Wilbur J. Cohen and the New Frontier
By Edward Berkowtiz, Ph.D., George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
When Wilbur Cohen went from Madison to Washington, D.C. in 1934, he traveled by car and bus. Twenty-seven years later, when he went from another mid-western university town to Washington, he flew. In both cases, he left academia to seek work in a Democratic administration. In both cases, he helped first to create and then to gain Congressional approval for a broad range of social welfare programs. In the Roosevelt era, he functioned as a very junior research assistant who validated the decisions made by others. In the Kennedy era, he made policy on matters in which the President took a personal interest.
During the New Deal, Wilbur Cohen observed the creation of social security, America’s most successful social welfare program; during the New Frontier, Wilbur Cohen attempted to transform Roosevelt’s programs into something new. The new programs emphasized investment, rather than spending, and participation, rather than retirement. They took the explicit form of federal aid to education, federal investment in medical care, and federal efforts to spark the rehabilitation of welfare beneficiaries.
As the administration’s emissary from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Cohen received a cordial but often less than enthusiastic reception on Capitol Hill. For the most part, Cohen refused to allow the lack of major victories to upset him. He had worked for social security when it was an unpopular program. He knew what it was like to face Congressional indifference. More importantly, he understood that inside politics could produce laws that attracted little public attention yet advanced long-standing policy goals. Even in the glare of the executive branch, Cohen remained an adherent of incremental politics that was practiced off-stage. In the Kennedy years, therefore, Cohen enjoyed some quiet victories on subjects such as welfare reform and mental retardation, even as he endured loud defeats on medicare and education.
Cohen knew much more about the legislative process in 1961 then he did in 1935. During the New Deal, Cohen carried within him the economic insecurities of the age and the psychological insecurities of youth. When he first came to Washington, he worked in what were to him unfamiliar realms. Despite his institutionally-oriented Wisconsin education, he understood little about policy-related research, and he had no experience in partisan politics as practiced at the national level. During the New Frontier, Cohen, although still only forty-eight, had advance knowledge of the territory over which he was expected to travel. He had already worked with Kennedy, Sorensen, and Feldman in the Senator’s office, and he would continue to work with them in the President’s office. He had already collaborated with Wilbur Mills and Robert Kerr, the two most important figures in social security policy, and he had more than a casual acquaintance with Senator Lister Hill and Representative John Fogarty, the two most influential figures in determining HEW’s budget. Further, Cohen maintained close ties with people in many levels of the HEW bureaucracy.
As the third person ever to be appointed as Assistant Secretary for Legislation at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Cohen came to the job with the most preparation. President Eisenhower had brought in two people with little or no experience in social welfare policy. Roswell Perkins, Eisenhower’s first appointment, was a lawyer whose close connections to Undersecretary Nelson Rockefeller netted him the job. Elliot Richardson, the second Eisenhower appointee and a protege of HEW Secretary Arthur Flemming, specialized not in a specific area of policy so much as in the management of the policy process itself. President Kennedy appointed Cohen, who had a great deal of practical policy experience in the social welfare field.
If there was a weakness in the team that Kennedy fielded to deal with health, education, and welfare policy, it lay in the fact that the leaders of HEW had never worked together. Cohen knew neither Abraham Ribicoff, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, nor Ivan Nestingen, the Undersecretary. Nor, unfortunately, did Kennedy’s top three appointments have much regard for one another.
Third in command at HEW, Wilbur Cohen became the point from which the thin level of political appointees fanned into the thousands of lawyers, economists, and other technicians who ran the Department’s many programs. Unlike his superiors, Cohen spent his time at HEW concentrating almost entirely on the passage and implementation of the President’s legislation. He did not have to worry about job security. He did not have to score splashy political victories. He did not have to make his name in the job or establish that he was an expert in the field of social welfare policy. Although not without a strong ego, he instinctively saw himself as staff to the politicians, rather than as a politician himself.
Both of Cohen’s superiors were politicians who plunged from one job to the other, constantly trading on their futures. Abraham Ribicoff, the former Governor of Connecticut, used his year and a half at HEW to shore up his political contacts in that state and make a successful run for Prescott Bush’s seat in the Senate. Cohen, who seldom criticized anyone, described Ribicoff as a “poor administrator” and as “self-centered and egotistical.” Undersecretary Ivan Nestingen, the former mayor of Madison who had helped Kennedy in the Wisconsin primary and been rewarded with a Washington job, was by his own admission a man with “a political background and political inclinations.”
After Ribicoff left in the summer of 1962, Kennedy replaced him with Anthony Celebrezze. A former mayor of Cleveland, Celebrezze, according to Cohen, was not perceived as particularly intelligent or competent by the administration. Celebrezze, like Ribicoff, had his eyes on another political prize, a federal judgeship. “So his attitude was play it cool, do what they want, and I’ll get my judgeship,” Cohen later commented. Rumors ascribed Celebrezze’s appointment to the President’s desire to appease Italians and in this manner to boost his brother Ted’s candidacy for Senator. For all of that, Celebrezze enjoyed an uncommon run of success at HEW, helping to bridge the transition between Kennedy and Johnson. One of Cohen’s deputies described Celebrezze as an underrated Secretary, “an instinctive politician who got along well with the White House.”
Together, Ribicoff (later Celebrezze), Nestingen, and Cohen ran a large and sprawling department. Cohen was the one responsible for translating the President’s political wishes into practical policy; he had the daunting task of trying to bring a degree of unity and order to what was, in fact, an unwieldy collection of agencies. The Office of the Secretary, of which Cohen’s operation was a part, functioned on a budget of less than seven and half million dollars in fiscal 1961. By way of contrast, the entire Department of Health, Education, and Welfare spent 3.8 billion dollars that year, not including the money used to pay social security benefits.
As a consequence, the Office of the Secretary operated like a holding company, loosely uniting such major agencies as the Public Health Service, the Social Security Administration, and the Office of Education. The Public Health Service maintained a budget of over half a billion dollars, and its leaders often acted independently of the Secretary. In a similar sense, the Social Security Administration had for years developed and presented its own legislative agenda, with only minimal suggestions and few controls from the Office of the Secretary. Units housed within the Public Health Service and the Social Security Administration, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Children’s Bureau respectively, were themselves quite adept at protecting their particular interests.
When Cohen took office, he was one of only two Assistant Secretaries. James Quigley, the other Assistant Secretary, concentrated almost entirely on internal management. During the Kennedy era, Cohen operated with a tiny staff of about five people, including two deputies and two special assistants.
As an Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Cohen orchestrated the creation of legislation and shepherded the legislation through Congress. As the professional in the field and the only one of the three HEW leaders with previous Washington experience (Ribicoff had served briefly as a Congressman in the 1950s), Cohen was expected to take the lead in writing legislative proposals. Both Ribicoff, down the hall, and Kennedy, down the street, relied on Cohen to handle the daily routines. As one astute observer later told an interviewer, Ribicoff realized that his first objective was to write legislation and bring it up to the Hill. Cohen was “the only one around that could do it.” Cohen could write bills. He could produce presidential messages. “He knew the channels …. to get it up to the Congress and get it to the White House….”
Cohen alternated between the projects on which he worked sporadically and played a supporting role and sustained, core projects on which he took the lead. Sporadic projects in the Kennedy years included pollution and food and drug legislation, two fields about which Cohen knew little. Departmental reorganization, such as dismantling the Children’s Bureau, also occupied some of Cohen’s time. Core projects on which Cohen worked throughout the Kennedy administration involved mental retardation legislation and welfare reform. Other core projects, such as aid to education and medicare, began in the Kennedy years and reached their culmination in the Johnson administration.
At any given moment during the Kennedy administration, Cohen worked on several projects at once. In the summer of 1961, for example, he told a friend about how he was coping with “10 different areas going on simultaneously. I have been handling education, health, social security, water pollution and other legislation.”
Cohen seldom acted independently. He always accommodated the demands of others. He tried to be sensitive to the desires of Sorensen and Feldman, who were the closest advisors to the President on Cohen’s issues, to the order in which influential committees wished to take up legislation, and to the whims and political imperatives of Ribicoff (or Celebrezze) and of important Congressmen.
For all that Cohen had to satisfy the egos of the politicians, he also managed to make his own imprint on the Kennedy legislative program. At each moment, even as he would drop everything and, for example, rush to talk with Adam Clayton Powell about education legislation, he also had a core project that reflected his own expertise and on which the Secretary, the White House, and even the Congress largely deferred to him. Welfare reform best exemplified this phenomenon.
For the most part, however, Cohen operated like a circus performer spinning other people’s plates. To keep all the plates spinning simultaneously, Cohen needed to have just the right touch. He had to sense just when Congress would wish to vote on a particular matter, either close to an election in order to force a partisan issue or far away from an election in order to take a relatively controversial stance. He was expected to know how much Wilbur Mills would bend on a particular matter.
Cohen on the Job
With a ceremonial flourish, Cohen ended his first day on the job by writing to those people, such as Arthur Altmeyer and Fedele Fauri, who were closest to him. He told them that his “first day on the job was a strenuous one.” The next few weeks marked one of the most intense activity spasms in Wilbur Cohen’s life. Cohen drafted Presidential messages relating to social security, welfare, health, education, and water pollution. He filled his letters with complaints of “sheer exhaustion” that stemmed from the fact that President Kennedy expected his appointees to work “15 to 18 hours a day.”
As Cohen worked long hours, he was reverting to behavior that was common to his first days in Washington. Starting something new, he tried to tame the unfamiliar by devoting an inordinate number of hours to the task at hand. He was in an environment where such behavior was common, where people showed how tough they were in part by how hard they worked. Cohen, whose family remained behind in Ann Arbor until the summer, rented a house in Cleveland Park in which he spent little time. As he put it, “I feel that I am more or less locked into my office about 15 hours a day.”
The long days produced their share of despair. Cohen told his friends that he found his job to be the “most frustrating, complex job I ever had in my life.” He filled his letters with expressions of his longings to go back to Ann Arbor. He wrote Fauri, in a moment of exhaustion, that he had never worked so hard in all of his life. “I have never had as many difficult decisions and frustrations to face. I do not look forward to continuing in this situation.” But Cohen could see “no way out” and reluctantly asked Fauri in May 1961 for an extended leave of absence. He confessed to a former colleague in social security that, although he enjoyed his job, he felt disappointed about the “long hours and the inadequacy of the staff work I have been able to do under tremendous pressure.”
For all that Cohen’s job had an ad hoc, helter skelter quality, it also conformed to legislative rhythms that provided a sense of continuity and routine. In the fall of 1961, for example, Cohen turned his attention to the development of legislation that would be presented to Congress when it convened in 1962. In doing so, Cohen responded to an inflexible deadline that was part of the budgetary cycle. Whatever else happened, the budget and the State of the Union address had to be ready in January. To meet the deadlines, Cohen held regular staff meetings in which he solicited ideas for 1962 program. At the same time, he supervised the preparation of routine reports and publications.
Late in December, 1961, with the HEW legislative program completed, Cohen advised Secretary Ribicoff on which members of Congress he should see on what topics. Senator Lister Hill of Alabama stood at the top of the list. He was the most influential Senator, since his committees controlled health and education legislation as well as the department’s level of appropriations. Hence Hill needed to be consulted on the administration’s bills for higher education, improving the quality of education, increasing the number of health professionals, creating the Institute of Child Health and Human Development, amending the food and drug act, setting the level of appropriations and reorganizing the bureaus within the department. Second on the list was Representative John Fogarty of Rhode Island. Like Hill, Representative Fogarty enjoyed an impressive measure of influence over the department’s appropriations and its health-related legislation. Fogarty also took a special interest in such subjects as water pollution, aid to the elderly, juvenile delinquency, and vocational rehabilitation and would need to be consulted on each of these matters.
Not to reach agreement with these legislative leaders meant almost certain defeat for the President’s program, since they, in effect, held a veto over it. Passage of Medicare meant sitting down with Wilbur Mills. Nearly all forms of health legislation required the assent of Hill and Fogarty. As Cohen put it, “Senator Hill and Mr. Fogarty gave the definite impression that they were running the health aspects of the department and not Kennedy and Ribicoff.” Each of these Congressman had to be handled on an individual basis. In Fogarty’s case, for example, Cohen and the other legislative handlers for the administration had constantly to keep in mind that Fogarty, an Irish Catholic from New England, thought that he, rather than Kennedy, should be President. Fogarty once told Cohen that he knew more than Kennedy and was a better politician.
For the first three months on the job, Cohen worked without formal confirmation from the Senate. He was the Assistant Secretary-Designate, not the Assistant Secretary. His first sustained project consisted of securing confirmation.
Early in February, he sent Senator Philip Hart (D-Michigan) a detailed biographical sketch. He admitted that it looked “a little bit like a laundry list, but it might be just the kind of thing you might use.” In this way, Cohen began the process of scripting the confirmation hearings for his supporters. Because Hart was from Michigan, he would play an important role in the hearings.
As Cohen had predicted, the American Medical Association opposed Cohen’s nomination. From the AMA’s viewpoint, Cohen was the very person who had expanded the social security system and impinged on the doctors’ freedom. “I am amazed and shocked that you consider Wilbur J. Cohen a candidate for Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for Legislative Matters…. this man is not morally fit to hold a job in the American government,” an indignant doctor wrote to the President. Dr. Edward Annis, a Miami doctor who later headed the AMA’s Speakers Bureau, went to see Senator George Smathers (D-Florida) and urged him to lead the fight against Cohen in the Finance Committee. Smathers, a careful politician, explored the possibility of having the President withdraw Cohen’s appointment and giving Cohen another, similar position that did not require Senate approval. Senator Carl Curtis, a long-time adversary of Cohen’s dating back to his service on the Ways and Means Committee and his 1953 investigation of the social security program, also expressed an interest in opposing Cohen’s nomination.
As a Republican, Curtis could not make too much trouble; it was Smathers, a Democrat, who posed the most immediate threat. Cohen told Sorensen of the problem. Sorensen talked with Kennedy. The President then phoned Smathers, his old friend from his bachelor days, and ordered him, in effect, to back-off. The President wanted Cohen confirmed and went to the trouble of using a small amount of political capital to get what he wanted. Cohen, as always, was appreciative, telling Kennedy that he would do his best “to merit your continued support and confidence.”
Smathers, covering his tracks, asked Cohen to come see him. He told Cohen that the doctors in Florida had asked him to vote against his confirmation but that he personally bore Cohen no animosity.
The hearings on Cohen’s nomination took place on March 22 and March 23, 1961. Senator McNamara, a member of the Finance Committee, introduced Cohen, who proceeded to enter his long and elaborate biographical statement into the record. Cohen produced the task force report that he had prepared for Kennedy and asked that it, too, become a part of the record. Cohen made a short statement about his loyalty to the United States government. Then the Committee members began to question him. Senator Kerr noted that, “there is far from complete agreement between myself and Mr. Cohen” in philosophical viewpoint, “but I have found him to be very able, very conscientious, very trustworthy, and very reliable.” That statement alone was enough to insure a favorable recommendation from the committee.
Cohen still faced tough questions from the Republicans on the Committee, who objected to Cohen’s relentless incrementalism, his ability to build small proposals into large programs. Curtis charged that Medicare, designed to pay the hospital bills for the elderly, would be followed by a program in which the government paid everyone’s hospital bill. In an exchange on social security that could have been lifted from Curtis’s cross-questioning of Arthur Altmeyer in 1953, Cohen defended the program as a “conservative and intelligent way of doing business.” Senator Wallace Bennett astutely noted that Congress might permit early retirement at age 62 and wondered if Medicare benefits might not be extended to people of that age. Cohen said that he would not recommend Medicare for such people “at this time.” “You would save that for a little while later, so there would be another program to bring up here,” replied Bennett.
It was in the middle of the testy exchanges between the conservative Republicans and Cohen that Senator Paul Douglas decided to break the tension. His remarks provided Cohen with the quotation that would define him for the rest of his life. “Mr. Cohen is well known as probably the greatest expert on social security that we have. Someone once said that an expert on social security is a person who knows Wilbur Cohen’s telephone number. I think that well may be true,” said Douglas.
Support from Douglas, the professional economist, provided the perfect counterpoint to the shrill testimony of Marjorie Shearon, who appeared as the major witness to speak against Cohen. Shearon proceeded to regale the Committee with her tales of communist conspiracy and her suspicions about Cohen. “Surely,” concluded Mrs. Shearon, “the American people have a right to expect that the Senate of the United States will protect them from a man like Professor Cohen…. He has spent the major portion of his professional life … in a twilight zone peopled by espionage agents….”
Shearon failed to influence Congress. Senators like Kerr did not appreciate having their work on such measures as the Kerr-Mills medical assistance program branded as Communist. For the Senators involved in the intense politics of the fight for Medicare, Mrs. Shearon’s testimony lacked credulity; it was fantastic and overblown. The Senators ignored Marjorie Shearon and voted to approve Cohen by a vote of thirteen to one, with only Curtis voting against him.
In good Washington style, Cohen proceeded to thank everyone for everything. It was not enough to thank Senator McNamara; it was also necessary to thank Sidney Spector, the staff director of McNamara’s Subcommittee on the Problems of the Aged and Aging, who actually wrote McNamara’s statement. In addition, Spector earned Cohen’s gratitude by remaining at the hearings. Senators Douglas, Kerr, Anderson, and Hart also received separate thank you notes. So did the various character witnesses who Cohen assembled on his behalf, such as the Minister of the Unitarian Church in Arlington Virginia.
Cohen understood enough about Congress to know that the Senate Finance Committee’s approval meant that he would be confirmed by the full Senate. He wrote to a friend in Ann Arbor at the end of March that his confirmation was “only a matter of time.” Senator Curtis wanted to make some remarks on the floor of the Senate, and soon after that the Senate would vote. The vote came during Easter week, when only a handful of Senators were present. Curtis gave his speech against Cohen and then, as Cohen recalled, another Senator requested a vote. Hubert Humphrey was the only Democrat on the floor. The clerk of the Senate Finance Committee ran into the Democratic cloakroom and rounded up Senators Smathers, Holland, and Mansfield. Cohen was confirmed by a vote of four to three, with Senators Curtis, Williams (of Delaware) and Aiken voting against him.
On Friday, April 14 at 4:30 in the afternoon, Wilbur Cohen took the oath of office and became an Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. The ceremony took place in the HEW Auditorium in the HEW Building on Independence Avenue. In the years before he moved to Ann Arbor, Cohen had worked on the fifth floor of this building, and he would now move to the Secretary’s suite of offices on that same floor. The auditorium was located on the ground floor, near the library with its carefully bound volumes recording the legislation that Cohen had done so much to create. On the wall near the auditorium’s entrance were a series of murals, painted in the heroic style of Diego Rivera, that reflected the Department’s roots in the era of the New Deal and the WPA.
Cohen’s swearing-in became a family occasion. Eloise and the boys flew in from Ann Arbor. Aaron Cohen came from Milwaukee. His visit marked the first time he had ever closed his store for anything other than a legal holiday. “Closed for business–to go to Washington to see my son sworn in an Assistant Secretary of the Department of HEW,” read the sign on his door. Arthur Altmeyer returned to Washington and administered the oath of office to Cohen. The Social Security Chorus sang. Maurinne Mulliner, Cohen’s friend and former colleague at social security, threw a party in his honor.
Pollution, Food and Drug, and the Children’s Bureau
The battle for Cohen’s confirmation came in the midst of all of Cohen’s other projects. On some of these projects, such as pollution legislation, Cohen operated on almost no knowledge. Despite this handicap, within days of getting to Washington, Cohen helped to write a presidential message devoted to natural resources that discussed water and air pollution.
Another new area for Cohen was food and drug legislation. In this field, Cohen found himself both handling a difficult subject and being drawn into a dispute between strong and ambitious political rivals. In 1956, Estes Kefauver had defeated John F. Kennedy for the vice presidential nomination of the Democratic party; in 1961 Senator Kefauver and President Kennedy worked together to gain passage of food and drug legislation. It was Cohen’s job to mediate disputes between the President and Kefauver, not to mention the constant battles between congressional leaders and the bureaucrats in Cohen’s department.
The details were very complicated. Cohen received instructions, as he put it, “to help Kefauver get a bill passed.” Cohen claimed that Kefauver specifically asked that the administration not send up a bill so that he could get maximum credit. Ever the Washington realist, Cohen saw nothing wrong with this practice. He noted that, “Men who have run for Congress and been elected are very jealous of their rights and prerogatives,” particularly when it came to crediting the work of others.
The trouble was that Kefauver, the liberal outsider in the Senate, did not have the votes to pass legislation. It required a national outrage, in this case the thalidomide scandal, and substantial compromise to produce a law. Cohen tended to see himself as the beleaguered staff man in this struggle. Cohen later told an interviewer of dealing with the “terrifically good lawyers,” from the drug companies, like Lloyd Cutler, as well as the staff members from the offices of Senators Hruska, and Dirksen. “And there was little me, little David with his sling shot, and I had to try to find out what they wanted.”
Congress eventually passed a law that Cohen described as the most “significant and substantial additions to the Act since 1938.” Specific provisions included authorizing the Government to withdraw any drug form the market immediately if it posed an “imminent hazard” to public health.
As Cohen did the staff work that resulted in a food and drug law, he felt harassed by the political difficulties and technical complexities of the task, yet he also experienced his customary elation in working so closely with Congress and helping to advance the cause of reform. Cohen imbued the process with a sense of romance. Negotiations with all of the political players were tedious but also exciting. As Cohen commented, the legislative process was “complex and precarious,” and demanded considerable negotiating skills. To be involved in the resulting “secret meetings” gave Cohen access to the law when it was in its most malleable state.
Cohen, with his sense of history, also imagined that he was helping to finish the uncompleted business of the Progressive Era and the New Deal. In college, Cohen had read many of Upton Sinclair’s novels, including The Jungle. Later he learned about Rexford Tugwell’s efforts to amend the Food and Drug Law in 1938 and the battles that Tugwell fought with the drug companies. Since Tugwell was one of the first people whom Cohen saw when he arrived in Washington in 1934, Cohen took a special interest in his activities. In 1961, Cohen suddenly found himself in Tugwell’s place, responsible for handling food and drug legislation. “The importance of protecting the consumer remained with me from The Jungle,” Cohen said, “and was a significant driving force in helping to retain my ability to continue the work for some constructive legislation against overwhelming opposition.”
Not all of Cohen’s actions fit a classic model of reform so neatly. The thalidomide scandal produced the sort of outrage that created interest in a legislative response. Further, the area of food and drug legislation was one in which the federal government had staked a claim as early as the progressive era. As often as not, however, Cohen found himself fighting vested bureaucratic interests, the results of past reforms, rather than passing new laws.
A good example concerned the Children’s Bureau. Cohen wanted to diminish its influence and strip away its various programs. He saw the Bureau as old-fashioned, out-of-step with the realities of modern social problems and an impediment to their solution. But his campaign for bureaucratic reform proved a complete failure.
Cohen knew the historical details as well as anyone. The Children’s Bureau was an old agency, one of the oldest parts of the Department. Started in 1912 and housed in the Department of Labor, the Bureau had developed a series of programs relating to child welfare, infant and maternal health, and crippled children’s services. These programs responded to the Bureau’s original broad mandate “to investigate and report upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life.” Over the years, the Bureau had developed a devoted following inside and outside of Congress that had shielded it from the stresses of reorganization and helped it in the competition for federal funds.
Inevitably, however, the Children’s Bureau had faced a series of readjustments as the federal government expanded its responsibilities in the areas of health, education, and welfare. The Children’s Bureau mini-version of the welfare state, funded through federal grants-in-aid, came into conflict with broad proposals to start national health insurance programs, to provide massive amounts of federal aid to education, and to supply welfare services to mothers and children in the ADC caseload.
When Cohen entered office in 1961, he and his friend Elizabeth Wickenden had designs on the Children’s Bureau. In particular, Wickenden wanted to place the Children’s Bureau’s responsibilities for infant and maternal health in the Public Health Service and its programs for child welfare in a new part of HEW concerned exclusively with welfare. Cohen favored a similar move, particularly the idea of transferring the health functions of the Children’s Bureau to the Public Health Service.
In 1961 Cohen began to explore gingerly the possibilities for departmental reorganization. He soon discovered the treachery of the terrain. Contents of conversations that Cohen thought were held in confidence were leaked to the Children’s Bureau. He discussed child welfare with the Executive Director of the Child Welfare League in May, 1961, only to learn that Katherine Bain of the Children’s Bureau soon knew all the details. “I find it almost impossible to discuss anything with anybody in this field in which the information doesn’t get back to someone in the Children’s Bureau in a distorted form,” Cohen said.
Years later, Cohen told a Congressional appropriations committee that, “There is a very, very strong constituency that believes the Children’s Bureau should be kept intact.” People who proposed reorganization for the Bureau soon found themselves portrayed as enemies of children.
Cohen’s troubled relationship with the Children’s Bureau made it difficult for him to recommend new proposals in the fields of children’s health and welfare. Every time he proposed something new, he found that he needed to mollify the Children’s Bureau by offering the Bureau something in return.
This fact of Washington life became apparent in the development of plans to start a new research program aimed at the diseases and other medical problems of children. Cohen became interested in pediatric research as a result of his association with Dr. Robert Cooke. A Johns Hopkins pediatrician who had served on Cohen’s transition Task Force, Dr. Cooke urged the creation of what came to be called the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It would be a new organization devoted to pediatric research and would be part of the National Institutes of Health (which was part of the Public Health Service).
Once installed as Assistant Secretary of Legislation, Cohen arranged for the preparation of a bill to carry out Cooke’s wishes. He convinced Senator Kerr, among others, to introduce Cooke’s bill, and he asked Luther Terry, the Surgeon General, to prepare a speech for Kerr to use. Things moved smoothly until the bill ran into the opposition of the Children’s Bureau. Cohen explained to Myer Feldman in the White House that although Kerr was “eagerly awaiting co-sponsoring the bill,” Congressmen John Fogarty and Melvin Laird, leaders of health legislation in their respective parties, opposed the measure. Part of the reason was a concern that the new institute would overlap and conflict with the work of the Children’s Bureau. Fogarty had expressly written in the report of his appropriations committee for fiscal 1962 that “the Committee feels that the Children’s Bureau should be given more responsibility for research.”
Cohen realized that he would have to appease the Children’s Bureau for there to be any chance of creating the research institute in pediatrics. So, as part of another legislative agenda, he prepared a separate bill that authorized the Children’s Bureau to make grants for research projects related to maternal and child health services and crippled children’s services. By July 17, 1961, Cohen was able to send Senator Lister Hill a copy of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development bill with the hope that the Senator would introduce it. By the end of the Kennedy administration, both the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development bill and the research authorization bill for the Children’s Bureau had become law.
This skirmish, like many aspects of the effort to forge a new food and drug law, remained invisible to the general public. Only the bureaucratic and Congressional contenders, and the relevant interest groups, took an interest in it. It demonstrated the constant need for Cohen to negotiate boundaries between programs, committees, and departments. It also revealed that the accomplishment of a legislative goal required that many interests needed to be accommodated. Often, by the time the goal was reached, the effectiveness of the final law was undercut by the steps that had been taken to reach it.
Nothing better illustrated Cohen’s influence on the legislation of the Kennedy era than major new laws in welfare and in the field of mental retardation. Cohen pursued welfare reform, the first of these endeavors, from the time of his arrival in 1961, through the period of legislative development in the fall of that year, to the spring of 1962 when Congress passed legislation. Almost from the start, welfare reform was left to Cohen’s discretion. “I will be prepared to say,” Cohen told an interviewer in a rare public display of his ego, “if it hadn’t been for me, there wouldn’t have been any 62 amendments. Because neither Kennedy, nor Sorensen, nor Ribicoff, nor Johnson was for it. They would let me do things as long as I took the responsibility.”
Like anyone else in a hectic job, Cohen relied on past intellectual capital to develop welfare reform proposals, rather than coming up with new ideas. Cohen approached welfare reform with two main objectives. The first was to broaden the Aid to Dependent Children program so that it paid benefits to as many poor children as possible, rather than only to those in which the father was absent. The second objective was to change the ADC program so that it included services designed to reduce welfare dependency, in addition to the traditional monetary grants or “pensions.”
In thinking about the first objective, to pay welfare grants to as many poor children as possible, Cohen tried to incorporate the political lessons of twenty-seven years of working with Congress. He knew that proposals such as General Assistance, federal grants to any poor person, had no political support and should not even be considered. As he told a correspondent, “I just don’t think it would be feasible to get general assistance for everyone right now.” Instead of general assistance, Cohen contemplated passage of ADC grants for “intact” poor families, those that contained a father, a mother, and children but in which the father was unemployed. The idea went back to Senator Kennedy’s efforts to amend the unemployment compensation law in 1958 and had the endorsement of the Advisory Council on Public Assistance on which Cohen had served and of the transition task force that Cohen had chaired. The President appeared predisposed to favor the idea, in part because he was familiar with it.
The second objective, adding services to ADC, was a piece of intellectual baggage that Cohen had picked up from his friend Elizabeth Wickenden and from his experiences in Ann Arbor. “My idea was to develop a plan for each child,” Cohen explained. Many children needed something other than money. “It might be counseling, it might be referral to a job, it might be the mother going back to high school or a job….” Cohen wanted to establish a mechanism for uniting problem children with therapeutic social services, similar to the mechanism he had helped to establish in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Elizabeth Wickenden encouraged Cohen in his thinking.
Cohen started on welfare reform the day that he arrived in Washington as Assistant Secretary of HEW. As always in the development of public policy, Cohen needed to marry his ideas with the events of the moment and with the ways in which the administration wanted to present social policy. The President decided to send Congress a quickly prepared anti-recession package that included such items as an increase in the minimum wage level and extended unemployment compensation benefits. Cohen tucked the notion of paying ADC benefits to families with unemployed fathers into the package.
Cohen also included a temporary provision in the legislative package to deal with a situation in Louisiana that had attracted national attention. In that state, authorities had decided to suspend ADC payments to children who lived in what local authorities declared to be “unsuitable homes.” Houses in which a mother on welfare had a second illegitimate baby or who lived with a man without marrying him were automatically considered to be unsuitable. Eisenhower’s HEW Secretary Arthur Flemming had hastily ruled that the state could not cut off aid to a household if the children remained in the home. In 1961, Cohen moved to give Flemming’s ruling the authority of law. No state could deny aid to a child on the basis that the child’s home was unsuitable, as long as the child continued to live in the home.
Congress moved quickly on the 1961 ADC proposals. Within a month, the House Ways and Means Committee reported out the bill favorably, with only a few negative comments from the Republicans. Representative Thomas B. Curtis noted, for example, that, “Apparently not a State in the Union requested this program…This program seems to have been promoted directly by the officials in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.” Indeed, Curtis was right. The proposal was in fact promoted by only one top official in the department. Later, talking about what came to be known as the unemployed parents segment of the ADC program, Cohen said bluntly that, “I persuaded Kennedy and Ribicoff to do that.” Ribicoff in particular was not very enthusiastic.
Even though Cohen in a sense engineered the demand for the Public Assistance Amendments of 1961, Congress passed the legislation with a minimum of fuss. All of the key provisions in the law were temporary and could be undone at a later date. It was very early in the legislative session, and Congress wanted to give the administration a victory on what was not a very controversial matter.
Cohen saw the 1961 legislation as a building block. By putting the notion of paying welfare to families with unemployed parents into the law, for example, Cohen hoped to pave the way for Congressional authorization of training programs for welfare recipients. As Cohen expressed the idea, “If you had people who were employable (receiving welfare), then you had to have some kind of work and training program.” Cohen told Jane Hoey, who had run the welfare programs under Arthur Altmeyer, that he had put in “a lot of sustained work on the bill, especially to save the Flemming `suitable home’ ruling. I think the legislation will serve as a basis for a complete reconsideration for next year. At least I hope so.”
Sometime after the passage of the 1961 amendments, Secretary Ribicoff decided to associate himself with the welfare reform efforts and to give the issue visibility as a departmental initiative. His decision made political sense because welfare had once again emerged as a national issue as the result of actions taken by the city manager of Newburgh, New York. Among other things, the city manager asked welfare recipients to pick up their relief checks at the local police station and put severe restrictions on the receipt of welfare payments. The Newburgh incident highlighted the growing suspicion that welfare, once the domain of sturdy elderly people, was becoming a social benefit for blacks and was serving as a prime force in drawing blacks from southern states, which paid low welfare benefits, to northern states, which prided themselves on maintaining high welfare benefits. Ribicoff promised a thorough review of welfare programs and enlisted the aid of key professional groups, such as the National Association of Social Workers, in the process.
Although Ribicoff signed many of the memoranda to prominent people and authorized articles on welfare that appeared in national publications, Cohen was the prime mover on welfare reform. He coordinated a series of departmental reports on welfare and served as the principal author of welfare reform legislation. Before he left with his son Bruce to attend an international social security meeting in Istanbul and to have a short European vacation in September, 1961, he asked key departmental officials for suggestions about such matters as rehabilitating welfare recipients and training public welfare personnel to provide welfare services. Then, in broad outline, he sketched ideas for a bill that embodied his notion of providing services for welfare beneficiaries on terms that were generous enough to induce the states to begin such programs.
Departing for Istanbul, Cohen left specific instructions for Ribicoff. He told his boss of five types of administrative actions he could take, without having to ask the approval of Congress. Some were merely cosmetic, such as changing the name of the Bureau of Public Assistance to the Bureau of Family Aid and Services. “The word `family’ should definitely be in,” Ribicoff later told some welfare administrators who met with him. Other of Cohen’s suggestions dealt with the matter of personnel. He urged Secretary Ribicoff to appoint a person “identified with services and rehabilitation” as head of the Bureau of Public Assistance. Still other of Cohen’s suggestions involved federal instructions to the states. Cohen recommended that Ribicoff take steps to force the states to limit the caseloads of each of its caseworkers. Cohen thought that the limit should be 90 cases per month. In addition, Cohen urged Ribicoff to force the states to prepare a “plan for each child to see that he receives proper care and services to enable him to achieve health, growth, and independence.” Finally, Cohen recommended that Ribicoff explore the creation of a whole new office in HEW, headed by a Commissioner of Rehabilitation and Family Services.
By November, Ribicoff was ready to bring welfare reform to the President’s direct attention. In a letter meant to have public release, Ribicoff stated that, “From the day of my confirmation hearing I have been convinced that the demand for changes in the welfare laws would become a hot issue.” He noted that the publicity that attended the events in Newburgh, New York “confirmed my prediction.” Ribicoff presented welfare reform to the President as a bipartisan measure that could draw support from conservatives and liberals. Conservatives worried about welfare abuses and demanded that something be done about the “AFDC mother with a dozen illegitimate kids, the relief checks that buy liquor instead of food and rent, the able-bodied man who spurns a decent job to stay on relief.” Liberals wanted to reorient the “whole approach to welfare from a straight cash-hand-out operation to one in which the emphasis is on rehabilitation of those on relief and prevention ahead of time.”
Although Ribicoff did not burden the President with too many specifics, he mentioned the authorization of funds to give states an incentive to provide rehabilitation services to people on welfare. He also said that he intended to highlight the issues in the weeks ahead to build momentum for the passage of legislation in 1962.
Ribicoff worked in the foreground and Cohen worked in the background, consulting with the Bureau of the Budget and with the constituent agencies on the specific contents of a welfare reform bill. Ribicoff mentioned to the President that discussions with the Bureau of the Budget were taking place “under the direction of Assistant Secretary Wilbur J. Cohen.” In one of those meetings, Cohen told the Bureau of Budget officials of how his Department wanted to expand rehabilitation services in the public assistance program. Although specific issues remained to be resolved, the meeting resulted in an agreement “that we should make a big push on rehabilitation services–broadening the character of the services, adding more attractive matching, and perhaps imposing mandatory requirements on the States.”
Meanwhile, Ribicoff conducted his highly visible publicity campaign. By December he was ready to take administrative actions that Cohen told Sorensen were “sound and desirable and long over due and I believe will bring great credit to the Administration …. ” The political packaging of the administrative actions probably reflected Ribicoff’s influence, but the contents of the proposals were largely Cohen’s work. Ribicoff began his ten point administrative action program with measures designed to locate parents who deserted their families and measures intended to reduce and control fraud. Only then did he move on to such suggestions as the improvement of staff training programs and the development of services to families. He also asked to meet with all state welfare directors early in 1962.
Cohen told William Haber on December 19, 1961 that he just had finished spending about six weeks on the ten point program that Ribicoff announced. On that same date, the Secretary made his plans for new legislation public by writing a series of letters to influential figures in public welfare administration and politics. Cohen wrote drafts of each of the letters.
One of the first went to Eleanor Roosevelt and contained a laudatory reference to her husband. Ribicoff said that FDR’s 1935 welfare legislation, included in the Social Security Act, met the problems of the time but that “the quarter of a century that has passed has taught us many new things.” Ribicoff noted that he would ask the Congress for more federal money to give the states an incentive to rehabilitate those on welfare and to prevent other people from going on welfare. As matters stood, the federal government paid half of the states’ administrative and service costs. Ribicoff proposed having the federal government pay three-quarters of the costs of rehabilitation services. In the letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, Ribicoff also announced that he wanted more federal funds for child welfare services, including money for day care of children of working mothers. In general, Ribicoff highlighted the liberal side of the welfare reform agenda, such as providing federal money for community work-training programs “with adequate safeguards to protect the health and safety of the individual.”
Ribicoff concluded his appeal to Mrs. Roosevelt by mentioning his hope that his reforms would “reorient the whole approach to welfare from an eligibility operation to one in which the emphasis is on rehabilitation.” To effect this change, he stressed that the people who worked in the program would have to become more than caseworkers who processed appeals for aid. They would have to learn how to diagnose problems, coordinate and purchase services, and monitor a person’s progress toward independence. All in all, it would amount, according to Ribicoff, to a “tremendous improvement in our welfare programs which will greatly help to strengthen family life and prevent continued dependency of many families.”
In later years, Cohen regretted the hype that attended the Kennedy welfare reform proposals. He called the statements in support of the program “overenthusiastic,” but thought at the time that such rhetoric was part of creating a political demand for needed change. Even at the time, however, he noted that the social work profession was not eager to aid the cause of welfare reform. Schools of social work did not encourage students to work in public assistance programs. “Practically everybody wants to be a psychiatric social worker or a child welfare worker or some other kind of professional worker that has prestige, status and deals with clients who are not so difficult to handle,” Cohen noted. If the welfare reform were to pass and to succeed in its objectives, it would require more whole-hearted support from the social work community.
Such quibbles aside, the cause of welfare reform moved forward like a juggernaut. In January, 1962, the legislative leaders received letters similar to the one that Ribicoff had sent Eleanor Roosevelt. As always, Cohen tailored the merchandise to suit the consumer. Senator Byrd’s letter made no mention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, nor were the nine major points in the legislation listed in the same order in Byrd’s letter as in Mrs. Roosevelt’s letter. For Byrd, money for day care was item four; for Roosevelt, money for day care was item two. Mrs. Roosevelt learned far more about training social work personnel in her letter than did Senator Byrd or the other conservative Congressmen who received letters. Senator Byrd and Congressman Mills learned far more about encouraging welfare recipients to work than did Mrs. Roosevelt.
It was exactly the appeal of welfare reform to both conservatives and liberals, combined with the optimism that the right sort of professional intervention would solve the problem by lowering the welfare rolls, that facilitated passage of the Public Welfare Amendments of 1962. It was a liberal reform that would bring more money to the Congressman’s home districts and produce results that would be lauded by liberals and conservative alike. It did not require any state to do anything; it simply offered incentives for such things as rehabilitation services and the extension of the ADC program to cover unemployed parents. Unlike education, welfare was an area that had already been breached by the federal government and states already depended on federal money to make ends meet.
When the President himself decided to send Congress an unprecedented special message devoted to public welfare, passage of the new law appeared to be assured. The only possible objection to the legislation centered on its cost. Rehabilitation services, as everyone conceded, would cost more money. The President, like the other proponents of the legislation, finessed the question of costs by declaring them to be investments. “We have here,” declared the President, “a realistic program which will pay dividends on every dollar invested.”
Wilbur Mills agreed to hold prompt hearings on the President’s proposals. He asked Abraham Ribicoff to be the first witness. Ribicoff told the House Ways and Means Committee on February 7, 1962 that “essentially our task is to wage war on dependency.” When the questioning of Ribicoff got specific, he turned things over to Assistant Secretary Cohen. In May, 1962, for example, Ribicoff appeared before the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Clinton Anderson asked him a detailed question about vendor medical payments under the Kerr-Mills program. Cohen, the main author of the Kerr-Mills legislation, answered the question. When Senator Curtis raised questions about the welfare program in the District of Columbia, Cohen again came to the Secretary’s rescue.
The Public Welfare Amendments of 1962 became law with deceptive ease. “As you can well imagine,” wrote Cohen to one of his Michigan colleagues, “the `apparent ease’ with which this bill moved along concealed a great deal of work.” On July 25, President Kennedy signed the law and repeated the thought that the new law provided “rehabilitation instead of relief.” The President stressed the objective behind the law of preventing or reducing dependency and encouraging self-care and self-support. Cohen himself contributed to the expectations engendered by the new law when he called it, “the most extensive improvement and redirection of Federal-State public assistance and child welfare programs since 1935.”
The law itself followed the suggestions that Cohen had developed over the entire process. It increased from 50 to 75 percent the federal portion of the cost of rehabilitation services. It extended federal authority to pay benefits to both parents when the father was disabled or unemployed. It allowed federal funds to be used for community work and training programs. It increased federal funds for child welfare services. It met Cohen’s basic objectives of increasing welfare services and extending eligibility for ADC.
By the time of the law’s passage, Cohen had already given a great deal of thought on how to implement it. He had been in touch with Ellen Winston, the Commissioner of Public Welfare for the state of North Carolina, about administering the new law. He told her early in 1962 that, “Whatever we do in this reorganization matter I would like to see you have a significant role in the new program and pattern.”
Other important figures in HEW also needed to be consulted. Secretary Ribicoff wanted Cohen to talk with Mary Switzer, the director of the vocational rehabilitation program since 1950 and a veteran administrator whose service in the health and welfare field went back to 1921, about serving as the head of a new departmental division that would combine welfare and vocational rehabilitation. Switzer enjoyed a large and enthusiastic following on Capitol Hill. Characteristically, she tried to interest Senator Hill and Congressman Fogarty in her promotion. Robert Ball, who became the new Commissioner of Social Security in April, also contributed to the discussion about how the new welfare law should be put in effect. So did the others in Cohen’s policy network, such as Arthur Altmeyer, Fedele Fauri, and Elizabeth Wickenden.
Arthur Altmeyer, who had never liked Switzer, remained vehemently opposed to the notion of uniting Mary Switzer’s rehabilitation program with the welfare program. He told Cohen that putting vocational rehabilitation and welfare together ran the risk of “destroying rather than promoting family rehabilitation.” Switzer would emphasize putting welfare mothers to work and neglect other family-oriented problems. Altmeyer clung to his unreconstructed New Deal belief that a “good mother should be permitted to exercise her own judgment as to whether it is in the best interest of her children to work or to stay home.” The family, Altmeyer concluded, was a fragile institution and “it would be most unfortunate if the government itself put into effect a policy which accentuated the danger of family breakdown.” An instinctive defender of his old bureaucratic turf, Altmeyer favored leaving welfare with the rest of social security and concentrating all of income maintenance policy in the Commissioner of Social Security’s office.
Robert Ball, who would become the most prominent of Altmeyer’s successors as Commissioner, disagreed. “Mr. Ball wanted to get rid of welfare,” Cohen recalled. He described Ball as “very anti-welfare” and as lacking an “empathetic relationship to welfare.” Ball wanted no part of the new welfare law and feared that it would sully his reputation as a competent administrator and spoil the chance to pass new social insurance laws like Medicare. “So Ball would constantly talk with me and the Secretary about shedding” welfare,” Cohen said.
These discussions led Cohen not to push to combine vocational rehabilitation and welfare. Instead, he favored the creation of what would be called the Welfare Administration, an independent agency within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Cohen decided not to recommend Mary Switzer for the new job of Commissioner of Welfare. He favored Ellen Winston instead.
Cohen willingly acquiesced in Robert Ball’s suggestions on how to organize the Welfare Administration. As Cohen told Secretary Anthony Celebrezze in November, 1962, “There is an urgent need for new blood, new and imaginative thinking, and competent administrative experience in the Federal welfare program.” Hence, welfare should be removed from the Social Security Administration. Cohen also saw merit to Ball’s recommendation that the Children’s Bureau be transferred from the Social Security Administration to the Welfare Administration. That would keep the Children’s Bureau intact as an organizational entity, rather than splitting its various functions into different parts of the department. Nor did Ball or Cohen want to punish or demote Mary Switzer. Instead, the two agreed that her program should be elevated from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration, and she should become the Commissioner of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Cohen told the Secretary that although not everyone, such as Arthur Altmeyer and William Mitchell, would be happy with the new arrangement, “I believe on the whole you would receive commendation from welfare and vocational rehabilitation people on your implementation of these proposals.”
Accepting Cohen’s advice, Celebrezze announced the formation of the Welfare Administration on December 20, 1962. “The first major realignment of welfare functions since the Department was established in 1953,” Celebrezze called it. The Secretary described Ellen Winston as “one of the outstanding State welfare administrators in the country,” and praised all of the other bureaucratic principles involved. Robert Ball was a man of “exceptional competence and leadership” and Mary Switzer was a woman of outstanding ability. Wilbur Cohen, who had engineered so many of these bureaucratic changes, remained in the background.
At age 59, Ellen Winston came to the post as head of the Welfare Administration with a great deal of experience. A sociologist trained at the University of Chicago, she worked for various federal agencies in the 1930s. She taught at Meredith College in North Carolina for four years and then became the chief of North Carolina’s public welfare program in 1944. She was very much a member of Cohen’s and Wickenden’s policy network, associated with such organizations as the American Public Welfare Administration and the Council of Social Work Education. She served on Ribicoff’s Ad Hoc Committee on Welfare, and testified on behalf of the American Public Welfare in support of the administration bill.”
The realities of Washington life soon began to wear Ellen Winston down. Even before she took the job, the public began to read about scandals in welfare administration in such places as Washington, D.C. The Welfare Administration proved an unglamorous setting for departmental initiatives in juvenile delinquency and aging.
Cohen praised Ellen Winston whenever he could. “Ellen is certainly doing a very splendid job. Her energy, her enthusiasm, and her knowledge are proving to provide the spark that certainly has been missing in our welfare programs,” he told Altmeyer. He also defended her in battles over bureaucratic turf. He told proponents of an independent Commission on Aging, for example, that advocates for the elderly were better off with a Special Staff on Aging in the Welfare Administration.
Winston served until March, 1967, and Cohen was sorry to see her leave. “You have given four full and selfless years to the Department,” he told her. He had chosen her and felt personally close to her. Yet Cohen realized that her working relationship with HEW Secretary John Gardner was less than ideal, and he had begun to have second thoughts about the 1962 legislation. In later years, he expressed his disappointment quite openly. He described the 1962 legislation his “greatest disappointment,” “a dismal, 100% failure.”
The Welfare Administration never became a strong operating arm of the department to match the Public Health Service or the Social Security Administration. Even a law over which Cohen had personal control could prove disappointing.
On mental retardation legislation, the second major sustained effort of the Kennedy years, Cohen operated as the servant of others. Cohen worked hard on this matter, and that was because Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was an extraordinarily driven and dedicated woman, wanted him to do so. More than any other individual, Mrs. Shriver urged that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare pay attention to mental retardation. In this manner, Mrs. Shriver helped to make a personal concern of the Kennedy family into a national cause that was supported by federal funds.
It fell to Cohen to coordinate the Department’s efforts. As early as May, 1961, Cohen began meeting with the Shrivers, Dr. Cooke (the Hopkins pediatrician), and Myer Feldman of the White House staff to fashion an administration program in mental retardation. As Cohen envisioned a basic package of proposals, it would include the establishment of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Services, the authorization of the Children’s Bureau to make research grants in the fields of maternal and child health and crippled children’s services, and increases in grants for basic maternal health and child welfare services. Cohen also urged an expansion of the vocational rehabilitation program, so that it would work more closely with people who were mentally retarded. In addition, Cohen envisioned special survey, planning, and construction grants, similar to the existing grants for hospital construction, that could be used to build residential care facilities for mentally retarded children. Finally, Cohen wanted Congress to enact a program of grants that could be used to train teachers who worked with mentally retarded children.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Berkowitz, E. (2011). Wilbur J. Cohen and the new frontier. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/recollections/wilbur-j-cohen-and-the-new-frontier/