Helmantoler Explains Wage/ Price Commission

Corpus Christi Times | Corpus Christi, Texas | Friday, December 31, 1971 | Page 2

It’s a World Nobody Understands
By NAN ROBERTSON The New York Tlttm News Servlce

WASHINGTON — The first frame of the cartoon strip posted on the door of the Price Commission’s information office shows a young man talking to his wife. The two age through the next five panels, until, at the end, both are in an advanced stage of wrinkled decrepitude. The wife, now a crone, speaks:
“Thanks, dear, for taking time to explain all the ramifications of Nixon’s economic package.”

A reporter races away down the hall, calling back to Willis (Bill) Helmantoler, the commission’s information chief: “Tell me if I write anything wrong.” Helmantoler, former Air Force colonel with impressive credentials as a public relations man, grins and shrugs. “How will I know?” he replies.

This jaunty, it’s-Greek-to-us-too attitude pervades the brave and bewildering new work of the Price Commission and Pay Board, Washington’s two just-invented economic power structures. Both recently moved into a still unfinished building at 2000 M Street. The framed occupants’ diredctory in (lie lobby is blank. Workmen are ripping open crates containing new desks. Uniformed armed guards stop all comers before they reach the elevators, ask them who they’re going to see, make them sign in and pin on a visitor’s badge.
The tight security, it is explained, is to foil anyone who might wish to sneak upstairs and rifle the files of confidential material that industry and labor have amassed for the two panels on wages and prices.

Meantime, men reluctant to give their names leaf through 50 stacks of directives that blanket a long table near the entrance. The decisions affect corporate giants s”ch as Westinghouse Electric and segments of the economy as humble as the Salvation Army — which, it turns out, pays most of its officers below the minimum wage level and so is exempt from the guidelines. A Pay Board release points out that the requested Salvation Army salary increase is now authorized, “although formal approval was not actually required.”

Chairman George II. Boldt praises two Ohio carpenters’ unions in another release for displaying “patriotic self-re-straint” by rejecting a scheduled pay. raise of more than 5.5 per cent. A visitor gazes over the lobby table
and says grumpily: “We’ve decided llial: the only companies profiting from this whole deal are the ones that make paper.” He identifies himself as an assistant vice president of a “worldwide company of $440 million making machinery and chemical products.”

A lawyer whose clients include huge utilities on the West Coast says: “I try to get by here every day — we’re greatly affected by what happens here.” At the top of the eight-story building is the Pay Board, which occupies one floor. The Price Commission, almost three times bigger with 450 employes borrowed from about 30 government agencies, spreads out over the three floors immediately below.

Helmantoler explained that the price panel “is managing the whole economy. It’s a much more complex and voluminous job. The Pay Board is just wages. We’ve got 1,500 companies in ‘tier one’ alone, each making more than $100 million a year in total revenues.”

The Price Commission meets all day Mondays and Tuesdays in a stark, windowless room on the seventh floor. Wednesday mornings there is a news conference at ‘the Treasury Department, with reporters trying to hack their way through the thickets of the new control systems. Only the chairman, C. Grayson Jackson Jr., is living in Washington. The other six members fly in for the weekly sessions. The Pay Board meets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and does not hold regular news conferences. Only four of its 15 members live in the capital.

The atmosphere of confusion was typified in the response to one telephone call from a man inquiring about the meaning of a Pay Board regulation just published in the Federal Register. “What’s the Federal Register?” asked the young secretary at the Pay Board. (The Federal Register is the daily journal of executive branch actions and policies, parallel to the Congressionsal Record. Publication in the register makes them official.)