the scientific world. You know, oceanography tends to be, in spite of the fact that it involves large groups, very much a personal profession. They don't use engineering very well, by and large. It's more a "Mother, let me do it myself" sort of thing. I have characterized it in my caustic moments by saying the oceanographic scientists would rather do a lousy job with the science, provided they can do it themselves and don't have to get any professional engineering help.
I fought some of that battle and did get a couple of things started, curiously enough. I got some interdisciplinary things started with one of the geologists, having to do with looking at, in a much more elaborate way than previously, some geological processes on the ocean bottom, where currents move sediments more than anybody thought they had. He had a suspicion of this, and it is clearly an interdisciplinary geological, physical oceanographic, chemical thing. Charlie Hollister perceived that more elaborate engineering might be involved. We started this project — I started it by holding some seminars and getting people interested in talking with each other, and he took off on this project. Incidentally, there was another connection. He was the guy who started the idea of disposing of radioactive waste in the middle of the ocean plates, because they are the pieces of geology that have been undisturbed for the longest periods of time. The crustal plate has been drifting around, maybe, for a hundred million years, but nothing much geological has happened in the middle of the plate.
This is in the Pacific plate?
Well, the Atlantic plate, too, if you're away from the ridge and the slope. The time scale for that middle to get to the edge where it is destroyed, from the ridge of where it was created, may be 50 million years, and the sedimentary record is undisturbed, so you can know a lot about it. We had been talking about that, because I was on the Radioactive Waste Committee, and also, there was a guy in the policy program who was interested in the diplomatic aspects of the problem, so we had been working on that. The interesting thing about the program is that in the end, the engineering support to the program came from JPL.
JPL? As a subcontractor or as a contractor?
Well, actually, in the end he went to NASA for support, before I went to NASA, and got involved with JPL, because at JPL they had the insight that maybe the way to attack this problem on the bottom of the ocean was to regard it in the same way as a planetary lander.
This is all unmanned, of course?
This is all unmanned that's still going on.
I see; because I wanted to ask you something that I didn't follow up, and I thought maybe we'd do it during your Woods Hole years: when it came to a question of designing a particular research program toexamine the sea floor, or to work on the sea floor, was your predilection to look at manned programs or unmanned programs?
We can go back in history. Sometime in the '50s, and I don't know where the document is or anything, Allyn Vine, who was an oceanographer and engineer at Woods Hole, and I, were part of a subpanel of the National Research Council, looking at the question of whether there was any sense in manned submersibles for research at sea, and he and I wrote a paper. He was really the spark plug, and the guy who thought about the design of the vehicles. We really wrote the paper that I think got the funding for the first really deep manned vehicle, which is called Alvin.
Is that after Allyn Vine?
Alvin, it's a contraction of Allyn Vine.
Yes, because he was really the pusher for that. I wrote the part of the paper that explained — and it was truer then than it is now, but it is still true — that it seemed as though we could not figure out how to produce a sensing system that had the bandwidth of a man, but that what we were hoping to do was, in some sense, return field science to the hands of the people, of the scientists. I remember a paragraph about giving the geologist back his hammer, even though he would have to exercise it via external machinery.
Manipulators and so on. I think subsequent history, although many of the oceanographers haven't liked it, has demonstrated that there is a good deal to say for human control of what is going on, on the bottom, not just sending instruments. The rule that I established, that we wrote into that paper, was: when you know precisely what you want to do when you get there, exactly what data you want to take, send the machine. If you think there will be some question as to what you ought to do, you know, if you are exploring, so to speak, send a man. Now, it has gotten more blurred, because the technology now makes it possible for the person to be here, and the sensor, senses and the hands to be there in a way that really wasn't then possible.
In the 50s.
In the '50s. Now it is getting more blurred — the question of when you send people and when you send machines, and what the roles are — is a much more open question. It's a question that NASA people mostly don't like to think about too much, because they are afraid it will result in saying "no manned program." whereas, it really is not a discussion about that. It's a discussion of what are the people supposed to do. It's a subject we ought to come back to.
Oh yes. I'll put that down.
I had a long history of being involved in this question of instrumentation and people. and what's the relationship between them, between the two. I felt that in the oceanographic business, the instruments were too crude, and the people, therefore, had to do too much. There were jobs that should have been done with instruments and machinery, and not with people. It wasn't a question of whether people went to sea. It was a question of what the hell do they do when they get there; using crude instruments and getting seasick to get very little data didn't seem like a very good idea. But, you see at least one strain of modern scientific oceanography grew out of the amateur interests of the yachtsmen and was greatly affected by the seagoing experiences of people who worked with the Navy during the war. There is a mystique, and it is easy to see why. I spent a lot of time at sea. The thinking is that a real oceanographer goes to sea. That's just the way it is, and if you don't do oceanography with ships at sea and get seasick, or whatever, and get salt water all over you, you are not doing oceanography. The fact that that may not be the best way to solve the scientific problem is lost sight of. That's changing now, but it's only been in the past few years. There were certainly people at Woods Hole a few years ago when I was there, and still, who just won't have anything to do with anything that isn't taking them to sea. There was one excellent physical oceanographer who just didn't believe any data that wasn't taken with wet chemistry with seawater. That was the only way you were going to identify water bodies, and that was it. He was totally unwilling to use any kind of remote sensing data for anything. He just had no interest in it. It's only in the past year or so that there's begun to be real interest in that type of system.
Well, there were a couple of people there when I was there who were using some of the Landsat and related data for particular things, but Woods Hole has not been a leader in using satellite stuff.
Did you argue for more remote sensing? Were you an advocate of this?
Well, I didn't know much about remote sensing, but I knew enough about it that I suggested that there were some things that could be done with it that were unique, that couldn't be done any other way. It's true, you couldn't get data about the middle of the water mass, but only the top of the water mass. It's true, you couldn't make an absolute temperature measurement accurately enough to specifically identify everything, but you sure could tell more about the synoptic pattern of the ocean that way than you could anyway else. I remember arguing that this was a terribly important missing piece of data. Was it really sensible to spend a tremendous amount of effort and get data from ten points in the ocean to great accuracy, and not make an effort to get lesser accurate data about all the points on the surface of the ocean? That somehow violated my physicist's feeling for how one ought to take data and use boundary conditions. You know, you did not have to be terribly accurate in the precision sense of the temperature measurements, but very accurate in the geographic sense to get a feeling for the relative temperatures over the whole upper boundary, and that must be a very powerful boundary condition, even though it isn't so precise. I didn't make the sale to most of them.
That was my question.
I did not, although there are a few of the guys who have begun to use it, and, incidentally, the present director, who is by original training a mathematician, who worked at the fisheries business, is very interested in these sorts of data. Now, to be fair about it, the scientific underpinnings inside NASA were not totally satisfactory at that point. There was a lot of: "It's great stuff, but the connection between the engineering and the science for the remote sensing, and the scientists themselves hadn't been done." There was a tendency, as there always is in NASA, to build this marvelous device and then go out and tell people who don't know about it how wonderful it is, and not to involve them in the building of the device. Now, that changed a good deal in the space science area years ago, but it had not, at the point at which I came into NASA, changed enough, in spite of the fact that Len Jaffe is a very good guy. The ambiance in which he worked had not really changed that sufficiently in the applications business. So, you know, the oceanographers had a feeling, "You guys are building the wrong instrument." This persisted even into some of the SEASAT area and the post-SEASAT area. I had a long discussion about that with Carl Wunsch at MIT, but we can come back to that.
You said that the transition to better contact with the users had been made in the space sciences. Can you identify when?
Well, I don't know. I think I know, but it had clearly happened by the time I came on board. In fact, maybe the scientists were a little bit too much in charge at times, because the engineers had a hell of a time in fitting them into the engineering constraints. I think it must have happened during the Apollo science period, when there was all that fuss about whether any of this was being done for science, and people kept saying that they keep trying to use the scientists to justify Apollo, and so on and so forth. I think it happened as the scientists got involved in the pre-Apollo scientific investigations. You know, "is it dust the rest of the way down?" "Are they really going to sink to their armpits." like Tommy Gold says, and so on. That, and the early Mariner staff. A different accommodation was made between the scientific community and the engineering community. I think it was somewhere in the midst of the Gemini period, whenever Mariner was. My impression is that all those battles were being fought then, and that by the time of Apollo 11, there was an accommodation. It began to be clear that by Apollo 17 it made sense to send the scientist, etc. Whereas, in the applications business, that hadn't quite happened. I can only surmise what the history is.
It was dealing with large packages. It was an interest in developing technology.
Right, and the attitude really was, "We're going to develop this great device, because we understand it. and then you guys will use it." Well, that's not a good sales technique — quite aside from whether it's a good engineering technique, and it isn't that either. If you're going to develop devices that other people use, you want to start out early in the development with a lot of creative tension between the customers and the providers. I've got a whole philosophy of that, too, which always irritates, particularly business people, because I say, "In the development business, the customer is always wrong." By the way, the technologist who is trying to sell them something is always wrong, too, at the beginning. What most customers tell you they want does not describe their problem. What they're doing is telling you their first guess at what they think is the solution to what they think is their problem. What the technologist is giving you is whatever he invented last week, you know. Whatever works in the office, "I just invented the solution to your problem. Don't tell me the problem; take my solution." What you have to do is have long, complicated discussions. It takes six months frequently to find out what really is the problem. Now, this I learned (probably) in the Navy Department, where I rapidly discovered that even the best guys, who came to me and said, "We have a military need for a thus and so. You know, a missile that flies sideways."
Wasn't there one?
Well, there was certainly a discussion of missiles that were launched backwards. Instead of being forward from the airplane, they went backwards from the airplane and generated great worries about the transition from going this way in the air stream, and so on.
It was just a curiosity, nothing came of it. You'd say, "I understand what you're asking me for, but what do you want this for?" "Well, because it's a requirement" over long, long hours and hours, weeks, weeks and months, sometimes, of discussion, you'd finally discovered that there was a problem, but it was different from the one you'd been asked to solve. He was trying to solve something else, but it was assumed that the something else was a military problem, not a technology transfer problem. Now, and I'd better tell you what the technology transfer problem is.
This is between the?
It tended to be between military operating people who had a problem, and the technological people. In the NASA case, it's between the engineers and the scientists who were sort of the customers, or the applications people who have a problem that a space application might solve, and the people who've got all this lovely technology that they want people to use.
This is the Tiro/Nimbus example.
Well, there are all of those. Sometimes, it's because there are two different problems wandering around, and they get confused together.
Well, then while you were at Woods Hole at least, the NASA packages didn't look that good to the scientists at Woods Hole? Is this a correct assessment?
Yes, well, there were several things. One is that they were the wrong things from their point of view.
Not what they wanted.
Not what they wanted, and it was an interference with what they were doing. You have to understand that Woods Hole is what I would call hyperacademic, by which I mean, there are lots of people who come to Woods Hole to do research, not only because they don't like bureaucracies or being embedded in them, but they don't even want to have any students, because it's an interference with what they're doing. Now, there's a good education program there, but half the people there just don't want to be bothered with it. They regarded NASA, quite rightly from their point of view, although not by comparison with other things, as some sort of gigantic bureaucracy with which you could never get anything done anyway. One or two of them had gotten slightly involved in the process of getting to a NASA package. They were unsympathetic with being bothered by the engineers, anyway, and they couldn't do what they wanted when they wanted, or get it done they way they wanted, so they wanted nothing to do with it.
I remember distinctly because it came to me, because somebody thought I was the appropriate associate director to receive a NASA Announcement of Opportunity, an AO, or one of those. I read through this thing. You know, it was a half an inch of paper. I recall thinking "this may really be an interesting opportunity, but I'm going to throw this in the wastepaper basket, because of the odds against getting anybody in this institution to even look at this." It didn't frighten me. I know, in a sense, what it means; I've seen this kind of Navy thing; it's not such a big deal to deal with. In fact, you don't fill out this form, you find out who the guy is and you go to talk to him, and after you understand what it is you're going to do, he fills out the form. That's really the way it has to work. I said, "I'm never going to convince anybody in this institution of this; forget it. It just isn't going to happen. Nobody around here is going to do anything but look at this and say, 'I don't want any part of it.'"
It wouldn't work to have somebody on the staff who was the ombudsman between NASA and Woods Hole?
No, because he would instantly become the enemy. You know, after awhile they got used to it. You have to understand that from their point of view, there's a reason for this. The fractionation of funding, and the time scale for funding for that kind of research, from NSF, and even from ONR, but more from NSF, has gone to the point where a lot of these guys are not living on a single grant. They're living on a patchwork of money and a collection of proposals. They spend more of their time writing proposals than they do research. They just can't stand it anymore. In that sense, the bureaucratic Mickey Mouse has really taken over the research system. Partly, it's the fault of the scientific community in its insistence on the peer review process. Everybody gets a cut, to some extent. They'll deny it, but implicity, that's true. Partly, it is the result of the Mansfield Amendment, and that kind of thinking has done its dirty work, because it has bureaucratized the system into endless justifications of what you haven't done yet, and therefore, don't understand.
That sort of nonsense has really taken over. It's the transfer of thinking that makes sense in one area, into another area. The accountants deal with large things that can be tidy — therefore, the accounting of research can be tidy; therefore, you ought to be able to explain how many hours a week you spend on problem A and on problem B. Those accountants have never worked the scientific kind of problem, and don't realize that the thoughts are there in the back of your head all the time. You may be literally thinking you're working on this one, and suddenly you're working on that one. You know, even the fact that it's two contracts doesn't mean it's two subjects. You suddenly discover the subjects are really tied up together and what does it mean that I'm working on this or I'm working on that? The important thing really turns out to be neither of the two things in the two proposals, but something which is kind of related to both of them, but much more important than either, and how do you deal with that? The system has gotten very poor.
Hmm, and certainly there is no end in sight. It's getting much, much worse.
It's getting much, much worse. I'll have to send you a couple of things. One of them is the speech I recently made to the American Society of Naval Engineers, which as usual, they got a transcript of and I edited and they put it in their journal. It does discuss some of this issue.
Because it's something you must have met in NASA.
Well, when I was leaving NASA, I was going around making a speech, you know, a farewell speech, and one of the parts of the speech was, "What is it that will be my successor's worst problem? What am I leaving to my successor?" And my view was, "It's not getting the Shuttle launched. That's difficult, but we understand it. We understand what we understand, and what we don't understand about it. The planetary program has problems." My successor's real problem is going to be dealing with the rising tide of bureaucratic crap that comes from outside. Now, I don't know if that's what's turned out for Jim Beggs. So far, his biggest problem has probably been OMB, but that happens.
That, so far.
I was impressed by the fact that the government is run by suboptimization. Everybody has a task. He optimizes his own task. If you get somebody in a White House who has some problems, he writes regulations and stuff in terms of his problem, and so on my desk would descend that much regulation having to do with the reduction of paper work, for god's sake.
By that, and it was a half an inch.
Yes, well, I wasn't going to read it. Most of it has how you fill out Form 27, and how you justify that you are or aren't doing thus and so, and so forth. And then would come down the new way in which we're going to deal with equal opportunity complaints developed by a new staff person who decided he didn't like the old way. And then, there's a new thing in procurement, and a new thing in this, and the problem isn't that they don't all make sense individually, but the collection is zaney. I mean, it's ridiculous. Nobody could do it. Nobody has ever looked at the interactions. Congress is set up to pass 1aws, so it passes laws. All this stuff is slowing down on the poor agencies, and in fact what you do is, you set up offices that do little emerqency fire drills for this thing, but you just don't pay any attention to most of it.
I mean, you can't. You do what you can do, and it's just impossible, and everybody is clamoring; this is the most important — when, why, it's not important to anybody!
Yes, but you know that, because you've been in government, and you know these thick documents don't have to be answered verbatim, but you see a scientist out in the field, especially at Woods Hole —
He's not going to realize that the way you do this is that you convince the guy in the aqency that what you want to do really is what he wants to do, and he'll fill out the form for you (laughs). It's not really so bad. Once you've agreed on what you can do, it's easy to deal with it, and so on. There are other complications, too. Anyway, I gave this lecture. I'll send vou a copy. I think they headlined it that "technology is easy; it's all that other stuff."
How would you typify your Woods Hole years; it's literallv just a year, or a year and a half that you were at Woods Hole?
Yes, it was a year and a half. Well, it was constructing a job, and some of it was interesting, and I was gradually settling into something that was interesting, but it was taking awhile. Then, the other important thing is that the question of a new director arose, and it was clear that I was not going to be a serious candidate.
Why was that?
Well, I think there were several pieces of politics. One, the feeling of a lot of the scientific staff for Paul Fye, the then director, was not sympathetic. They regarded him — god help them — as a bureaucrat. He wasn't, you know; he was on the scientists, side. In fact, Paul had spent a very long time, in a very distinguished way, putting that institution on a sound basis, after several Directors who had not. He got them a lot of money for land and buildings, and so on. Some of what he had to do was to introduce some systematic administration and management, so he was a negative to many of them. I was regarded as his heir-apparent brought in for the purpose, so that was a negative. I had been in oceanoqraphy through underwater sound and had a reputation as an engineer, although I'm a physicist. In that sense to phvsicists, I'm an engineer; to engineers, I'm a physicist. Well, they were sort of negative. And I think that was expressed.
Was there a scientific council?
Well, there was, and some of the department directors didn't like my view of life at all, because I kept saying. "Well, you know, I am in favor of individual research, but there is also group research. There are big problems in the ocean that can't be tackled by getting good ole' Joe, who is a brilliant guy, and letting him go out to sea once a year, or ten times a year. There are big problems. That was not palatable to some of them. So it was clear I was not going to be a candidate; and I wasn't sure I wanted to be there, and yet not run the place, after having been there awhile. That may be wrong but its what I felt. Now, as to other elements — I don't know whether there were others. Well, there was another thing. It was clear that, for one reason or another, the Board of Trustees was not willing to view anybody who was already in the institution as a serious candidate.
Oh, well, that's usual.
It wasn't clear why they took that view. So that was also another factor. What else was involved, I don't know. In fact, they made that very apparent, because until there was some urging on the part of several people, the Board had made no arrangements to talk to anybody inside the institution, who wanted to be a candidate. Nobody, not a soul. Now, my assumption would have been that a Board automatically interviews most of the senior people.
Or it puts them on a list and talks to some of them. I don't really know what happened.
Well, that's peculiar
There was clearly something going on I don't understand, so I don't know whether it was good, bad or indifferent. They wanted a change, so it was curious. Part of the interest, I guess, I had in coming to Woods Hole was this possibilty, which was no more than that, that I might fleet up, so to speak. In the end, I would have been better off, had I sayed where I was (laughs). I would have been regarded as that brilliant guy from Nairobi, or something.
Well then, we're at the point now where you begin looking for another place, and you end up at NASA.
Well, I wasn't really looking so much as I was a little restless, and not very consciously restless. I was struggling with forming this job, and it was clear that this directorship wasn't going to happen, so I was beginning to think. And then there was a change of administration, and conversation with Frank Press. But we should break for lunch.
We will continue on then, next time specifically with NASA.
Yes, the transition to NASA, at last (laughs).
Yes, we're there, and plan on spending at least one long session on that, possibly two. That will be all then for this session. Thank you.