Our guest author today is Stan Litow, a professor of Public Policy at both Duke and Columbia University. He is a former deputy chancellor of schools in New York City, former president of the IBM Foundation, a trustee of the State University of New York, and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute’s board of directors. His book, The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward, was published this year.
This July, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, after a dozen years of inaction, unanimously passed legislation to update the Federal Career and Technical Education law. By doing so, Congress increased funding for Career and Technical Education to nearly $1.3 billion in the coming year. The law is called the Perkins Act, named after a former member of Congress. It can go a long way toward addressing America’s skills crisis and providing many of our young people with real economic opportunity. Given the contentious Washington climate, broad bipartisan support for Perkins—including strong private sector, labor union and education backing—is truly noteworthy. But as we consider how this happened, it brings to mind another action that took place more than 80 years ago involving another Perkins: Frances Perkins.
On the 25th anniversary of Social Security, Frances Perkins, America's first cabinet member to be a woman, said "It would not have happened without IBM." Many who saw her on film were surprised. President Roosevelt was usually critical of the private sector. What had IBM to do with Social Security? Actually a lot. After the bill to establish Social Security was signed, the Labor Department under Perkins had to implement it. She sought outside help to design an implementation plan, yet everyone she approached said it would take years. When she approached Tom Watson Sr., IBM's CEO, she got a different answer. His team of engineers told him it might be possible to implement it sooner, but it would require the investment of several million dollars (about a hundred million in today’s dollars) to create what they called a "collator."