In October, 1950, acting Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri addressed the Citizens Budget Commission at Carnegie Hall. He wanted to tell that group of concerned citizens (and voters in the next month’s special election) about the major issues facing the City: education, traffic, transit, smoke control. But he was pressed for time, he said. So instead, he decided to talk big picture: the City’s record-setting, billion dollar budget, and the topic of modern management. He did not attribute the seemingly astronomical budget to the large-scale social programs then underway, like building 70,000 low-cost housing units, an extensive hospital reconstruction program, new schools or subways, but rather, to “changing economic conditions which have affected every city, county and state,” in the country, noting percentage increases to the state and federal budgets even greater than the City’s.
Before expounding on those changing economic conditions though, he made a justification for a line item in that budget (to the eventual tune of $2,196,250) that he believed would ultimately save the city a great deal of money, and enable it to meet those ever-rising costs. “We now have a Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey at work,” he said. “Its members are studying the reclassification of our civil service employees, the operation of our subway system, our education department, our water supply problem, and City finances generally… I believe that economies will be the result of these studies. I have hopes that these economies will enable us to continue to meet the increasing cost of hospitals, welfare, schools, and other vital services.”
Begun under Mayor William O’Dwyer, the Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey was a sprawling three-year labor that culminated in a hefty, two-volume final report with a slew of recommendations for sweeping changes to various agencies and offices of the government. The Committee ultimately presented eleven major findings, and twelve management recommendations, and many four-, five-, and six-point plans with their own numbered lists of justifying principles and inescapable underlying forces. Whether its primary purpose, “the securing of good management, which will bring in its wake those economies arising from the best use of men, materials, and time in getting the work of the City government done,” was in fact accomplished, is a topic for further research. What’s clear is that City government needed some kind of diagnostic.
The City had become populous and complex, and it was only natural to wonder whether staff and resources were being put to the most efficient use, and plainly how. To properly fulfill its’ mandate, the Committee needed to know just how city worker’s hours were spent, what those hours cost, and the output they provided. They needed an ant’s-eye view of the thing. They needed to know what exactly, did a Watchman or a Hospital Helper, or a Custodian-Engineer do all day? What sort of tools and equipment did they use? Who did they interact with?
A good form is the hallmark of bureaucracy. The Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey’s response to this data-vacuum was a banner entry to the genre: Form 51. By June, 1951 they’d collected over 83,000 of them from city government’s labor force. This rate of return was 99.4% of the total the Committee’s Classification Project staff sought in order to reclassify civil service titles to more accurately reflect the work being performed.
Now they knew that for $3,100 a year, John Doran supervised the No. 1 oven on Rikers Island, the largest in the bakery, putting out 2,160 pounds of bread every 55 minutes. William K. Frese reported to the Fermentation Room at 6:50 AM. He made sure the dough was the right temperature before being hoisted in 1,000 lb. increments to a slide passing it through the ‘Divider’, sizing it appropriately for individual loaves of bread. They knew this occupied 50% of his time. The rest was divided equally between managing the cake room (the source of rolls, pies, and pastry), and supervising the inmates in their duties assisting the bakers.
Along with an incidental education in the manufacture of a perfect loaf of bread, Form 51 gave the Committee many of those fundamental details of City operations from which they strove to extract greater efficiency and savings. From the vantage point of the present day Form 51 shows a fairly vivid snapshot of a dozen or more 1950-era working-class civil-service vocations, detailing the tasks filling the day, to the tools of the trade, requisite experience and qualifications, and rate of pay. The descriptions vary with the individual providing them, some being rather terse and technical and others imbued with more narrative and personality. Richard T. Cairney, for instance, could have satisfactorily completed the form without elaborating on the care he took to instruct the inmates assisting him in the, “art of bread baking in order that they might be useful when they are released,” or that emergencies such as fog or ferry boat mishaps required him to take full charge of the bakery.
At McCarren Park in Brooklyn, Arkade Rudomen’s description of his duties charts the passing of seasons In the summer, he supervised the maintenance and operation of the swimming pool, then converted the swimming facilities into a recreation area in the fall, and with the arrival of spring reversed the process, painting and sealing expansion joints in the pool and erecting diving boards (Paul Friesel describes the same seasonal transformation at Sunset Park Pool…). The main pool was 330 ft. by 165 ft., the diving pool 100 ft. square. They had locker facilities to accommodate 5,000. Rudomen supervised a team of almost forty, from lifeguards and attendants to play directors, chlorinators, and ticketing agents. He’d previously been a lifeguard himself, in the employ of the Queens Borough President’s Office.
Pieces of the 1950 public school experience are reflected in the Committee’s data-gathering mechanism as well. At the Manual Training High School in Brooklyn, the girls swam on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The boys swam on the complementary schedule. They were provided with towels and the right-sized suit, sterilized and mended if need be, by a Cleaner Attendant, like Helen F. Hagen. She also sterilized the football uniforms and, “all other paraphernalia,” from the basketball and track teams, the shop aprons, stockings and gym suits. For this work Hagen and her colleagues had at their disposal the Raymond Sterilizer-Washer, a cast-iron barrel capable of killing ordinary pathogenic organisms and spore-forming bacteria in 5 minutes, when operated at 15 pounds pressure.
After a morning swim, lunch for students and teachers alike may have consisted of soup and sandwiches, or roast beef with gravy and vegetables, with cakes, custards or pudding for dessert, all prepared by Cooks like Katherine Rumker, Bertha Telford and Rachel Hently. The cakes were made from scratch, not any mixes, at James Fenimore Cooper Junior High. They took Rachel Hently two and a half hours to finish. Then she got started on lunch, and continued cooking while she served from 11:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. She and the rest of the staff (the ‘help’, she writes) ate the lunch she prepared for them from 1:30 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. At Jr. H.S. 49 Bertha Telford consulted with the dietitian on the following day’s menu and the best possible use of the leftovers. Katherine Rumker’s accounting of her typical day makes it sound like the teacher’s cafeteria had the privilege of a daily custom order. And jello was standard fare.
A Barber employed at Bellevue Hospital had 13 wards to care for concerning shaves and haircuts. In the Nursing Department at Queens General Hospital, another shaved the heads of patients preparing to undergo surgery. At the City Home on Welfare Island, Victor Tripaldi managed 45 shaves and 10 haircuts a day.
The Butchers employed in the City’s prisons and hospitals provide an accounting of their cutting and cleaning. According to Anton Keltner, Goldwater Memorial Hospital went through a combined average of 3,600 pounds of meat, poultry, and fish per week. Every other day, Hospital Helper Angelo Donisi cleaned and mopped the morgue in Sydenham Hospital. He was also responsible for cleaning the test tubes in the second floor lab.
The actual utility of all this information in the context of the city’s mid-century budgetary examination is hard to evaluate. The reclassification plan for civil service titles that resulted from this survey, put forth by the firm of Griffenhagen and Associates at the behest of the Committee, was met with widespread disapproval by civil service unions and organizations throughout the city and state. As for the promised economic benefits of the Management Survey, City Construction Co-Ordinator Robert Moses had his doubts. In a 1951 letter to Comptroller Lazarus Joseph, Chairman of the Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, Moses urged the taking of stock and correcting of misapprehensions. The municipal budget was steadily mounting, unavoidably and for good reason, he argued. “Economy is, of course, indispensable, but the notion which has been assiduously cultivated by various civic agencies and the press that enforced efficiency and economy will actually result in tremendous net cuts in the City’s expense budget and make it possible to meet inescapable demands for increases in pay and services within the present total and without new taxes, is just so much moonshine.” He went on, “I am for genuine economy, for cutting out waste, for the smallest practical number of competent, decently paid and well treated employees and for savings which do not cut services, but I ask that the experts on whom we are spending $2,000,000 concentrate on the big problems of financing and refrain from making mountains out of molehills.”
If the over-analysis of the daily tasks of a cross-section of city workers are the mountains and molehills Moses mentions, perhaps these accounts are of more value now than at the time of their creation. By and large, the records we deem historic and therefore preserve are those of policy-makers. For reasons of practicality and privacy we’re typically unable to maintain and make accessible the records of the individuals who actually execute the government’s policies, who actually provide the services to the citizens, who meet people face-to-face. Most of the time their contributions are reflected only indirectly. These job descriptions from the people performing the work are unique in that sense. Form 51 highlights the contrasts in culture and technology between that era and the present, and paints a partial portrait of earlier times that other records, or our imaginations, can fill in.
New York City Municipal Archives, Accn. 1954-023 Office of the Mayor, Vincent R. Impellitteri subject files, 1950-1953, Boxes 54-55.
New York City Municipal Archives, Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey position description forms, circa 1950.
Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, Modern Management for the City of New York: report, 1953.