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F&M Alum Rouse Recalls Role in Creating the Modern Presidency

A Franklin & Marshall College alumnus came to campus Jan. 29 to discuss the important role he played in helping to create five federal agencies that for more than 40 years have shaped the policies of presidents and directed the course of the nation.

Andrew M. Rouse, Class of 1949, recalled how he and his colleagues reorganized the federal government during Richard M. Nixon's administration at a Nixon Legacy Forum, "Creation of the Modern Presidency," in the Schnader Theatre of F&M's Roschel Performing Arts Center.

"Andy was in it from the beginning," said Geoff Shepard, former associate director for general government of the Domestic Council in Nixon's administration. Shepard interviewed Rouse during the forum for a future broadcast on C-SPAN. "What we have is [limited to] his institutional knowledge and the documents [in the Nixon Library]."

In introducing Rouse and Shepard, F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield said, "It has been said that, 'It is leaders that have made history, and not history that has made leaders.' Real people, like Andy Rouse and Richard Nixon, are the ones who make the decisions, take the risks, and develop the innovations that we later study as history."

  • Rouse and Creation of Modern Presidency
  • Franklin & Marshall College alumnus Andrew M. Rouse, Class of 1949, recalled how he and his colleagues reorganized the federal government during Richard M. Nixon's administration at a Nixon Legacy Forum, "Creation of the Modern Presidency," in the Schnader Theatre of F&M's Roschel Performing Arts Center. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

Between 1969 and 1970, Rouse guided the reorganization as executive director of the President's Advisory Council on Executive Reorganization, more commonly known as the Ash Council. It was named for its chair, Roy Ash, a successful California businessman who would later head one of the new agencies created, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The other four agencies were the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Domestic Council, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Office of Telecommunications Policy. All five agencies play critical roles in making policies and regulations that affect Americans' daily lives.

Until the Ash Council, Shepard said federal agencies had not been reorganized since 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt reshuffled agencies in the wake of the many New Deal programs created during the Depression.

Rouse, who worked in the former Bureau of the Budget as head of strategic analysis before joining the Ash Council, said that by 1969, the federal government had become factional. Cabinet heads frequently made policy decisions without vetting them with the president.

"One of the consequences of that was, over the years, a lot of conflicts arose between the departments because they were all doing very similar things, or they were doing different things that found them clashing with one another," Rouse said.

The Ash Council's goal was to consolidate agencies into rational organizations, for departments to operate based on function rather than personalities. The council would meet regularly in Washington, D.C., or California, where they would brief Nixon on their progress. Rouse said the meetings typically lasted all day and were frequently intense.

"Sometimes the dialogue was substantive; sometimes it was petty," Rouse said. "I remember a petty one that was over the spelling of "ensure." Some insisted it was e-n-s-u-r-e, and others insisted that it was i-n-s-u-r-e."

  • Rouse and Creation of Modern Presidencyo
  • Carra Kramer, a 2012 graduate of Franklin & Marshall College and an F&M Rouse Scholar, meets with the former Nixon administration official after the Nixon Legacy Forum. (Photo by Melissa Hess) 

Among the members of the Ash Council was John Connally, former Democratic governor of Texas who would later become Nixon's treasury secretary and change his party affiliation to Republican.

After a meeting at Nixon's California home in San Clemente, Rouse said, the president took the governor aside for about 15 minutes. "Connally did not tell anyone what the meeting was about until many months later," Rouse said.

The meeting, Connally later told Rouse over lunch in the White House Mess hall, was about politics, not restructuring the government. Connally was a conservative Democrat, and Nixon, concerned about the GOP's future in a solidly Democratic South, wanted Connally's help.

Rouse is an F&M emeritus trustee and sponsor of F&M's prestigious Rouse Scholarship, awarded to students who have demonstrated unusual leadership while achieving academic excellence. He was greeted after the event by alumnus Carra Kramer, a 2012 graduate of F&M and a Rouse Scholar.

"It's always interesting to take an opportunity to learn a little more about him and what he was involved in," said Kramer, who is assistant director of annual giving for F&M. "We hear the names of those agencies every day, and we don't know the people behind forming them."