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Nixon's Super-Secretaries

The Last Grand Presidential Reorganization Effort

By Mordecai Lee

Publication Year: 2010

The Watergate scandal of 1973 claimed many casualties, political and otherwise. Along with many personal reputations and careers, President Richard Nixon’s bold attempt to achieve a sweeping reorganization of the domestic portion of the executive branch was also pulled into the vortex. Now, Mordecai Lee examines Nixon’s reorganization, finding it notable for two reasons. First, it was sweeping in intent and scope, representing a complete overhaul in the way the president would oversee and implement his domestic agenda. Second, the president instituted the reorganization administratively—by appointment of three “super-secretaries”—without congressional approval. The latter aspect generated ire among some members of Congress, notably Sam Ervin, a previously little-known senator from North Carolina who chaired the Government Operations Committee and, soon after, the Senate’s Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities—known to the public as “the Watergate Committee.” Asserting that Nixon’s reorganization effort represents a significant event in the evolution of the managerial presidency and public administration, Nixon’s Super-Secretaries presents the most comprehensive historical narrative to date concerning this reorganization attempt. The author has utilized previously untapped original and primary sources to provide unprecedented detail on the inner workings, intentions, and ultimate demise of Nixon’s ambitious plan to reorganize the sprawling federal bureaucracy.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership


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p. viii

List of Figures

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p. ix

List of Major Abbreviations

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pp. xi-x

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pp. xi-xv

Sometimes, in life, one is just plain lucky. In late 1972, I had moved from Syracuse University to Washington, D.C., to conduct research for my dissertation and serve as a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. I was interested in President Nixon’s first-term effort to limit public relations (PR) in federal agencies ...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-26

Even before his reelection in November 1972, President Richard Nixon began planning to accomplish in his second term what he had been unable to do during the first. One item was to reorganize the domestic side of the federal government. When it came to his interest in a grand reorganization of the executive branch, Nixon was no presidential outlier. ...

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2 Planning, November 1972–January 1973

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pp. 27-53

On Tuesday, November 7, 1972, President Nixon was reelected, defeating the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. In political terms, it was a landslide. Nixon received 61 percent of the popular vote and carried forty-nine states, losing only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. ...

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3 Launch, January–February1973

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pp. 54-76

President Nixon invited legislators to breakfast at the White House on Friday, January 5, 1973. It would be his first bipartisan congressional session since the election, and as far as the legislators knew, it was to be a briefing about wage and price controls and would probably include some discussion of the Viet Nam peace talks ...

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4 In Operation, January–April 1973

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pp. 77-106

It was one thing to announce the plan, as Nixon did on January 5, but it was another to have the new structure in place, operating, and making decisions. Despite the desire to implement the president’s announced structure as quickly as possible, these things took time. ...

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5 Counsellor for Human Resources Caspar Weinberger: The Super-Secretary as Assistant President

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pp. 107-132

The memorandum the three counsellors received in early January from Ehrlichman outlining their duties and responsibilities (discussed in chapter 3) was strictly confidential, which meant that no one else knew precisely what their roles were. The three were not supposed to share the memo even with their counsellor staff, ...

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6 Counsellor for Community Development James Lynn: The Super-Secretary as Presidential Coordinator

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pp. 133-155

In terms of public service, James Lynn was the most junior of the three counsellors. Prior to joining the administration in 1969 as general counsel (later rising to the position of undersecretary) for the Commerce Department, he had been in private legal practice in Cleveland for eighteen years, ...

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7 Counsellor for Natural Resources Earl Butz: The Dutiful and Passive Super-Secretary

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pp. 156-179

When Nixon met with Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz on November 20, 1972, at Camp David to notify him of his appointment as counsellor, they discussed two issues that signaled how Butz would approach the position. (Chapter 2 described Nixon’s bellicose comments at that meeting about wanting a tough and ruthless counsellor.) ...

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8 Demise, April–May 1973

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pp. 180-195

By April, the White House internal domestic policy structure seemed to have finally completed its shakedown cruise and settled into some degree of routine. The three counsellor offices were nearly fully staffed, and some minor office refurbishing of two of the counsellors’ personal offices had been completed.1 ...

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9 Legacy and Significance

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pp. 196-210

History is dynamic. For example, the presidential hit parade changes over time. Truman’s and Eisenhower’s standings were low in the first decades after leaving office, but now (2009) each is much better regarded. In that vein, the story of Nixon’s super-secretaries had a relatively permanent historical reputation. ...


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pp. 211-254


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pp. 255-260


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pp. 261-275

E-ISBN-13: 9781603442497
E-ISBN-10: 1603442499
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603441797
Print-ISBN-10: 1603441794

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 3 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership
Series Editor Byline: Pfiffner, James P. See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 671236030
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Nixon's Super-Secretaries

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Subject Headings

  • Executive departments -- United States -- Reorganization -- History -- 20th century.
  • Weinberger, Caspar W.
  • Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994.
  • Butz, Earl L. (Earl Lauer), 1909-2008.
  • Lynn, James T., 1927-2010.
  • Executive power -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cabinet officers -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1969-1974.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Staff -- History -- 20th century.
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