Interviews with Chiefs of the Soil Conservation Service

Edited by Steven E. Phillips and Douglas Helms

Interviews with the ChiefsFirst issued in 1994, this publication provides,  with varying degrees of candor, the story of the Soil Conservation Service, told by the four men who ran the agency from the administration's of Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan over a period of some thirty years. The first of these was Donald A. Williams, who had the formidable task of managing the long-term development of the Service after the tenure of its crusading founder, Hugh Hammond Bennett. Next came Kenneth E. Grant, who led the agency during a time of growing concerns about the environment and increased demands for conservation in urban and suburban settings. Under Mel Davis, the third chief of SCS featured in this volume, expansion of production agriculture as a consequence of grains sales to the Soviet Union put pressure on the nation's soil and water resources even as budget constraints caused conservationists to have to do more with less. Finally, Norman A. Berg steered the agency during a time when SCS sought to realign its practices and programs to practice a more ecological approach to conservation. Each of these men were "career chiefs," that is, they worked their way through the ranks of the SCS before being chosen to lead the agency.

Several themes tie their tenures together.  From its initial emphasis on soil conservation on agricultural land, the Service has steadily expanded into areas like flood prevention and rural economic development. Each chief sought to accomplish these new tasks while maintaining the agency's traditional role of providing technical assistance to farmers for conservation. Perhaps the most contentious issue was, and is, the perceived conflict between economic development and environmental protection. This is clear in the disputes discussed in this volume over use of structural measures for flood control, channelization, and agricultural chemicals. Other important topics addressed here include the organization of the Service and its relations with Congress and the White House.

Interviews with Chiefs of the The Soil Conservation Service: Williams, Grant, Davis, and Berg (PDF; 12.1 Mb)

Key Words: Soil Conservation Service, Donald A. Williams, Kenneth E. Grant, Mel Davis, Norman A. Berg