Robert Huddleston recalls how the first director of the LBJ Library was recruited

Historians in the News
tags: presidential libraries



Robert Huddleston is a semi-retired writer and book critic. He is the author of "Edmundo from Chiapas, Mexico to Park Avenue: A True Story of a Mexican-American who became a World War II spy and married a German Princess."

In the spring of 1968, before President Johnson made the shocking (to some) announcement that he would not seek another term, the nation's chief archivist had the message. Dr. James “Bert” Rhoads, the Archivist of the United States had been contacted by an assistant on Johnson's staff requesting a briefing on the presidential library system. Rhoads responded and—following the official notice—work began to recruit an LBJ library director.

As the acting director of personnel of the General Services Administration (of which the National Archives was a subordinate unit -- it is now an Independent agency -- I assisted Dr. Rhoads as the library directors were in the career civil service and certain rules and procedures were required.

Before candidates could be recruited, the position must be “classified” as to rank and salary. Presidential library directors were then classified at the GS-15 level (the military considered this as equivalent to  a colonel) with the Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries ranked at GS-17. (I have no recollection of any library director complaining of being under-classified.)

President LBJ, upon being informed that we were about to recruit “his" director at the GS-15 level informed Dr. Rhoads that the position was  a GS-!8, one grade above the the Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries. It was a seemingly unsurmountable problem to be solved.

But it was solved: Civil Service positions at the GS-18 level—as well as GS-16 and GS-17 were limited by law and allocated as available by the Civil Service Commission (CSC). There was no “supergrade” available so, with the cooperation of the CSC, the GS-17 grade held by the Assistant Archivist was reassigned to the Johnson library director and his salary would be set at a higher level as the law allowed. The “logic” applied to this unusual arrangement was that the libraries of living former presidents deserved a higher grade, a decision that resulted in unexpected increases for several present and future directors.. (Administering Civil Service rules is more of an art than a science!)

This “solution” was relayed to the White House, approved, and Dr. Rhoads proceeded to recruit a highly respected professor of history. The candidate was interviewed by the President's wife, Ladybird and, as the Director of Personnel I notified the candidate that he had been selected—an offer which he promptly rejected!. Dr. Rhoads conveyed the news to the White House and a new candidate was selected (who expressed his interest) and Dr. Chester “Chet” Newland became the first director of the Johnson Presidential Library.




comments powered by Disqus