How we can pay homage to an American hero
During one of Glenn's investigations into government contracting fraud, when he was
chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Commmittee, a vendor found this out the hard
way. Its managers issued a press release contesting a finding that their company had been
involved in inappropriate activity, including being apprised of its main competitor's bid
price. Its stock fell 8 points in a day.
Explaining the loss, a business page article quoted a stock analyst as saying,
"Who are you going to believe, the company or John Glenn?" Eventually, a
government official pleaded guilty to a crime related to the case. The company lost part
of its contract in a General Services Administration Board of Contract Appeals decision,
but escaped debarment. Glenn was always careful to be right.
Many people have become heros. But John Glenn has maintained his hero mantle during
35 years in politics, without tarnishing it. Contrast Glenn's success with the only
comparable figure in this century, Charles Lindbergh, whose flirtation with fascism and
apparent sympathy for Nazi Germany left his reputation in quite a different shape.
Hero status permitted Glenn certain freedoms unknown to conventional politicians. He
undertook only projects he personally believed in because, unlike other politicians, he
was still John Glenn, even when he did nothing. As a result, his six years at the helm of
Governmental Affairs, and subsequent six years as ranking minority member have been and
will be marked by a legacy of hard work and achievement. He brought the Inspector General
Act to the Justice Department, the Treasury Department, CIA and dozens of other agencies.
He championed chief information officer and chief financial officer legislation. He has
overseen FTS 2000 and the transformation of the post-Brooks Act information technology
Glenn also made popular the notion of periodic hearings to examine high-risk
government programs. He brought oversight to the Energy Department bomb complex while the
Cold War was winding down. He has been instrumental in pushing nuclear non-proliferation
policies. He has been an apostle of bipartisanship, personal dignity and cooperation in a
dismal political era of partisan bickering.
Glenn based his legislative successes on hard work. Each night before a hearing, he
would take home a notebook of the materials related to the hearing and read it.
Sen. Glenn did more so-called hard seat time in unglamorous hearings where he was
the sole member present, than any senator I know. Glenn also gained a modest reputation in
the Democratic cloak room for trying to limit the time where he would preside over the
Senate when the Democrats were in the majority.
He would take unpopular causes to the floor. In the 1987-1989 period, government employee
salaries were seriously out of whack with private salaries. Chairman Glenn would go to the
floor and offer the pay raise bill, and get beaten, say 95-5. Senators rose to denounce
the pay raise, then walked over and privately apologized to Glenn.
Men like John Glenn, such as Gen. Colin Powell, cannot get over the hurdle of
obtaining the nomination of their respective parties for president, but could easily win
the general election.
Stephen M. Ryan is a partner in the Washington law firm of Brand, Lowell & Ryan.
He was general counsel for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee during Glenn's tenure