Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with J. Michael Springmann
Q: I had the impression that you had both time servers in the Department of Commerce, this is bias, but this is my impression. Time servers sort of as your main cadre, and this was kind of a dumping ground for political appointees at the top more than most other places, or not?
SPRINGMANN: It wasn't heavily politicized when I first started. It was basically a bureaucratic backwater, that believed in the fang and claw school of personnel management. One woman who had been in personnel for years told me that Commerce had not yet been toilet trained. You also had a lot of failed Foreign Service officers, people who had been selected out. And the people I saw there, who had been selected out, looked to me like they were out for a good reason. The guy I worked directly for would never tell me what the hell was going on in the office. I had to ask other people, and read cable traffic, and things like this. (My predecessor I learned had had the same problem.)
Q: Okay, you're in Commerce dealing with Far Eastern Affairs. You're brand new on the block, you hadn't served in the Far East, you're not bringing anything in there. How did you bring yourself up to speed? What were you doing, and how did you operate in that sense?
SPRINGMANN: There was no formal training program, it was sort of on the job training. The first few months I was there they had not given me a security clearance, and I couldn't do anything at all in the office. I couldn't read anything. So I spent the time studying for my comprehensive exams for the master's degree. I kept trying to do more, I kept trying to learn more, and kept getting slapped down for it. And then when I said, “Fine, how about giving me a promotion? I've been here a while.” They said, “No, you haven't learned the job yet.” At that point I said these people are crazy, I'd better get out and found I couldn't. Nixon at that time had clamped down on the free and easy movement of people amongst various government agencies.
Q: How did this progress? I mean you got your clearance, and I take it then you were able to read.
SPRINGMANN: Basically economic and political reporting, mostly economic. You saw very few political cables. Things like the Economic Trends Report prepared by almost every embassy and consulate around the world. Spot reporting on particular aspects of changes in the interest rate, or whatever. Then I would try to do some outside reading on magazine articles about my part of the world.
Q: Would you read things equivalent to Fortune, Business Week, Economist?