Jack S. Futterman

Jack Futterman 1966

Jack Futterman--1969. SSA History Archives.

Career History

1929-1933 B.S., College of City of New York
1933-1934 M.S. in Education, College of City of New York. Phi Beta Kappa; Cum Laude
Work Experience:
1965-1972 Assistant Commissioner for Administration
1/63-1965 Executive Assistant, SSA, Office of the Commissioner Executive
7/57-1/63 Executive Assistant , BOASI, Office of the Director
7/55-7/57 Deputy Assistant Director, BOASI, Division of Program Analysis
12/48-7/55 Budget Officer, BOASI (Chief, Fiscal Management Branch)
3/46-12/48 Chief, Control Branch, Division of Accounting Operations, BOASI
12/45-2/46 Procedural Consultant, Division of Accounting Operations, BOASI.
7/42-12/45 Lieut., USNR. Executive Officer aboard LST in various campaigns in the Pacific Theater
11/36-7/42 Division of Accounting Operations, BOASI, various clerical and supervisory positions.

Excerpts from letters written to Jack:

"It has been your particular responsibility to develop the organization, procedures and personnel necessary not only for efficiency but also to develop the spirit of cooperation and desire to be of service which distinguishes the Social Security Administration. You have a right to be personally proud of your achievement and I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart." —
Arthur J. Altmeyer

"There is no doubt that your name is indelibly written in the history of the Government's income maintenance programs." —
Bob Ball

". . .let me just mention two more personal things that characterize Jack Futterman. First, your love of beauty. . .Second, your pride and zeal for doing a job right, any job. The impact of your leadership in this regard will always enhance the style and class of the organization." —
Bob Bynum

"You have always had an uncanny way of causing me to think big and place problems in a true perspective. But most of all you demonstrated a dedication and integrity which made all of us slightly taller than we might otherwise have been." —
Lou Zawatzky

"In the 13 years I have been with this agency, I have observed that you have illuminated every question you discussed, graced every cause you espoused, dignified every task you touched, and ennobled every duty you performed." —
John C. Neely

". . .I always admired and respected your talents; your integrity, your discipline, your vision for how things ought to be and your dedication to moving us all along the road to reaching that vision. We were all, after all, human, and, to one degree or another, prone to vanity, egocentric behavior and a certain institutional myopia. But you, it seemed to me then and now, while tolerant of human weakness, nevertheless pushed us to be better than our ordinary state." —
Ian Paris

"Only once in the time I've known you have you failed to tell me the truth--even though you thought you were. You said on our first meeting, "I'm not a modest man, you know." As I have watched your startled reaction to the plethora of encomiums these days, you are not only startlingly emotional and sentimental for a tough old bureaucrat, but you appear with completely sincere surprise to have no real appreciation of the towering respect and awareness people have for you." —
Sumner G. Whittier

"When I came to Baltimore, I discovered a legendary reputation--powerful, outspoken, super-serious, demanding, dedicated, and, to some, harsh and autocratic. While such reports were still fresh in my mind, the real thing strode into our management intern orientation room and delivered himself of what . . .I thought to be one of the most impressive discussions of the responsibilities of public service that I had heard. I remember thinking to myself what an incredibly valuable experience it would be . . .just to be able to observe such a man in action. . .In fact, the experience far exceeded my highest hopes. . .What I got, it seems to me, was an Oxford-Cambridge style tutorial course in the arts and sciences of public service." —
John Trout

Remembering Jack

I was not fortunate enough to have worked with Jack Futterman during his storied career at SSA. Jack retired in 1972, five years before I started my SSA career, and 36 years after he started his own.

Jack Futterman was one of SSA's true pioneers--starting out in the Candler Building in November 1936. Jack was present at the founding of this great enterprise of Social Security. It was Jack and his co-workers in the Division of Accounting Operations who built the ship, so to speak, that would carry this enterprise through time. Jack's special talents and intellectual brilliance were recognized almost from his first day on the job, as he recounts in his wonderful oral history memoir. Jack would play important roles in the organization, usually behind the scenes, rising to the job of Assistant Commissioner for Administration--the next level below SSA's Commissioner at the time, Bob Ball. It's amazing how many institutional structures and processes that still exist in SSA today were introduced by Jack Futterman. But I will let him tell you that story, because he was a great story-teller, who delighted in recounting the tales of his career at SSA.

I first met Jack in 1996, when he was already 84 years old. But he was a vigorous, active and intellectually sharp octogenarian. In fact, I had a hard time getting in to see him as he would have to consult his busy appointment calendar before finding an open slot for me. Keeping pace with him intellectually was even tougher as he had a sharp and relentless mind that seldom slowed down to give me much of a chance to catch-up. In fact, his "interviews" weren't really so much interviews as listening sessions where Jack had a chance to share with me from his fund of thoughts and memories. I think we were fortunate to record Jack's oral history when we did. Shortly thereafter Jack would come down with a serious illness, limiting his ability to do the final editing work on his transcript. I remember one day Jack said to me, "You know, I have been 65 years old for the last 20 years. This year I suddenly became 85."

Jack Futterman was in some ways one of the sweetest guys I ever met. His initial impression, however, was a little different. Jack had a marvelously deep and raspy voice and a kind of superficial gruffness which could make him seem formidable. He also had a seriousness about him; and I suspect those who knew him in his working career would say he was a very demanding boss--both of them and of himself. But he also had a very gentle core--which you could see in the sensitivity of his work as an artist, which is one of the main ways he spent his retirement years. And you could also see it, most especially, when he smiled. I delighted in those moments when Jack, tickled by some observation or remark, would break into this impish smile. His smile was a momentary opening of this gruff shell that he presented on the surface, and you would see gentleness and sweetness inside. In the core of who he was, Jack Futterman was a sweet guy.

Starting in the summer of 1996 and concluding in early 1997, I spent many long days with Jack at his home in Ellicott City, listening to his stories. Usually we sat in his living room, Jack in his easy-chair and me on the sofa, as he remembered the events of years before. Sometimes we worked in his studio, where he painted his oils and watercolors and where he had a small office. I even tried, mostly without success, to help him troubleshoot problems with converting his old CPM computer files to work on his new Windows-based computer. Occasionally, we worked in his impeccably well-organized garage and basement, sorting through boxes of papers and documents from his career. Jack's garage is the only one I have ever seen in which not a single item of any kind is laying around out of place. Everything was put neatly away. It betrayed a habit of neatness and organization which I am sure characterized his entire life.

The experience of interviewing Jack was both delightful and challenging. Jack had a nimble and wide-ranging intellect; he could go off on big loops of thought, tying some observation or idea he was discussing with some big social or philosophical idea and connecting with another set of ideas about something else all together, then finally looping back to link up with where he started. It was fun to watch his mind at work and I enjoyed our conversations immensely. But I often had a hard time trying to keep Jack on the subject at hand. That's one reason why his interview is organized as it is--in topical segments rather than in a single narrative flow.

I also must admit that Jack was not entirely satisfied with the resulting product from our sessions together. Jack was very meticulous, especially in his written work. He was known as a demanding editor, who would return for more changes documents that others thought were well-finished. It was a point of pride with him. But oral histories are not written works--they are transcripts of the spoken word, which are inevitably less grammatical and less orderly than a written work. But they are also more spontaneous, more colorful and more lively than written works--which is their charm.

Oral histories also are prone to various errors. There are errors of memory when the interviewee is, on the spur of the moment, trying to recall events from many years in the past. There are technical errors due to the convoluted procedures involved in creating oral histories. The history is tape-recorded, usually in less than ideal conditions, then the tape is transcribed by a clerk, edited initially by the interviewer, and then edited again by the interviewee, before a finished product emerges. We were unable to complete this whole sequence for Jack's interview. Due to advancing age and failing health, Jack was not able to finish editing the transcript before his death.

Often, also, when reading the transcript of an oral interview the interviewee is surprised and disappointed to see how disorganized and rambling the text is. This is the nature of oral reminiscences--they are not as polished as written products, nor do we expect them to be. But some interviewees have trouble accepting this. That was certainly true of Jack. He was very frustrated with the first draft of his oral history. He refused to accept the idea that, being an oral history, it was okay for it to be a little disorderly. He wanted it to be a perfected written product. In several conversations we had about his oral history, Jack insisted that I put a disclaimer on the text of his interview, making clear that in his view the interview was not up to his standards. I have dutifully included his disclaimer in the introduction to the transcript. But I cannot resist offering a disclaimer of my own.

Even though Jack may not have appreciated it, his oral history interview is a work of the highest quality. It may still contain minor errors, for which I hope Jack will forgive me. But even so, it is an important contribution to the literature on the history of the Social Security program in America. I think of it as Jack's final contribution to the Agency and the program he loved. It is, in my judgment, a fitting tribute to this most remarkable and accomplished man.

Larry DeWitt
SSA Historian
March 24, 2000

Futterman in chair
Jack Futterman at home during his oral history interview, 1996. SSA History Archives.

Photo Gallery

Some photos courtesy of Futterman family

  graphic of microphone Audio Clips
The Origin of the "Downey Books"
One of Jack's many innovations at SSA was to formalize the process of collecting and printing legislative histories of Social Security. The printed books became known informally as the "Downey Books," and in this 3 1/2 minute clip from a September 1996 session, Jack explains the origin of the term.
Downey Books Clip in RealAudio format
Downey Books Clip in Windows Media Player format
The Move of SSA Headquarters to Woodlawn
From its first founding days, the Social Security Administration was scattered in numerous facilities in Washington and Baltimore. In 1960, the Agency finally moved into a single, consolidated headquarters in the Baltimore suburb of Woodlawn. Jack played a key role in the selection of the Woodlawn campus, and its subsequent growth. In this 5 minute clip, from a session in February 1997, he explains some of the considerations that went into the selection of the Woodlawn site.
Woodlawn Move Clip in RealAudio format
Woodlawn Move Clip in Windows Media Player format
Annual Wage Reporting
In the beginning of the Social Security program employers were required to send quarterly wage reports to SSA. For years, employers agitated to shift to a single annual report. Jack was an important voice in opposition to this change, due to the adverse impacts on administration. After Jack's retirement, SSA did shift to annual wage reporting, and the problems Jack predicted quickly became a reality. In this 6 min./22sec. clip from January 1997, Jack recounts his opposition to the move to annual wage reporting.
Wage Reporting Clip in RealAudio format
Wage Reporting Clip in Windows Media Player format

Transcript of Oral History

This is an Oral History interview with Jack S. Futterman. The interviewer is Larry DeWitt, SSA Historian. This transcript is the composite of a series of sessions which took place at Mr. Futterman's home in Ellicott City, Maryland, beginning on 7/16/96 and concluding on 2/7/97.

The interviews were transcribed from the audio tapes by the staff in SSA's Braille Services Unit. Initial editing was done by Bob Krebs of the SSA Historian's Office. Mr. Futterman made extensive comments on portions of the first draft, which were included in a second editing by Larry DeWitt. The interviewer's questions and any editorial asides are shown in italics to distinguish them from the remarks of Mr. Futterman.

Mr. Futterman had a limited opportunity to review and edit the raw transcript, during the Spring of 1998. However, he was unable to find the time and energy to review the entire document. The corrections he made were invaluable; but Mr. Futterman remained frustrated with the text of his interview as he felt it needed more work before it would be in a form that met his high editorial standards. He was, therefore, adamant that readers should know that this document is, in his opinion, a very imperfect account and one that is not fully up to the standards Jack Futterman set for himself throughout his life.

(Note: The full interview is approximately 260 printed pages.)

Part I- Early Life
Family Background
Futterman's Education During The Depression
Futterman's First Job in the Federal Government

Part II- Working in the Candler Building
Coming To Work In The Candler Building
Innovations Introduced in DAO
Regionalization of Accounting Operations
Abandoning Regionalization
Personnel in the Candler Building
Other Key Personnel
Discrimination in the Candler Building
Relationships In DAO

Part III- Wartime Experiences
Getting A Commission
Training To Be A Sailor
Becoming An Engineer
Sent To California
Getting A Ship
Seeing Action In The Aleutians
Action In The Pacific Theater
State-Side Leave
A Final Assignment

Part IV- Back To Candler & New Duties
Control Branch
Promotion In Absentia During The War

Part V- Budget Officer
Trust Fund Interest
The Townsend Plan
Sense of Program Values
Herman Downey & Departmental Budget Officials
A Letter From Herman Downey
The Move To Woodlawn

Part VI- Working in Program Analysis
Going To Work For Alvin David
The Dragnet Program
Program Simplification
Expanding Staff
The Origin of the Downey Books
Relationship With Alvin David

Part VII- Working for Bob Ball
Relationship to Bob Ball & Others
From David to Ball
Working With Bob Ball
Payment Centers
Becoming Bob Ball's Executive Officer
Role of Regional Commissioners & Regional Directors
The Statement of Bureau Objectives
Futterman's Special File
Jack's Role as Ball's Executive Officer
Reassignment of Hugh McKenna

Part VIII- Assistant Commissioner for Administration
Improving The Grounds & Use of the Facilities
Buildings Again
Baltimore Headquarters & Relationship to Washington
Training Programs

Part IX- Policy Issues
SSI Study
SSN Study
International Technical Exchange Proposal
Administrative Style
Suggestion Systems
"Revolving Door" Commissioners
The English Stamp Book System
Benefit Recomps.
Old-Start Comps & Annual Earnings Reports
Payment Cycling
"Automatic" Entitlement
Duplicate SSNs

Part X- Administrative Issues
Jack's Management Philosophy
Principles of Administration
Jack's Expertise in Administration
Futterman's Views on Managing SSA
Relationship Between SSA & The Department
SSA As Part of Government
Relationship Between Field & Central Office
Misc. Topics in Career Civil Service
Recovering Misc. Trust Fund Income
Travel Procedures
Training Programs

Part XI- People
Hugh McKenna
Bob Ball & Alvin David
John Schwartz
Arthur Altmeyer
Roy Wynkoop
Roy Touchet
Various People

Part XII- General Observations
Reviewing Papers--Misc. Topics
Career Advancement
Understanding SSA's History
A Disclaimer Regarding Perspectives