Monday, July 5, 2010

A Wise Old Head

John C. Page had been Commissioner of Reclamation until 1943. A Nebraskan and a civil engineer, he had worked on the Boulder Project. In 1947, brought back, he was giving counsel on the CAP. Before this first (of many, many) congressional hearings on the CAP, he reviewed the statement of V.E.Larson, and offered him two pages* on how to conduct himself before the prickly servants of the people. John Page seems to have been a sensible man, and I think the letter is worth presenting at some length, perhaps as an echo of a by-gone time, since he seems to avoid cynicism even as he hits the target.

He starts by commending Larson's "story", "an excellent collection of data". He will not comment on the details, but has general comments based on his experience before committees, "as a result of which I have determined the psychology that prevails" there.

The purpose is "to sell the project" and "secure the Committee's favorable reaction". So the statement "should be presented in a forthright, out-spoken manner without extraneous diversions of thought from the main theme". I am convinced "the impression created by the witness … is of much more effect than the words that are actually spoken". Congressmen are "highly qualified individuals, all of them being too busy and whose thoughts are continually straying to other meetings and other hearings which they should be attending at that same time." So, "the telling of this story must be in a form which is forceful and to a certain extent a 'capsule edition'. The(y) have no knowledge of the matters involved, and in fact in some cases they have no desire to gain that knowledge, which means particularly that the impression created is all-important."

Details and explanations that should be in the record should be given in response to questions, and not volunteered. "Oftentimes it is desirable to plant the desired questions in the hands of friends, like Mr. Murdock, who can be depended upon to show an interest." Answering of questions has less effect of "diverting the thought of the Committee" because it is "considered more or less a side issue until the record is completely made". If questions do not bring everything out, permission may be asked to present for the record the "explanation and the methods of computation and the details" not in your opening statement. "On this theory, I consider your statement too long and somewhat involved, because no congressman could get a clear picture by hearing it only once." The record should be complete so each could study it individually in his own office, and "thus inform himself to the extent that he desires." "Some rearrangement would also seem to be desirable, having in mind that the statement must be a strongly presented outline of the whole program and the need". "The impression is best created if the statement hits the particular points so that the congressmen can get the story in complete and accurate form. I would reduce the presentation to a pungent, forceful capsule. This means leaving out all details and selling your story on the basis of a broad outline, giving it as an expert". "I would not qualify any of your statements nor present proof that they are true, except in the record … (including) all computations".

"Start your statement with a description of the project somewhat as shown on page 22 of your draft." Then "tell what each feature does;… stress the need for each one and for the completed whole". That way a congressman gets "a more favorable impression"; he can inform himself fully when you complete the record outside.

"I was conceited enough to think that I was a good witness before the committees, because they believed what I told them and seemed to consider me as an aid to them in attaining their own impressions." "One must instill a feeling of confidence … as to the trustworthy status of your statements".

Your manner will surely create a favorable impression, but I impress that you are an expert witness, "and uncertainty or lack of confidence in your story will weaken the effect of your presentation." "I wish you luck, but I do not anticipate that you will enjoy your experience particularly."

*Letter, Apr 22 1947, J.C.Page (Denver office) to V.E. Larson (Phoenix office), from Bureau of Reclamation files in Boulder City, now probably archived with NARA

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