State Independent Living Council Discussion Archive

NATSILC: Justin Darts 1987 Statement Of Conscience

Posted by: Lou Diehl
Date Mailed: Monday, June 2nd 2003 11:29 AM

Date: Fri, 30 May 2003 01:00:17 EDT
Subject: Justin Dart's 1987 Statement of Conscience

Justin Dart was unafraid to speak truth to power.  As a result, he was
unable to continue his role as Commissioner of RSA. Rather than gloss over
the truth about what he had found out about that agency's system, he told
it like it was.  He didn't remain Commissioner for long. 

The system is broke.  It needs fixin. We cannot be afraid to tell the
emperor that he is, in fact, stark naked. Justin Dart told us to lead on.
We must follow his example and be unafraid to speak truth to power. 

Here's what he said. 


November 18, 1987

Statement by Justin Dart, Jr., Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services
Administration, to the oversight hearing on the Rehabilitation Services
Administration held by the Select Education Subcommittee of the House
Committee on Education and Labor, November 18, 1987. 

Mr. Chairman, my prepared presentation and other materials has been and
will be submitted to you.  Beause the issues we address today involve the
fundamental human rights of millions of people with disabilities, and the
basic principles of democracy and good government of the President,
Congress and the Nations, I am going to depart from politics as usual
protocol to make a statement of conscience. 

Our agency, our community is confronted by grave challenges, magnificent
opportunities and future decisions.  The time has come to rise above pride
and protocol, to face reallity, and to unite in responsible, democratic

During my tenure as Commissioner, RSA has - thanks to the valiant efforts
of our undermanned staff - accomplished much that is positive. Certainly,
OSERS-RSA has, during the past few years, initiated the very progressive
new programs indicated by our great supporter, Congressman Bartlett, and
my distinguished colleague advocate, Assistant Secretary Madeliene Will. 

But Mr. Chairman, based on my experience as Commissioner, and my personal
research in each of the fifty states, and five our our largest Native
American Nations, I must report to you that OSERS-RSA has been for many
years, and is today, afflicted - particularly in its central office -- by
profound problems in areas such as management, personnel and resource
utilization. We are ravaged by disunity and hostility internally and in
our vital relationships with our state agency and grantee partners, and
certain other segments of the disability community.  As I reported to
Senator Harkins last month, I believe that these problems are negatively
impacting services to citizens with disabilities. 

Mr. Chairman, I have had almost no effective authority to management
solutions. But that is no acceptable excuse.  I took an oath and I accept
a salary as Commissioner of RSA.  I apologize to you and to the nation,
that in spite of 14 months of struggle working literally 7 days a week, in
spite of 8 months of appeals for serious attention and definitive action
through the regular channels, efforts by my colleagues and myself to
resolve our problems have not been successful. Faced now with the
possibility that paternalistic central control, non-professional
management and policies of hostility will be institutionalized for years
by current revisions of organization and policy, I ask for your help, and
that of the community. 

The basic problem here is not simply that Justin Dart is involved in a
trivial turf and personality conflict with Madeleine Will.  Certainly it
is not that the President, who campaigned on a platform of productive
independence for all citizens and who endorsed the very progressive
concepts advocated in Toward Independence, is personally dedicated to
dismantling vocational rehabilitation and independent living. 

The problem with our external relations is not, in my view, that the state
vocational rehabilitation agencies oppose supported employment and other
progressive rehabilitation services. My personal research has convinced me
that while the problems of people with very severe disabilities have only
begun to be solved, the great majority of the rehabilitation profession
have - within the constraints of the law - limited resources and massive
public prejudice - have been effectively dedicated to solutions.  They
have, along with great advocacy groups like ARC, NFB, NAD, ACB, UCP, TASH,
NAMI, NCIL and NHIF created a firm foundation from which such solutions
can occur. 

Our problems are complex. We are confronted by a vast, inflexible federal
system which, like the society it represents, still contains a significant
proportion of individuals who have not yet overcome obsolete,
paternalistic attitudes about disability and, indeed, about government
itself. There is a resistance to any sharing of their centralized
authority with people with disabilities, their families, advocates and
professional service providers, in or out of the federal service.  Good
management is too often subordinated to the protection of power. And,
magically, a small but all too effective minority in the federal service
and in the community seem dedicated to divide and conquer strategy and
promoting hostility among government, advocates and professional service

At issue here are principles squarely endorsed by the President, the
Congress, all the great leaders of our major political parties and the
overwhelming majority of the American people. 

Particpiatory democracy based on true federal-state-community-citizen

Responsible administration of tax dollars in faithful pursuance of the

Quality, productivity and independence oriented, professionally
administered public services. 

And, most important, the civil and basic human rights of people with
disabilities to have more than rubber stamp figurehead representation in
government, to liberate themselves finally from the subservient dependency
produced by millennia of prejudice and authoritarian paternalism, and to
participate in the productive mainstream of society as fully independent,
fully equal citizens of the first class. 

The problems of OSERS-RSA must be solved; and with good faith by all who
truly support the independence and equal rights of people with
disabilities, they can be solved, and they can be solved without asking
any party to compromise on any legitimate issue of principle. 

Mr. Chairman, I respectfully appeal to you and your colleagues in
Congress, and to all present, for guidance, inspiration, moral leadership,
and if necessary, support for legislative action which will enable RSA to
meet its historic and expanding responsibilities in the nineties and as we
enter the 21st century.  Help us, above all, to overcome hate and
hostility, and to unite. 

Let us not seek scapegoats, let us seek solutions. We have no irredeemable
enemies, only enemy attitudes. 

We stand at a historic crossroads.  We are approaching foundational
decisions about the future of rehabilitation and the fundamental rights of
people with disabilities. 

We live in the richest nation in the history of mankind. We have great
programs like basic vocational rehabilitation, independent living,
supported employment and rehabilitation engineering. We have all the
human, technological, economic and political resources necessary to effect
a cultural revolution which will utilize the methods and products of
science for the dignity and quality of human life. 

We are responsible to millions of Americans, and because of the
extraordinary influence of our culture, to hundreds of millions of people
with disabilities throughout the world in this and future generations.  We
are responsible to human beings who are forced to exist in conditions to
which we would not subject our pet dogs and cats. We are responsible to
potentially proud, productive people who are jobless, homeless penniless
and hopeless.  We are responsible to hundreds of thousands who die years
and decades before their time. 

We have no excuse to sacrifice those responsibilities to self-indulgence
and self-destructive hostility. 

We have no excuse to fail.  We cannot afford to fail. 

Like the founders of our independence and our constitutional government,
we must transcend unity with all who love justice to build on the firm
foundation which you in the Congress and others in this room have laid. 
We must create a continuum of services, attitudes and environments which
will enable all of our children's children in every nation to live lives
of productivity, dignity and quality in the mainstream of society. 

I will do anything - including, if necessary, playing another role - to
cooperate with you and your colleagues in the Congress, with the
administration, and with my colleagues in the disability community as we
strive together to fulfill this sacred responsibility. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

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