I believe in the American system of entrepreneurial capitalism. It is this system, coupled with our democracy and rule of law, which has made the U.S. economy the largest and most dynamic in the world and brought our country unprecedented prosperity. It is this system which makes the American dream a reality.
The Beginning: The Nixon White House
Franklin first began her work in public service in 1971, when she was recruited from Citibank in New York to spearhead a White House effort on behalf of President Nixon. At the time, only three of the President’s first 200 high-level, policy-making government appointments had gone to women, at which time newspaper reporter Vera Glaser asked why this was, and if women were “going to remain a lost sex”.
Nixon then brought in Franklin as the point person for a series of initiatives to advance more women into the upper echelons of government service, wherein each White House department and agency would have to create specific action plans to accomplish this goal across all levels. Franklin was charged with recruiting high-level women for these jobs, and with monitoring the implementation progress on each departments’ action plans.
In a year, this effort resulted in tripling the number of women in appointive positions from 36 women to 105 women. By 1973, this number was almost quadrupled, and importantly, more than half these positions were previously only held by men, which shattered the glass ceiling for generations to come. Franklin also created a talent bank of 1,000 qualified women for future openings, and the effort increased the number of women at the mid-level as well, advancing women into jobs for the first time such as sky marshals, tug boat captains, FBI agents, and forest rangers. During this time, the United States saw the first women generals and admirals in the U.S. Armed Forces.
This major, historical achievement is documented through a collection of oral histories from Franklin and other women who broke the glass ceiling during this time: “A Few Good Women: Advancing the Cause of Women in Government, 1969-74.” This collection is housed at the Pennsylvania State University Libraries. The Libraries also published the 2012 book by Lee Stout, A Matter of Simple Justice: The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and A Few Good Women, which was launched on March 8 at the National Archives in Washington, DC in an event covered by CSPAN and moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour. The book was re-released in 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees and protects a women’s constitutional right to vote, and includes a new foreword by Sara Eisen, CNBC correspondent and Co-Anchor of “Squawk on the Street” and “Closing Bell”.
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Following her success at the Nixon White House, Nixon nominated her to serve as one of the first of five original commissioners of the newly-created Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Here, she would serve in the administrations of two more U.S. Presidents, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, after being sworn in under Nixon in 1973 for a seven-year term. She was elected and served as the first Vice Chairman from 1973-1974 and then again from 1977-1978.
During these years, Franklin concentrated on improving safety for children. The Commission required child resistant caps on medicines and other hazardous products. Despite pushback from some adults, these regulations have saved millions of children’s lives. The final bans on lead-containing paint and on toys and furniture coated with such paint occurred during her tenure, as well as bans on several consumer products containing inhaling asbestos.
In 1978 CPSC was petitioned, along with other regulatory agencies, to ban chlorofluorocarbons as propellants in aerosol products and refrigerant products because of damage being done to the earth’s ozone layer, based on a theory postulated by scientists Rowland and Molina. Franklin advocated and the CPSC ruled that a phased-in ban would be appropriate. As data about the ozone layer accumulated in subsequent years, the scientists’ theory was proved correct and damage to the ozone layer was avoided, and in time, reversed.
At the time, there was much confusion about carcinogens; new discoveries and headlines were creating anxieties for the public and for businesses, and it was having a detrimental effect on citizens and the producers of products. Franklin’s letters to President Carter, editorials in The Washington Post, and her many speeches during this time led to the Carter Administration’s creation of the United States Regulatory Council to coordinate the numerous agencies engaged in research or regulation of carcinogens, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For the first time, this important work would be coordinated under one governing body.
Franklin also pioneered CPSC’s use of cost/benefit analysis in regulatory decision-making at a time when that type of analysis in regulatory work was relatively new.
Secretary of Commerce: Initiatives in China and Russia
Prior to her appointment as Secretary of Commerce, Franklin held several part-time presidential appointment positions, including her membership of the President’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (1982–86; 89–91) by appointment of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. She chaired the Task Force of Tax reform (1985–86) and was a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement Task Force (1991). She was appointed by President George H. W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as an Alternative Representative & Public Delegate, UN General Assembly, 44th Session (1989–90).
Then, on December 26, 1991, President George H.W. Bush announced his intention to nominate Franklin as the 29th Secretary of Commerce, nearly twenty years after her efforts to advance women in the Nixon White House. When she was sworn in on February 27, 1992, she became the 13th woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, the second woman Secretary of Commerce, the highest-ranking woman in the Bush administration, and the first Republican woman to serve as Secretary of Commerce.
As Secretary of Commerce, she increased American exports, and emphasized market-opening initiatives in China, Russia, Japan and Mexico. She led a Presidential mission to China in December 1992 for the purpose of restarting the economic relationship between the United States and China.
Prior to that, in June 1992, Franklin led the Department of Commerce in sponsoring the US-Russia Business Summit in Washington, DC. President Bush had an interest in encouraging certain developments in the new Russian Federation, which was trying to establish both democracy and a free-market economy simultaneously. President George H.W. Bush and President Boris Yeltsin, along with 70 Russian businesspeople, met several times and addressed political, security, and economic issues. The first day of the summit was devoted to meetings on security and economic issues, during which Franklin was tasked with explaining the U.S. legal process around anti-dumping proceedings to President Yeltsin – albeit, not successfully.
President Yeltsin was sitting there looking at me across the table. He is a very forceful man. He looked at me with a kind of smile, made a small gesture with his fist, and before I had a chance to say anything, said something rather emphatically in Russian. I could gather what he meant. The translation came, and was something like this: “Who are you to play God? First you tell us we should export and then you tell us we can’t.” To me then fell the task of trying to explain again the U.S. legal process, an effort which did not achieve success. President Yeltsin has what I call a “decree mind-set.” He had grown up with this mentality, and this incident underscores how difficult it is for people who are not accustomed to democracy and a rule of law to understand how the legal process works.
The second day, Franklin hosted the US-Russia Business Summit, a daylong session with the Russian delegation and about 200 U.S. businesspeople, which was the first summit between the two countries that focused on trade rather than strategic weapons. According to Sharyl Cross and Marina Alekseevna, this was “probably the most significant development in US foreign economic policy toward Russia and the Soviet Union since 1945, if not the entire century.”
Secretary of Commerce: Trade Deficit and Initiatives in Japan
In April 1992, the Commerce Department reported that the nation’s trade deficit had improved dramatically, and reached its lowest level since 1983. Exports surged by $2.4 billion the previous quarter, reducing the deficit more than 40%. Secretary Franklin hailed the report but cautioned that “the slower pace of economic growth among key foreign markets presents an export challenge for the rest of 1992″ and called for stepped-up trade promotion efforts by government and industry.
One particular concern of the Commerce department and the USTR was the US-Japanese trade deficit. In October 1992, an export symposium was sponsored by the U.S.-Japan Business Council for the purpose of helping American businesses know better how to penetrate the Japanese market. In a speech at this forum, Secretary Franklin touched on semiconductors, glass, automobiles, electronics, and the Commerce Department’s Japan Export Promotion Program, which encompassed business counseling, market research, bidding assistance, trade missions, and numerous other services dedicated to assisting US firms who are interested in doing business in Japan.
One particular success that came out during this time was getting the Japan Development Bank to change its policy so that it could help facilitate inward investment from small and medium-sized American companies.
Secretary of Commerce: Election of 1992
A mild recession in 1990-1991 that created sluggish unemployment recovery led to President George H.W. Bush’s approval rating dropping to 46% by the election year 1992. Though the GDP recovered by 1992, job losses and unemployment continued to rise. These factors led to Bush’s loss in the presidential election to President Bill Clinton, which ended Secretary Franklin’s term as Commerce Secretary.
She has received numerous leadership awards and honors and has been a leader in the Republican Party throughout her career.