Robert Bazil Carleson – Lieutenant, United States Navy

Robert B. Carleson, former Reagan aide, dies

25 April 2006:

Robert B. Carleson, who changed California’s welfare system under Governor Ronald Reagan and undertook similar initiatives as a special assistant to the president during the Reagan administration, has died at 75.

Carleson died Friday after a brief illness, said his wife, Susan, of Alexandria, Virginia.

After a career in public administration for several Southern California municipalities, Carleson joined state government. He had been chief deputy director of the California State Department of Public Works since 1968 when Reagan asked him in 1971 to lead a task force to revise the state’s public assistance programs and reduce welfare spending.

To implement the changes, Reagan appointed Carleson as the state’s director of social welfare later that year.

Carleson was U.S. commissioner of welfare from 1973 to 1975 during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He founded a management consulting firm in 1975 and, after advising Reagan’s presidential campaigns in 1976 and 1980, joined the Reagan administration in 1981 as special assistant to the president for policy development, focusing on welfare initiatives.

He was an adviser to public officials on the nation’s welfare system in the 1990s.

Carleson was born February 21, 1931, in Long Beach, California. He was a combat officer in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and later served in the Navy Reserve.

He graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in public administration and worked in municipal posts for the cities of Beverly Hills, Claremont and Torrance, California. He also was city manager of San Dimas and Pico Rivera.

Survivors include two sons, Eric and Mark, and a daughter, Susan.

The Late Robert B. Carleson – A Free Congress Senior Fellow Of Lasting Achievement

By Paul M. Weyrich, May 11, 2006

An unheralded poverty warrior has passed away. Robert B. Carleson did more to shape welfare policy in this country over the past three decades but news of his death did not draw long, detailed obituaries in most major newspapers. Welfare “rights” organizations will not pay homage to this man whose work helped start many onetime welfare recipients on the path to self-sufficiency. It is not Politically Correct to identify conservatives who advocate work to be compassionate but millions of Americans owe Carleson a debt of gratitude for spearheading consistently the concept of workfare.

An unheralded poverty warrior has passed away. Robert B. Carleson did more to shape welfare policy in this country over the past three decades but news of his death did not draw long, detailed obituaries in most major newspapers. Welfare “rights” organizations will not pay homage to this man whose work helped start many onetime welfare recipients on the path to self-sufficiency. It is not Politically Correct to identify conservatives who advocate work to be compassionate but millions of Americans owe Carleson a debt of gratitude for spearheading consistently the concept of workfare.

“The ‘war on children’ began when the federal government rewarded nonwork and nonmarriage. While perhaps well meaning, those who advocate raising family income artificially through welfare have made the state a competitor with the father and mother as the key providers for the family. In Mississippi, the value of welfare benefits to unwed mothers now exceeds the income of 17 to 30 percent of all single men.”

It is a useful time to review the career of Bob Carleson. Recently the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Family Assistance released statistics for FY 2004, assessing the progress made by States as to working welfare recipients. The results should be disheartening for voters in a number of States. The target work rate for “all families” on welfare, established in the reauthorization of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, is 50%. In Pennsylvania, only 7.1% of recipients from “all families’ were working in FY 2004. West Virginia (11.7%) did little better. Arizona (25.5%), Arkansas (27.3%), California (23.1%), Connecticut (24.3%), Delaware (22.1%), the District of Columbia (18.2%), Georgia (24.8%), Maryland (16.0%), Michigan (24.5%), Minnesota (26.8%), Mississippi (21.0%), Missouri (19.5%), North Dakota (25.3%), Rhode Island (23.7%), Utah (26.2%) and Vermont (24.9%) are laggards.

Carleson would not be pleased. He had said long ago: “Anyone who is capable of working should expect to earn [his] own welfare benefit.” Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, selected Carleson, the Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Public Works, to rein in California’s soaring welfare costs. Carleson, leading a task force, devised a plan and negotiated with the leaders of the Democratic California Legislature. The plan actually increased benefits to those recipients, usually disabled, who truly needed help. Incentives to work and a crackdown on fraud were included in the plan.  LOS ANGELES TIMES reporter Jack Smith wrote an article, “Workfare: Has It Helped People Get Off The Dole?,” published on Christmas Day, 1972, in which one divorced mother of three said of her new “workfare” job; “This is quite an opportunity.”  Smith wrote that California’s Community Work Experience Program represented an important component of the State’s 1971 Welfare Reform Act, requiring 80 hours of public service work a month from able-bodied adults receiving AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependant Children) payments. Carleson is quoted: “There are all sorts of worthwhile things a welfare mother can do to help her community and increase her own sense of self-worth.”

Many Californians were critical of the plan, even going so far as to call it “slavery.”  The net effect was undoubtedly positive inasmuch as Carleson stated in November 1972 that the reduction in the welfare caseload allowed California to avoid increased taxation.  By then the State of California had prevailed in 14 of 15 court challenges to the Welfare Reform Act, a sign of how vigorous the resistance was to real reform. “No one knows how much fat, fraud and abuse there is in the welfare system, but every time the state tightens its procedures, the welfare load goes down,” Carleson explained. California’s case load was predicted to continue rising but Carleson said the rolls experienced a reduction in 236,000 cases. Carleson later told Reagan advisor Martin Anderson that, contrary to accusations, people were not “cut” from the welfare rolls but by applying the law more stringently undeserving welfare applicants came to understand that welfare benefits would not be freely available.

Carleson served Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford as Commissioner of Welfare, advised Reagan in his 1976 and 1980 Presidential campaigns, directed the transition at HHS after the victory over President Jimmy Carter and became a Special Assistant to the President for Policy Development in the Reagan Administration. He succeeded in helping to assure that the 1981 Budget Reconciliation Act incorporated workfare requirements.

Carleson’s most important contribution to welfare reform came in 1995-1996, when Congress was considering welfare reform. As Senior Fellow at the Free Congress Foundation, Carleson was an adamant advocate of granting the States flexibility to design and manage their own programs. This placed him at odds with other leading conservative advocates for welfare reform, who wanted strings attached.

Carleson countered in an analysis, WELFARE REFORM: SHOULD THERE BE STRINGS ATTACHED?, published by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA):

“Block grants without strings would allow each state to redesign its current welfare program completely. Current failed programs need to be thoroughly reformed and replaced. Thirty years of experience has proved that Washington has no workable welfare solution.”

Thanks in large part to Carleson’s persistent prodding, the 1996 welfare reform plan enacted by the Republican-led Congress and signed into law by President William J. Clinton instituted a block grant program, replacing federal matching grants for welfare recipients, a perverse incentive for states to keep their welfare rolls high. Block grants allowed states to keep money even if it lowered welfare rolls. Carleson also pressed for a strong work requirement. Doug Bandow, writing in tribute to the deceased Carleson on Citizen Outreach’s webpage, called the 1996 act Carleson’s “greatest moment.”

The 1996 Act was renewed earlier this year. The workfare requirement needed to be strengthened because too many States had ceased pushing welfare recipients to work as the rolls declined.  Fifty percent of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients are supposed to be holding jobs by October 1st of this year or face slashing of Federal funds. Pennsylvania, for one, must rush to catch up. The blasé attitude by Pennsylvania officials toward the work requirement is reflected in a comment about the 50% work requirement by Kathy Yorkievitz, Deputy Secretary for Income Maintenance at the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. “It’s a pretty stringent way of measuring. We’ve been doing a lot of analysis and work to figure out how to get there,” Yorkievitz told the WILKES BARRE  TIMES LEADER. (“Racing Toward Welfare Deadline” by Jennifer Learn-Andes; May 4, 2006 posting.) Yorkievitz added a perfunctory comment that Pennsylvania was making “strong and steady progress.” Yet neighboring New York (37.8%), Ohio (65.2%) and New Jersey (34.6%) evidently retained an emphasis on work, according to the FY 2004 statistics on TANF work participation rates for “all families.”

That brings us to today. Does the failure of Governors such as Edward Rendell, of Pennsylvania. and Arnold Schwarzenegger, of California, and the State Legislatures to instill tough workfare requirements indicate Carleson failed? Absolutely not. Carleson wrote in the NCPA study:

“Block grants with minimal restrictions would allow states to allocate available funds to the most urgent and productive uses. Moreover, governors and state legislatures would no longer be able to hide behind federal mandates. If they did not adopt the most effective and least costly reforms discovered by other states, they would be voted out of office.”

HHS Office of Family Assistance statistics demonstrate which States have moved decisively to enforce strict workfare requirements and which have failed. This is an election year. Voters in States with fewer welfare recipients working should be asking tough questions. While Governors and numerous State Legislatures have succeeded in putting welfare recipients to work, other leaders evidently appeared not to care about their responsibility to the taxpayers and to help welfare recipients start climbing the economic ladder.

There could be no greater tribute to the legacy of Robert B. Carleson than further achievement in gaining paying jobs for welfare recipients. Free Congress Foundation was honored that Bob Carleson for many years was an FCF Senior Fellow.

Paul Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation. © This column is the property of the Free Congress Foundation and may not be reproduced without their permission. For comments and inquiries, contact Phyllis E. Hughes at [email protected]. Visit our website at

 April 25, 2006:

No one who studies the rise of modern conservatism in the latter half of the 20th century could deny the importance of Robert B. Carleson. His tireless campaign to reform welfare stands not only as one of conservatism’s first tests, but also one of its first and everlasting successes. Yet his death Friday at the age of 75 has received scant public attention. This is unfortunate. As many have remarked, without a Bob Carleson there might not have been a President Ronald Reagan.

In 1970, when Mr. Reagan was entering his second term as governor of California, he turned his attention to welfare reform. The previous decade had seen a depressing and budget-busting addition of 1.6 million people to the relief rolls. The system was costing the state $2.5 billion a year, which at the time was the highest welfare spending in the country. Facing a Democratic legislature, Mr. Reagan’s promises of reform did not look good. The larger question was whether anything could be done.

To answer that question, Mr. Reagan looked to Mr. Carleson, whom he appointed director of the welfare department. After a year of studying the crisis, Mr. Carleson handed the governor a plan that would restrict eligibility, clamp down on corruption and increase work incentives. Predictably, his proposals were widely opposed by Democrats, not to mention the Nixon White House, which was working on a nationalized welfare bill based on the same failed liberal policies. Undeterred, Mr. Reagan pushed ahead with the Carleson plan and on Aug. 13, 1971, the Welfare Reform Act became law.

The results were irrefutable. A year after enactment, total welfare spending dropped for the first time, despite an increase in spending on the neediest families. Where once the welfare rolls had been increasing by nearly 40,000 people per month, by the end of the decade there were 300,000 fewer people than in 1971.

Mr. Reagan’s success forced the White House to backtrack on its nationalized plan, and the governor was invited to Washington to explain how he did it. His political star rose precipitously, thanks in no small part to Mr. Carleson. Campaigning for the presidency, Mr. Reagan would trumpet welfare reform as his single greatest domestic policy achievement.

In 1973, Mr. Carleson was appointed U.S. Commissioner of Welfare, where he oversaw the first decline in the national welfare rolls since World War II. After a stint in the Reagan White House, Mr. Carleson returned to the private sector, occasionally acting as a consultant for the Justice Department. He was brought back to Washington after the Republican Revolution of 1994 to assist the leadership in enacting federal welfare reform. His plan — to replace the open-ended entitlement program Aid to Families with Dependent Children with finite block grants to states — was twice vetoed by President Clinton. It was finally signed into law in 1996 and to this day remains an unrivaled accomplishment of the conservative movement.

In his final years as a senior fellow at the Free Congress Foundation and CEO of the American Civil Rights Union, Mr. Carleson championed such conservative causes as property rights and gun ownership. He was particularly attached to the cause of defending the Boy Scouts against the American Civil Liberties Union. The lack of appreciation in the media likely reflects Mr. Carleson’s unassuming nature, as he was a man who never sought the spotlight. But even the humble may cast large shadows, and few larger than Robert Carleson’s.

A Burial at Arlington

Written by John Armor
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Before Thursday, I had never attended any ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.  On that day, we went to Arlington for the inurnment of the ashes of a great friend, colleague, and teacher, Robert Carleson.  I’ve written about Bob before, and any reader can find several obituaries on him from months ago, when he died.  Suffice to say, Bob did more for the long-term well-being of the United States than many who have served as President.

This column is about the very simple, but very powerful, ceremony with which America lays its heros to rest at Arlington, both the well-known heroes, and those who are known primarily to their family, friends, and shipmates.

I say shipmates because Bob was a Marine who served in Korea – mostly on shore, because he was a spotter for naval gunfire. So, the last words the chaplain in his navy dress whites, spoke at the grave side ceremony was, “To my shipmate, may you have fair winds and following seas.”

The ceremony began in the chapel at Ft. Myer. Only about a hundred people were present in the small but elegant building on the base, just a few steps from a side entrance to Arlington. Normally, the prelude music is an organ solo, but not here. The last music before the ceremony was the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” from a Navy Band just outside the chapel.

The ceremony was short, and on a precise schedule as are all things military.  Three hymns, a reading, and a eulogy by former Attorney General Ed Meese.  Then, we followed a horse-drawn caisson and the Navy Honor Guard as they followed the caisson into Arlington.

I watched the faces of the young men and women in the Honor Guard and Band.  Few if any of them had been born by 1984, when Bob Carleson left the White House staff.  They probably knew only two things about the man they were helping to bury, his name and the fact that he had served honorably in the U.S. Marines.

I was most impressed by the precision and solemnity these young men and women brought to their task.  For those who have never seen it, the ceremony by which an American flag is folded into a blue triangle with stars showing, for presentation by the commanding officer to the family, is elaborate, with every gesture done in ways that may trace back centuries in military lore.

It was also interesting to watch the faces of the Americans from all walks of life who were among the thousands who visit Arlington, every day.  They, like the Honor Guard, had no idea about the life of the man who was being carried to his final rest.  But they stopped, and watched, and experienced the simple dignity that America shows to those who have served her, with no distinction between those who died in the nation’s service, and those who lived in service to the nation for more than five decades, and the families of many of those.

The team of riflemen fired four volleys.  The service seemed to be at an end when Bob’s ashes were placed in the mausoleum, one of a dozen which are being built to receive 40,000 Americans, as time passes.  But, as we were walking away from the mausoleum, a lone piper appeared, playing “Amazing Grace,” as we left that place on a knoll, overlooking Washington, D.C., from edge of what was once the estate of Robert E. Lee.

The funeral service for a man whose name never made headline news, might not seem to be an important occasion.  And yet, its importance lies in that fact.  This is how America treats her sons and daughters – all of them – who have served and then come to rest at Arlington.  There was no less dignity and honor in this ceremony for Bob Carleson than there was in the ceremonies for presidential burials which I have seen on television in my decades.

And that simple fact says a great deal about Bob Carleson, and about the nation he loved so long and served so well.

Post Script, Predictions for Congress: About Labor Day every two years, I lay down a marker for predictions for Congress.  Senate: Republicans lose 2 seats, unless they take both Maryland and New Jersey, and the loss is 1.  House: Republicans lose 6 seats; if the Democrats take NC 11th District, make that 7.  (In 2004, I was off by just 1 House seat.)

About the Writer: John Armor practiced in the US Supreme Court over 30 years, filing briefs in 18 cases. John may be reached at [email protected].

LT(jg), USN
Arlington National Cemetery 7 September 2006

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