You Wouldn't Kid Us, Would
The Randolph-Sheppard Program
Under Attack from Within
From the Editor: People with experience in the blindness field recognize the Randolph-Sheppard vending program as the backbone of employment opportunities for blind people. Hundreds of fields provide possible jobs for us, but for down-to-earth reliability of making a living, blind people count on food-service jobs.
Given the centrality of the Randolph-Sheppard program in the employment picture over the past sixty and more years, the recent attacks on it by the Department of Defense (see the Presidential Report in the August/September, 1998, issue of the Braille Monitor for details) have understandably caused deep misgivings to us all, particularly vendors. But when, on top of all the other threats to the program, we suddenly learned this summer that a small group of men had put together a plan that would entirely transform the Randolph-Sheppard program as it has evolved, without ever consulting the people affected, Federationists were understandably angry and worried.
It was mid-August before we learned what was happening, but then the documents began to fly. In keeping with the Monitor's policy of providing original documents so that readers can draw their own conclusions, the following article is comprised chiefly of a number of source documents. As you read them, be sure to note the dates on which they were each written or released. Also note the ways in which the proposed plan changes as it hits the opposition of blind people. Readers should be warned that this is not pleasant reading, and the story is far from over. Whether you are a vendor or not, this situation is important to you, for in many ways the Randolph-Sheppard program is and will continue to be the most important single source of jobs for blind people in the foreseeable future. If you care about the financial future of the blind community, read on. We begin with an introduction to the documents by President Maurer. Here it is:
The Randolph-Sheppard Act, which was adopted by Congress in 1936, authorizes blind vendors to operate vending facilities on federal property. A central part of the program is "the priority," which gives blind vendors the right to be licensed "for an indefinite period."
The Randolph-Sheppard program is one of the most successful employment initiatives for the blind ever devised. Some vending facilities are small, but others generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue each year. The most recent records of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the federal agency that supervises the program, indicate that over 3,000 blind vendors, with an average annual income of about $28,000, currently participate in it. Some vendors earn substantially more, sometimes well over $100,000 a year.
Although the number of vendors participating in the program has not increased in recent years, their average income has. Marginal facilities have been closed, and the emphasis has shifted to more lucrative locations. Taken together, businesspeople in the Randolph-Sheppard program across the country made almost exactly 422 million dollars in gross sales in 1997. According to General Services Administration data, in recent years this program has been among the top fifty food concession businesses in the country.
Although the Randolph-Sheppard program has probably put more money into the pockets of blind people than any other single program, it is sometimes criticized or attacked. Those who want it to do more than it has done demand to know why it isn't bigger and better. Those who would like to get hold of the money it generates claim that it provides unreasonable advantages to a small group of vendorsvendors who are occasionally referred to as unreasonable, ungrateful, arrogant, and greedy. It is speculated that the vendors are sometimes called "greedy" because they maintain the perverse opinion that they should keep the income they earn rather than cheerfully giving it up so that someone else can spend it.
The most recent effort to capture the program came to light in August of 1998. Robert Humphreys, a lawyer on retainer for the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America (an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind), tried, along with Ralph Sanders and a few other of his cronies, to persuade members of Congress that the Randolph-Sheppard program is a dismal failure. The best way to save the program (they said) would be to turn it over to Humphreys and his associates. Their proposal would have eliminated the indefinite priority for new vendors entering the program. Vendors already operating facilities would be permitted to remain a part of the program "unless terminated," but new vendors would be forced out in three to five years. During this process Humphreys's organization would receive substantial sums for "consultation" and "training." Even a cursory reading of their proposal suggests strongly that Humphreys and his allies are seeking to exploit the blind in order to gain control over the program. In promoting this scheme, Humphreys and his friends say they are promoting positive programs for the blind. Remember, Humphreys is a lawyer representing the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, an ACB affiliate. And also remember the client he represents did not know of the proposal he made to Congress.
But there is more. Ralph Sanders (who has done what he could to harass the NFB since he and we parted company in the early eighties) is now employed by the Cantu Corporation. Cantu has made efforts to secure vending operations which by rights should be a part of the Randolph-Sheppard program. Some of these vending operations are large food service facilities on military bases. The plan, apparently, is that with Sanders's help Cantu will use blind vendors to secure locations that the company will then operate. Vending operations will be awarded in the name of the blind, but Cantu will do the work, and Cantu will collect most of the profit.
But there is still more. Ralph Sanders lives in Baltimore, Maryland, at 12 East Henrietta Street. A recent mailing from that address on the letterhead of an organization calling itself the National Association of Randolph-Sheppard State Committees asks that a payment of twenty-five dollars be forwarded for each vending facility in the United States. If all such payments were to be made, the total would amount to approximately $85,000--
$85,000 which would be spent at the discretion of whoever collects it at 12 East Henrietta Street.
In late August of 1998, a meeting was convened at the National Center for the Blind. Leaders of the Blind Merchants Association (the Merchants Division of the National Federation of the Blind) and the ACB's Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America were present. Background documents exposing the plots to take over the Randolph-Sheppard program were reviewed. Although Bob Humphreys works for the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, the ACB vendors present were unaware that their legal counsel had sent a proposal to Congress to alter the Randolph-Sheppard Act significantly. During the meeting the representatives of the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America indicated that Ralph Sanders had been appointed to serve as their legislative representative in Washington. Sanders had neglected to tell them that he had joined Humphreys in promoting the takeover of the Randolph-Sheppard program. They did seem to be aware of several unsavory and financially questionable episodes in Sanders's recent past, but they admitted that they couldn't think of anyone else capable of doing their legislative work. If this is an example of what Sanders is prepared to do to help vendors, the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America are indeed to be pitied, and all of us in the blindness field can batten down the hatches for stormy weather to come.
Note: As this issue was going to press, Terry Camardelle, president of the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, told President Maurer that, although the RSVA had intended to appoint Ralph Sanders officially as its legislative representative, the organization has now decided not to do so.
Here are a transmittal letter and the original proposal as Humphreys, Sanders, and company first submitted it to Senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye. Note that the letter is addressed to Liz Connell, a member of Stevens's staff and carbon-copied to Mark Fox, one of Senator Inouye's staffers. Here are the two documents:
June 11, 1998
Ms. Elizabeth Connell
c/o Honorable Ted Stevens
United States Senate
Following your recent telephone discussion with Sandy Sanderson and Ralph Sanders, the substance of which was related to me, and my conversations with Mark Fox and others, I have put together an enhanced concept for the Jennings Randolph Institute which I believe conforms to what Senator Stevens would like to see the Institute accomplish. His vision, as I perceive it, is to evolve Randolph-Sheppard into a fully privatized entrepreneurship program. I agree that, properly conceived and implemented, this new approach would result in the creation of hundredsperhaps thousandsof fully competitive, non-subsidized self-employment opportunities for blind people, utilizing the existing blind vending facility program as a training ground. At the same time there is a strong potential for reducing state expenses and the burden on the taxpayer.
The Jennings Randolph Institute is perfectly positioned, with Senator Stevens's help and support, to be both a catalyst and facilitator for this purpose. The Institute would undertake the following essential activities:
1. Enter into national partnering agreements with a select number of major companies which have retail sales outlets (examples:
Subway, Hallmark Cards, Tower Records, Blockbuster Video) under which blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard program would be trained in accordance with the standard training packages of the companies, but with additional technology, educational materials in accessible media, and assistive-service components identified by JRI to ensure the successful preparation of the candidate blind entrepreneurs.
2. Arrange for a total initial support package of not more than twelve months' duration for blind entrepreneurs, which includes:
(a) business plan development; (b) vocational rehabilitation seed money where necessary; © Small Business Administration low-interest loans or bank loans through institutions with which JRI has partnering agreements; and (d) licensing assistance and franchise fee or business entry payments.
3. Serve as a quality evaluation mechanism for state vending facility programs through self-assessment, program review, and an accreditation or seal-of-approval program.
The complete program would ultimately convert the existing Randolph-Sheppard vending facility program conducted by the states by making greatly expanded opportunities available to blind people in the private sector. As I envision the program, with the infusion of leadership by the Jennings Randolph Institute, a dual track system would be put in place under which a currently licensed blind vendor would be given the option of retaining his or her vending facility in the current program or training for the private sector. All newly licensed blind individuals would continue to be trained by the state licensing agencies, licensed, and placed in vending facilities in federal, state, and private buildings. After a period of competency development and experience, the vendor would be required to enter the private entrepreneurship training program.
With the support of the state agency and with JRI as the facilitator for training and placement, the candidate entrepreneur would enter (for example) the Subway management training course. The state agency would obtain a loan for the blind entrepreneur with a participating partner bank or through SBA to pay the Subway franchise fee. After successful operation of the retail establishment, the blind entrepreneur might be given the opportunity to purchase his operation and run it as his or her own business. If, for whatever reason, the individual is not successful, he or she may reapply to the state licensing agency for reinstatement as a blind vendor. The state could reclaim the franchise, and the retail establishment could be held as an opportunity for another candidate in training.
I believe the concept just described is viable, although some research must be conducted to demonstrate and prove its viability. Additional leadership/center of excellence functions described in the Concept Statement and Business Plan provided to you on May 11, 1998, are also important to the improvement of the existing Randolph-Sheppard program. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and to discuss my ideas and plans in greater detail. Please let me know if you would like to do so.
Robert R. Humphreys
cc: Mark Fox
Jennings Randolph Institute
The Randolph-Sheppard Act Revitalization Initiative
Since the enactment of the 1974 amendments to the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the implementation of regulations, the blind vending facility program has exhibited negligible growth in business opportunities for blind licensees. The absence of incremental growth stems substantially from the fact that the system itself is closed and that the regulations and the attitudes of State program officials strongly encourage licensed vendors to remain within this closed system and not venture out to more risky, but perhaps more rewarding, opportunities.
The training and experiential opportunities provided by the program have significant merit but fail to promote the realization of skills in a more competitive, real life environment. Underscoring this posture, the Rehabilitation Services Administration recognizes placements through the Act as "noncompetitive." Moreover, the closed system seems to demand recurring financial support simply for maintenance of existing placements, through which it continually addresses the needs of the same core of individuals. Turnover, much less expansion, is minimal. This inevitably results in disappointing placement and productivity levels. It would appear that the basic premise of the program is that individuals served by it are not capable of self-reliancea premise the Jennings Randolph Institute believes is inaccurate and unjust.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the lack of opportunity in the vending facility program results from an inherently limiting, closed-door design and that the program (that is, enterprise opportunities for blind people) would grow substantially if and when that door is opened. A newly designed program would become a vital training ground, in contrast to the current closed and somewhat distorted business environment.
The Jennings Randolph Institute feels strongly that the program should have a healthy training component, a reasonably long job experience component, and a cyclical application phase resulting in a potential move to private enterprise or, alternatively, reassessment of the vocational choice. Such changes would have a dramatic impact on the very nature and quality of the Randolph-Sheppard program. Under the new construct those currently in the program would retain the option of continuing under the current closed system until retirement, termination, or resignation. Those newly entering the program would be placed on a path toward personal and business self-reliance, the essence of the American dream.
The Jennings Randolph Institute is certain that this fundamental change in approach to the program's structure is not only appropriate and timely but also essential to its long-term survival and to the expansion of entrepreneurial opportunities for blind business people. Appropriateness and timeliness stem mostly from the stunning changes in the U.S. business environment since the mid-1970's. Particularly apparent are the expanded opportunities for those entering small business for the first time, which advantages include ease of entry, training, support, standardization of customer service, and the resulting impressive record of success. The advent of the franchise and a more standardized and universally accepted approach to merchandising virtually eliminates the need for reliance on unproven and unpredictable concepts. The critical necessity of our recommended program changes is demonstrablethe program is slowly but certainly eroding, particularly with the downsizing of government, and the changes will enable blind people to become independently responsible for their own destinies. The Jennings Randolph Institute is convinced that the changes represent a new paradigm that will benefit both the blind individual and the taxpaying public at a fraction of the current cost and with a significantly higher return on investment.
None of the components we are advocating is yet in place, but the Jennings Randolph Institute is positioned to conceptualize, research, design, implement, and fully exploit opportunities specifically designed to train and place eligible blind individuals in the enterprise mainstream. We have commitments from an array of experts who are unexcelled in their knowledge of the workplace, the business world, and the special requirements of the blind. Our ability to examine and propose workable approaches to new and revolutionary business opportunities puts us in a unique niche that will provide the maximum return for each dollar spent.
We are also in a unique position to develop extended partnerships with major business enterprises and funding institutions. We have identified a number of key corporations with which we expect to enter national agreements. These capabilities, with the regular and direct involvement of the Institute in the expansion of the program, ultimately will enhance substantially the likelihood of individual success and will reduce the dollars required for successful placements. The Jennings Randolph Institute will add significant value to the process.
On the page following the text of this Executive Summary we provide a flow chart which demonstrates the concepts outlined above. The following annotation sets forth an abbreviated explanation of each of the key components of the flow chart.
Annotation to key components:
1. Randolph-Sheppard trainingnew training model is recommended by JRI consistent with existing business alliance models.
2. Licensurea function of the State Licensing Agency.
3. Vendor manages for 3 years minimumthe traditional operating model for Randolph-Sheppardpositions the vendor for true independence. JRI defines the model and maximizes the State's efforts.
4. Vendor candidacyat year 3 of a vendor's management, the vendor is potentially qualified to propose and set up his/her own business. The State assists the vendor to prepare for candidacy.
5. Business Plan preparedvendor/trainee prepares the plan to exit the Randolph-Sheppard program and become independent based upon JRI-provided model.
6. Plan submitted for reviewthe business plan is presented to a select, qualified panel under JRI-developed standards, which panel reviews the plan for quality and viability.
7. Approved? Did the panel approve the vendor's business plan?
8, 9, 10. Plan not approved. The vendor may make three attempts to have the plan approved. Upon failure of the third attempt, the vendor is referred to the vocational rehabilitation program for reassessment of his/her objectives. If the rejection follows the first or second attempt, the vendor returns to operate a standard vending facility and obtain more experience.
11. If the plan is approved, the State Licensing Agency assists with financing of the new business utilizing the model established and facilitated by JRI.
12, 13. If the financing is successful, the SLA connects with the JRI-approved business partner.
14. The vendor, with SLA support, enters training for the enterprise of choice.
15. JRI is available to make the special adaptations for the blind entrepreneur necessary for successful training.
16. Upon completion of training, the vendor begins operation of his/her enterprise.
17. At predetermined milestones JRI and the State evaluate the vendor's progress toward independence.
18. JRI compiles all program data, analyzes data, and submits recommended program improvements to the State Licensing Agency.
As soon as these documents came to the attention of James Gashel, NFB Director of Governmental Affairs, plans were made to bring members of the NFB's Merchant Division and representatives of the ACB's Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America together for discussions. The day following that
meeting, which President Maurer described at the beginning of this article, a memorandum was circulated broadly by the NFB in the hope of sounding the alarm to everyone with an interest in the survival of the Randolph-Sheppard program. Here, in part, is the text of that memorandum:
DATE: August 25, 1998
FROM: James Gashel
Director of Governmental Affairs
National Federation of the Blind
RE: A breach of trust: the Randolph-Sheppard program is
threatened from within
Yesterday, August 24, 1998, a plot to destroy the Randolph-Sheppard program in the name of reforming it was exposed. This occurred at a meeting of leaders of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America (RSVA) held at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. The meeting was called by Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind. The purpose was to promote united action by the NFB and RSVA on behalf of all blind vendors, but substantial doubt was cast on the possibility of future cooperation.
The information which was disclosed at the meeting is summarized here with a few necessary comments by way of introduction. The issue is then presented more fully in the letters which follow. Since the issues raised are of consequence to all blind people and agencies serving the blind, this information is intended for broad distribution.
The priority for blind persons to operate business enterprises in public areas is certainly one of our most valued statutory rights. Therefore the NFB has never wavered in its commitment to uphold the program or defend the vendors. In fact, this commitment is demonstrated year-in and year-out to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars spent on legal cases and program initiatives related to blind vendors.
RSVA is an organization specifically consisting of vendors. For those who may not know, it is a special-interest affiliate of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Robert Humphreys is an attorney in Washington, D.C., who serves as legal counsel for the RSVA. Ralph Sanders, a former Maryland vendor, is RSVA's legislative representative.
These are (or at least should be) positions of trust and responsibility, not to mention accountability, to the RSVA membership. Imagine our surprise, therefore, to learn that both Mr. Humphreys and Mr. Sanders are spearheading a campaign to scuttle the blind vendor priority as it is known today.
Their plan is to use a privately-held corporation, a corporation which Mr. Humphreys and his friends have created and named. They have given their corporation the high-flown name of the "Jennings Randolph Institute." Mr. Humphreys is a principal founder of the institute and may well envision himself as the CEO of the privatized Randolph-Sheppard program.
Under the plan the program would be privatized by limiting the time allowed for any blind vendor to manage a Randolph-Sheppard facility. The time limit would be approximately three years with the possibility of something like a two-year extension. By "privatizing" they mean the desire to form relationships with national franchise chains, such as Subway and Blockbuster Video. Although the desire may be laudable, it falls far short of the priority to operate an actual business in a prime location with real customers. This is now achieved through the existing Randolph-Sheppard Act.
It should be noted that their privatization plan would not immediately limit the rights of existing blind vendors. However, all new vendors who are licensed after the plan is enacted would be required to accept a time-limited opportunity. The trade-off would be the hope that placement could be achieved in franchise operations. Therefore newly licensed vendors would be required to apply to the Jennings Randolph Institute for an opportunity in the privatized arrangement or seek retraining through vocational rehabilitation.
At the meeting the representatives from RSVA defended the privatization plan and demonstrated support for its content. However, they denied knowing that their lawyer and legislative representativeMr. Humphreys and Mr. Sandershad already presented the plan to the Congress. [Jim Gashel then describes what might have happened to the Randolph-Sheppard Act in the legislative process if the plan to change the program had not been discovered. He then continues:]
In light of these facts everyone who has an interest in the prosperity of the Randolph-Sheppard program should read the correspondence which follows. Bear in mind that the letter of August 3 from Mr. Humphreys went to the executive director of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. If this agency has an interest in changing the Randolph-Sheppard Act at all, it would be to seize the opportunity to change the blind vendor program into a disabled vendor program. That would also be the objective of WID (the World Institute on Disability), which Mr. Humphreys praised effusively in his letter of August 3.
Finally, it is not necessary to create an avalanche of letters to Senator Stevens objecting to the privatization plan. However, letters from representatives of vendors, such as persons who chair state committees, and letters from state agency directors would reinforce the view that Congress should not consider the plan.
That was Mr. Gashel's memo. Two of the enclosuresthe June 11 letter to Elizabeth Connell and the executive summary of the JRI proposalappear earlier in this article. The important information in the August 3 letter was summarized in Mr. Gashel's memorandum.
As soon as the documents circulated by the NFB became public, Humphreys and Co. swung into damage-control-mode. Robert Humphreys posted an open letter to the blindness community on the Internet dated August 28, 1998. In that letter he said that he was a good man and a hard worker, that he had written the 1974 amendments to the Randolph-Sheppard Act, that he had held a number of positions in which he had supported the Randolph-Sheppard program, that he thought the National Federation of the Blind had been mean to him, and that he hadn't done anything to hurt the program. On September 1, 1998, Humphreys apparently felt the urge to repeat and enlarge upon what he had said on August 28. Here is what he said:
Date: Tuesday, September 1, 1998
Subject: Second Open Letter from Robert Humphreys
My Concepts for a Better Blind Vending Facility Program
Following the broad distribution of NFB's accusations against me and my ideas last week, I placed an Open Letter on the ACB listserv. Since that time I have had an opportunity to reflect upon some of the comments and reactions I have heard on the subject of the Jennings Randolph Institute.
First, it is important for both ACB and NFB members alike to know that I now understand there is the appearance that the Jennings Randolph Institute (or at least that aspect of it which would expand the Randolph-Sheppard program in the private sector) was developed in a vacuum. It was not. I have raised in various forums the need to expand in private industry, including the Mississippi State Randolph-Sheppard Conference in Dallas on March 31 (at which Charlie Allen, NFB Merchants President, appeared on a panel with me), and in a luncheon in April with NCSAB President Jamie Hilton and state agency directors Creig Slayton and Dick Davis, in which I proposed a national conference on the future of the Randolph-Sheppard program, including a private-sector initiative. In one form or another, the overall concepts also have been discussed with Blind Vendor Committee chairs and RSVA Board members.
The concept I have developed was released prematurely by NFB officials who did not appreciate or understand that the concept wasand isa work in progress. I fully intend to consult with my friends and colleagues, both blind vendors, state licensing agencies, and others when it appears the concept is evolving into a viable one.
The so-called mandatory feature of the private-sector initiative in the Jennings Randolph Institute is merely an idea which does not affect the essential aspects of the Randolph-Sheppard program. It is designed to stimulate thought and creativity and in no way would, in my conception of it, punish or penalize any blind vendor, present or future. In any construct I would consider reasonable, state licensing agencies would have the option of adding a new range of private-sector, entrepreneurial opportunities to their vending facility programs.
Finally, I have not proposed, nor would I, any change in the Randolph-Sheppard Act. As I previously statedmost stronglyI did not write the Randolph-Sheppard Act Amendments of 1974 and advocate for the program for nearly thirty years to preside over or encourage the program's demise. It is my strong hope that those who have attacked me personally, as well as my ideas for program expansion and new jobs for blind people, will now reconsider their position and reflect on the need to reduce unemployment among blind people below the 75 percent level.
Robert R. Humphreys, Esq.
How Mr. Humphreys can assert that his ideas would not change the Randolph-Sheppard Act is a mystery. The blind vendor priority would be eliminated for new vendors, and those who enter the program in the future would have only a few years in which to remain in it. However, there is more to the series of Humphreys memoranda. Here is the final one:
Subject: Letter From Robert Humphreys, the sequel
September 8, 1998
To my friends and colleagues in the blindness community:
Because of the unusually wide distribution by the National Federation of the Blind of materials attacking me and my ideas, I find it necessary to respond. Although I cannot hope to match the propaganda machine generated by NFB, perhaps the following will reach enough opinion makers, independent thinkers, and fair-minded individuals to bring about some balance in what people throughout the country are exposed to.
I encourage you to distribute the enclosed paper as widely as you can. If, after reading it, you still have questions about me, the Jennings Randolph Institute, or my expectations for the Randolph-Sheppard program, please let me know.
Robert R. Humphreys
The Jennings Randolph Institute: What it Is and
What it Isn't
Separating Fact from Fabrication by Robert R. Humphreys, Esq.
Mark Maurer, Jim Gashel, and Don Morris of the National Federation of the Blind have leveled some very serious charges against me and have made a variety of allegations about a new nonprofit organization I have created for the purpose of benefiting the Randolph-Sheppard blind vending facility program. I have named it the Jennings Randolph Institute. It is timesome would say it is past timeto put these allegations and charges, which are nothing more than libel and distortion, to rest, once and for all.
I will begin at the beginning. For those of you who do not know me or know about me, it is important to give you some information on my background and experience. [Again, Humphreys tells us that he is a good man and that he has held a number of important positions. We would not reprint all that he says on this topic, except that he so clearly wants people to know that he claims credit for much of what the Randolph-Sheppard program has done. Now back to the text:] As Special Counsel to the United States Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee and assistant to Senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, the father of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and ardent patron of the blind vending facility program, it was I who wrote the Randolph-Sheppard Act Amendments of 1974, singlehandedly. I arranged the hearings and the witnesses, got the General Accounting Office to study abuses in the program, negotiated with the House of Representatives on a final bill.
From mid-1977 to 1980 I was Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and in the Department of Education. I was responsible for administration, policy, management, and program development of the Randolph-Sheppard program on the national level. After 1980 I entered the practice of law. Much of what I have worked on during the last eighteen years has involved, in one way or another, the vending facility program. I have brought law suits on behalf of blind vendors and State licensing agencies and have been an arbitrator in numerous cases, both for vendors and for states. For several years I have also represented the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America as its legal counsel. Everything I have done has been for the improvement, benefit, and expansion of the program. [One is tempted to ask, "You wouldn't kid us, would you, Bob?" But back to the Humphreys memorandum.]
For the past several years it has become increasingly clear to me that a number of dramatic steps must be taken without further delay to keep the Randolph-Sheppard program from slowly but surely withering away. For a long time I wasn't sure what all those actions should be. Toward the end of 1997 I began to think seriously and in detail about how I could help improve the program and, I hoped, turn it around. A month or two later I had the beginning of an answer, though certainly not the whole answer: I would create a nonprofit agency which would be free to do all the things the Rehabilitation Services Administration and the States could not do, but which needed to be done if the program was to improve and expand. As the author of the 1974 amendments to the Act and as a national advocate for the program, I felt strongly that I could not stand idly by while the program continued to decline.
In late February, 1998, I had developed the ideas and the framework for my new nonprofit agency, the Jennings Randolph Institute (JRI). The key purposes of JRI as I wrote them in the Articles of Incorporation are as follows:
*To serve as a national expert, authority, and information resource on the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Act and the program operating thereunder; to provide education through information, seminars, and training to state agency officials, attorneys, blind vendors, arbitrators, and the general public on all aspects of the vending facility program;
*To monitor patterns, practices, and actions which violate the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and to apprise and advise the Rehabilitation Services Administration about such matters;
*To identify, develop, and support best practices and innovations which may improve the blind vending facility program;
*To serve as an ongoing resource to the Rehabilitation
Services Administration and state licensing agencies with respect
to policy, planning, program development, management, and
administration in the vending facility program; and
*To serve as a national communication center, source, and network for such program.
[These are the goals outlined in the Humphreys proposal, and despite a certain presumptuousness, they are lofty enough. However, one does wonder whether the government thinks it needs all this advice, and surely sometimes blind vendors would want to have a voice in all of the planning being done for their good. But back to the Humphreys document.]
I would suggest to the reader that none of these purposes would do anything other than benefit the Randolph-Sheppard program.
When I attended the blind vendors' Sagebrush Conference in Las Vegas in late February, I asked Bert Hansen, a friend and prominent vendor from Nevada, and Warren Toyama, president of the Hawaii Association of the Blind, a longtime vendor and friend, to serve as incorporators of the Jennings Randolph Institute. Both agreed, and when I returned to Washington, I filed the Articles and got the Institute incorporated. An incorporator has no function other than to get a corporation up and running as a registered entity and to select the initial board of directors.
At this point in history, I have to backtrack a bit. Following extensive discussion by the members of the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America at the 1997 ACB/RSVA conference in Houston, Warren Toyama arranged a meeting with his longtime friend, Senator Daniel Inouye, for himself, Filo Tu, another Hawaii vendor, and me. This took place in August, 1997. As reported on numerous occasions, this was a meeting of great accomplishment and momentSenator Inouye agreed to become a champion for the Randolph-Sheppard program. Following that success, I was encouraged to begin identifying other potential Congressional supporters for the program.
The first person to come to mind was Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Senator Stevens is a high-ranking and powerful, very senior Republican. He is Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. His father was blind, and he had long been a friend of Sandy Sanderson, who recently was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Council of the Blind. I asked Sandy to arrange a meeting with Senator Stevens for the purpose of developing his interest in the vending facility program. Not only did Sandy arrange the meeting, he flew from Anchorage to Washington, in part to participate in it. Ralph Sanders, a vendor from Maryland, had worked with Sandy on a number of issues and had become acquainted with Senator Stevens and his staff. Ralph also attended the meeting, which took place on March 9 of this year.
It was my expectation in meeting with Senator Stevens to convince him that he should join Senator Inouye as a champion for the vending facility program. Sandy, Ralph, and I told the Senator of all the problems we were having with the Department of Defense, GSA, the Postal Service, and the Interior Department and asked him to help us strengthen the Federal priority. Senator Stevens looked at things differently. He took the position that he would help us keep what we have, but it made no sense to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic; that is to say, because the Federal government was downsizing, as were State governments in many cases, there would be little opportunity in the future to expand the program on Federal property. Instead we should be looking toward the private sector to expand employment for the blind. Stevens noted that tax credits or other means might be utilized to encourage private building owners to allow the establishment of vending facilities.
Some time passed after the meeting with Senator Stevens, but finally I was able to get key staff from the offices of Senators Inouye and Stevens to meet with me to see whether, and how, they would support an initiative involving the Randolph-Sheppard program. This meeting took place on April 28, 1998. I recommended possible Congressional funding for the Jennings Randolph Institute, particularly focusing on the idea of a national center of excellence for the program. At this time I had not considered utilizing the Institute as a means of expanding the program into the private sector.
By mid-May my thinking about JRI had evolved to the point of identifying four core areas, or principal activities, for the Institute. These were (1) a National Information Resource, collecting all important documents relevant to the Randolph-Sheppard program and serving as an information exchange for vendors and program officials; (2) a Policy Development Center to bring in program authorities and creative thinkers to address specific problems in the program; (3) an RSA Program Support capability, to assist the Rehabilitation Services Administration accomplish its Randolph-Sheppard mission; and (4) a Best Practices Grants and Regional Training capability, to give incentives to States to create new and productive concepts for the program through grants and to assist states in their training needs, both for staff and for vendors, where needed.
After a couple of weeks Mark Fox of Senator Inouye's office and I finally got together to discuss Fox's impression of the April meeting. This was around the end of May. Fox indicated that both he and Liz Connell from Senator Stevens's office thought I was giving too much emphasis to a think-tank approach for the Jennings Randolph Institute, when what was needed was new jobs for blind people. While I was convinced that the think-tank program development and coordination activities of JRI were essential, I also wanted to encourage continued dialog with the two Senators' offices and to intensify their support for the vending facility program. I began to think about Senator Stevens's statements in our March meeting that emphasis needed to be placed on the private sector.
While state blind vending facility programs often include private-sector placements, the Randolph-Sheppard Act itself directly addresses only facilities on Federal property. The Act's priority only applies to Federal departments, agencies, and instrumentalities. There is no possibility, therefore, that any concept I might develop to have the Jennings Randolph Institute assist in the creation of jobs in the private sector would have any impact at all on the Act, the priority, or vendors in Federal facilities.
By mid-June, I had developed an initial concept for adding a private job component to the Jennings Randolph Institute and decided to share my idea with Mark Fox and Liz Connell. The concept, as I began to envision it, would involve the creation of national partnering agreements with major companies which issue franchises or otherwise establish standardized retail outlets, such as Subway, Blockbuster Video, or Tower Records. There is nothing, in my view, that would prevent blind individuals with business capabilities from running any kind of retail sales or service organization; just because the program has focused primarily on food service does not preclude a substantial presence in other areas.
Although I had not received a response to my June letter by the time the Orlando conventions of the American Council of the Blind and the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America took place in early July, 1998, I remained hopeful that I would get some indication of a reaction by sometime in August. I did not share the Jennings Randolph Institute concept with the RSVA Board, nor with ACB, because I wanted to ascertain whether it was viable. I did talk with several RSVA Board members in detail, to sound them out and get their ideas for improvement of the concept, particularly as it related to the expansion of the vending facility program in the private sector. I also discussed my ideas with several State agency officials. At this juncture everyone with whom I talked on this subject was quite enthusiastic and encouraging.
Meanwhile there were two other meetings in which I participated which helped evolve the concepts I had under development: On March 31 I participated in a national conference hosted by the Mississippi State Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on blindness and low vision in Dallas. I was on a panel on the need to preserve the Federal priority in Randolph-Sheppard. The panel included Charlie Allen, then president of the NFB Merchants Division; Gene Hiesler, RSVA Board member and a vendor from Texas; and Mike Hooks, the new BEP Director for the Texas Commission for the Blind.
I took the position that we in the blind-vendor community have periodic meetings, discuss the problems in the program, and then go home and do nothing until the next meeting. We need, I said, to take an organized and coordinated approach to the problems of the program. I urged that a number of things be done, including expansion of the vending program in the private sector and the convening of a national conference of the best minds in the country to discuss where the program is going and how to improve it. There was unanimous support for my position from the audience.
In mid-April I had lunch with Jamie Hilton, president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and head of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind; Creig Slayton, Iowa Commission director; Dick Davis, Minnesota director; Joe Cordova and George Arsnow of the Rehabilitation Services Administration's Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired; and Elton Moore and John Maxson of Mississippi State. I presented my idea for a national conference on Randolph-Sheppard. All in attendance supported it, and subsequently the NCSAB's Randolph-Sheppard Committee endorsed it, as did NCSAB at large. NCSAB's Executive Committee then withdrew the endorsement for purposes of further study, with the expectation of voting on the idea again during the Fall meeting.
At the end of July, at the direction of the RSVA Board, I was able to secure an invitation to become a member of the National Blue Ribbon Panel on Self-Employment, Small Business, and Disability, which met in Chicago for the purpose of making recommendations to the National Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities established under the President's Executive Order. I believed it was extremely important to ensure that no recommendation would go forward that would be adverse to the Randolph-Sheppard program. The recommendations to be made to the National Task Force, which in turn will recommend action to the President and the Congress, fortunately will not include any negatives for Randolph-Sheppard.
During the course of the Blue Ribbon Panel meeting I had occasion to talk with Tony Coelho, Chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, a prominent former Democratic Member of Congress who was the chief House sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I told Tony of my ideas for the Jennings Randolph Institute, and he volunteered to discuss the matter with Senator Ted Stevens, who was by coincidence soon to attend the World Trade Fair in Lisbon, Portugal, with Tony, the Fair's U.S. Representative. I reinforced, in talking to John Lancaster, Executive Director of the President's Committee, my discussion with Coelho in a letter dated August 3. Lancaster, according to my information, passed along my letter and Executive Summary of my thinking on the JRI privatization initiative to Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary of Education, for her review and comment.
In early August I presented my thinking on the Jennings Randolph Institute to the Legislative Working Group, a biweekly meeting of blindness organizations in Washington, comprised of representatives of the American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, National Industries for the Blind, and Blinded Veterans Association, Inc., and myself. There was great interest among the members of the group, with several expressing the belief that JRI was an exciting, creative, innovative concept.
One of the ideas I advanced for the Jennings Randolph Institute has caused anxiety and consternation among blind vendors and State agencies, and which must be explained fully. It is believed, because NFB has put it out as fact, that I am promoting privatization of the vending-facility program and that every vendor would have to move into a private-sector job within three years. The fact isthe truth isI have never proposed a change in the Randolph-Sheppard Act, nor to privatize it.
[We interrupt to note that Humphreys slips in this reinterpretation of his earlier descriptions of his plan. In the June 11 letter to Liz Connell he describes a two-track program in which current vendors would be grandfathered in to the new program and could keep their current locations. But when he describes the revised program for new vendors, he says that after three years they have three tries to develop a plan that is acceptable to JRI officials, and if they don't measure up, they will be counseled to alter their vocational goals. Humphreys's original executive summary says nothing about future vendors being permitted to return to the Randolph-Sheppard program as we have known it. Following the furor, however, in late August, Humphreys's tune begins to change. But let us return to the Humphreys text.]
I have proposed that the Jennings Randolph Institute, when it is established, help State licensing agencies expand into the private sector through the use of franchisee training adapted to the needs of blind vendors, national partnering agreements, Small Business Administration guarantees, and low-interest loans. One concept I floated was the notion that vendors coming into the program would have the opportunity to move into private-sector, high-income potential jobs after training in the Randolph-Sheppard program, that a new vendor would have three opportunities to enter the private franchise job market with State agency and JRI support, and that if those efforts were unsuccessful, the individual would be returned to the vocational rehabilitation system for placement in another area, including the standard blind-vending facility program. I emphasize that none of these ideas was or is now set in concrete. NFB leaders have spread lies in an attempt to control my ideas and defeat any innovation that will benefit the Randolph-Sheppard program.
It was my fervent hope, a hope which I maintained until late August, 1998, that I would find encouragement for my new ideas in the Congress and throughout the blindness field. I am still hopeful that the Jennings Randolph Institute will succeed, because good ideas do not die. The Jennings Randolph Institute was, when I established it in March and it is now, a work in progressa collection of ideas that has not yet reached maturity.
NFB leaders decided to launch a smear campaign of lies and slander. They went so far as to offer to the blindness community so-called documentation of my efforts to destroy the vending facility program. Did they forget that I am the architect of the modern-day Randolph-Sheppard Act? It is pathetic that new ideas would be attacked without any valid reason or justification. But, as many of you have told me, this is not an unusual tactic for these people. These types of actions, past and present, bring nothing but dishonor and disrepute to those who promote them and, unfortunately, to their organization and its good and innocent members.
These vile tactics must be challenged. As I have said over and over again, at a time when blind people are faced with an unemployment rate of 75 percent, even in a time of unparalleled prosperity, and when the Randolph-Sheppard program has lost a quarter of its vendors, the danger is not in new ideas, but in a lack of ideas. We must work together, and we must begin quickly. Those with ideas must be supported in their efforts, not hindered. There is much to do, so let us get on with the task.
That is what Humphreys had to say, but clearly not everyone remembered recent history the way he did. Here, for example, is a memo written by Richard Davis, Director of the state agency in Minnesota and a participant in some of the events recounted in the Humphreys documents. This is the way Dick Davis remembers things:
To: NCSAB Members
From: Richard C. Davis, Chair, National Council of State
Agencies for the Blind, Inc., Randolph-Sheppard Committee
Re: More About Randolph-Sheppard Institute
Date: September 15, 1998
NCSAB President Jamie Hilton recently sent members copies of correspondence regarding the Randolph-Sheppard Institute. Below is even more correspondence on this issue, including "Some Clarifications" by ACB President Paul Edwards, an "Open Letter to Jim Gashel" by Ralph Sanders, another open letter from Bob Humphreys with a paper entitled "The Randolph-Sheppard Institute:
What It Is And What It Isn't," and a message from Sandy Sanderson. With the exception of Mr. Edwards's communication, some of the attached are pretty unpleasant to read. I am reminded of the old saying, "A good offense is the best defense."
It is essential that, in reading the attached, NCSAB members make sure that personalities not obscure what actually happened. From what I have seen, Mr. Humphreys, who has long been involved with Randolph-Sheppard, unilaterally decided to reshape the program without involving its primary stakeholders. By stakeholders I mean blind vendors represented by the ACB's Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America and the NFB's Blind Merchants Division and the state licensing agencies, represented by the NCSAB.
Contrary to what Mr. Humphreys implied in his second open letter, he did not discuss the notion of a private-sector initiative in the April 22 NCSAB luncheon meeting which Jamie Hilton, Creig Slayton, and I attended. At that meeting he made no mention of the Randolph-Sheppard Institute or his contacts with members of Congress. His only suggestion was that NCSAB support a national visionary meeting on the future of Randolph-Sheppard. Later that day Ralph Sanders attended the Randolph-Sheppard Committee meeting and spoke. Although the meeting focused on the future of Randolph-Sheppard, he made no mention of the Institute.
Bob Humphreys and I both were present at a meeting with the U.S. Postal Service on June 26. All the leading stakeholders were in attendance, yet he made no mention of the Randolph-Sheppard Institute or any other kind of private-sector initiative. He has never discussed these concepts with me as Randolph-Sheppard Chair, Jamie Hilton as NCSAB president, or any other NCSAB member that I know of. Since we were all on the best of terms, working together to increase employment opportunities for blind vendors in the U.S. Postal Service, it seems incredible that he would have neglected to do so.
Nevertheless, he seemed to have plenty of time to discuss his concepts with, and submit concept papers to, Senators Inouye and Stevens and their staffs, Tony Coelho, John Lancaster, and others not directly involved with the Randolph-Sheppard program. His letter of September 8 and the attached paper show that he worked extensively behind the scenes without telling anybody but a few close friends.
For some time the Randolph-Sheppard Act has been under attack by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of the Army, NISH, private-sector vending companies, and other organizations which challenge blind vendors' priority on federal property. The Department of the Army would like to amend the Act to exclude troop mess halls from its coverage. Only a year ago we banded together to defeat a seemingly innocuous amendment to the Department of Veterans Affairs funding bill which would have put blind vendors under the control of the Veterans Canteen Service.
Mr. Humphreys should know that any unilateral, behind-the-scenes action would be viewed as a threat to the program. It is no surprise that Jim Gashel reacted as he did when he learned of Mr. Humphreys's actions. The question is, given the current climate regarding Randolph-Sheppard, why did Mr. Humphreys act as he did? If his plan was really a great one, why not bring it to all of us, discuss it with us, get our support for it, and let us all approach the Congress together? That would have made the most sense. Why work behind the scenes at all?
Maybe ego was a factor. Mr. Humphreys's open letters and paper are filled with "I's" and "my's." He tells us that he wrote the 1974 Randolph-Sheppard Amendments, that the Randolph-Sheppard Institute was his idea, and that he decided Senator Stevens would be a good champion for the Randolph-Sheppard program.
It is almost as if Mr. Humphreys regards the Randolph-Sheppard program as his own personal property. It isn't, regardless of his past efforts on its behalf. It belongs to blind vendors, their consumer organizations and elected committees of blind vendors, the state licensing agencies which run it, and the citizens who fund it. It provided the first public demonstration of the competencies of blind people, and it continues to offer excellent opportunities for blind persons to run their own small businesses.
I am afraid Mr. Humphreys's actions themselves have done a great deal to damage his reputation. His accusations to the contrary, the NFB did us all a service by discovering those actions and reporting them. I am glad that ACB President Paul Edwards has taken a firm stand and disavowed any support of Mr. Humphreys's actions. It is now time for the open letters to come to an end, and for Mr. Humphreys, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Sanderson, and friends to stop fooling with Randolph-Sheppard and give the rest of us a chance to repair the damage.
For the rest of us, I hope we can re-establish the good relationships we had before this whole unfortunate incident occurred. The Ad Hoc Committee on Randolph-Sheppard started a period of unprecedented cooperation between the Blind Merchants Division, the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, and the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind. Many of us have developed new friendships with former adversaries as a result. Let's learn from this experience and take steps to assure it will never happen again.
cc: NFB and ACB
That's what Dick Davis had to say. Now here is one of several open letters written by Jim Gashel:
August 31, 1998
An open letter to Robert Humphreys, Esquire
As you know, we first met in 1974. Since that time I have never had anything but the very highest regard for you until August 18, 1998. That was the date when I first became aware of your proposal to privatize the Randolph-Sheppard blind vendor program. Believing that I knew you fairly well, that was surprising to me. But the thing that has surprised me even more and, I must say, has saddened me as well, is the fact that you developed the plan and then took it directly to the Congress. More than that, you took the plan to Senator Ted Stevens because he chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. You did that because you wanted to see authority for the plan and its funding to be enacted as part of an appropriations bill for fiscal year 1999.
As you know, Bob, this is a great way to slide something through the Congress and have it become law, but it is not a straightforward way. In fact, I have no evidence that you would even have tried to inform the blindness community of what you were up to until after the fact. As you know, I have evidence that you were presenting this plan to Congress as far back as May and June, 1998. I also have evidence that your efforts have not been casual. In fact, you submitted revised information on your proposal as recently as August 3, 1998. Still you failed to inform either the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America or the National Federation of the Blind that you were doing this.
Brainstorming within our community is one thing, but writing up a plan and taking it to the Congress as though you represent the blind is quite another. At this point neither the National Federation of the Blind nor the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America has endorsed the privatization plan. Therefore, if you really care about blind people in the way that you used to, why didn't you at least have the decency to work with the blind first before you took the plan to Congress?
On March 4, 1998, you incorporated the Jennings Randolph Institute as a District of Columbia Corporation without the slightest involvement by the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America. You did this even though you serve as the attorney on retainer to the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America. I am not certain of this, but I have heard a report that your billing to the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America has charged that organization for the costs of forming the corporation, even though that organization knew little or nothing of what you were doing. According to the officers of that organization, they certainly did not know that you had been going to the Congress with a plan to privatize the program. If that is so, most attorneys that I know would consider acts such as these to be an ethical breach.
Much of your letter to the blindness community, to which I am now responding, consists of name calling aimed mainly at the National Federation of the Blind. For example, you say that the disclosure of your actions was cowardly on our part and suggest that we should have contacted you first. If that is so, isn't it even more cowardly to skulk around behind our backs and take the plan to the Congress? As you know, I was in your presence on more than one occasion since May when at least a mention of the prospects for legislation would have been appropriate. So, Bob, younot Ihave set the standard for secrecy.
In fact this is the most distressing aspect of this entire episode. It is one thing for either the NFB or the ACB to take a proposal to the Congress, either together or separately, but it is quite another for someone, such as you, to set yourself up as the spokesman for the blind and then to tell the blind what you have done after the deed has been done. This is the kind of conduct that the NFB can definitely never accept, and I truly doubt that the ACB can accept such behavior either. If we have anything in common, and I believe that we do, I am certain we agree on the view that important decisions which affect us must be made by us. The notion that you can presume to speak for us without approval to do so is something that cannot be accepted.
Finally, Bob, I am truly sorry and greatly saddened that you have become involved in something like this. I know that this is something that Senator Randolph would not have wanted you to do because he genuinely listened to the blind. As you know, he would never have proposed something like the privatization plan in the Congress unless he was sure that blind people were on board with the idea. Just read your own words in your letters to Liz Connell in Senator Stevens's office in which you refer to the privatizing plan as "my idea." Never once do you refer to the plan as anything but your idea. The legacy of Jennings Randolph is that he believed in blind people, and he also wanted to hear first from us about what we wanted. Why have you forgotten that? That is the saddest part of all of this for me.
Director of Governmental Affairs
National Federation of the Blind
As you can tell from the allusions to other documents, many more memoranda and open letters have been written than we have space to reprint here. Ralph Sanders has said openly that the only reason the NFB has taken exception to the concept of the Jennings Randolph Institute is that we did not come up with it first. He says that we plan to take the idea over for ourselves, that we will take the money and power from it, and that we will call it the Jernigan/Randolph Institute. Needless to say, we have no interest in operating such a program. Even though Sanders is a vendor and we believe that vendors have the right and the responsibility to take an active part in determining the future of the programs that shape their professional lives, Sanders is perhaps the last person on the face of the earth with whom we would discuss our future plans and dreams. Such an allegation as his is nothing short of shocking in its poor taste and small-mindedness.
The furor of the past several months has been unpleasant for everyone. We can rejoice that the possibility of allocating federal funding for the Jennings Randolph Institute has ended for this session at least. Let us hope that everyone has learned an important lesson and that, the next time someone has a bright idea that affects the lives of thousands in the blindness field, the matter will be handled differently. Regardless of the slanders and accusations hurled at us, the NFB will continue to work to see that the rights and livelihoods of all blind people are protected from our foes and even from our erstwhile friends.