NATIONAL COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS
National Council of
Social Security Management Associations
Friday, June 3, 2016
Throughout our careers, we all have encounters with coworkers and peers that influence us in meaningful and long-lasting ways. I had one such encounter as a new manager in 1991 when I met a gentleman named Marvin Behlke at a regional management meeting. Mr. Behlke was the District Manager in Greenville, South Carolina, and was a good friend of my boss at the time. After introductions, a lively conversation revealed local and family connections between Mr. Behlke and me, a real “small world” moment. As our conversation continued, the topic of the Atlanta Region Management Association (ARMA) and the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA) arose rather quickly. As I recall, he asked me if I was a member, and I replied that I had just joined the management association in January 1991. He told me that he had been very involved in our association and had served as President of ARMA and later on, as President of NCSSMA. In that first conversation, he encouraged me to get involved and to be a leader someday.
Mr. Behlke was a great storyteller. I recall him telling me that, in those days when he was NCSSMA President, we did not have it so good, to put it mildly. In fact, while he was NCSSMA President, Mr. Behlke was one of the first NCSSMA members to testify before Congress on April 2, 1987. That hearing was before the subcommittee on Social Security of the House Committee on Ways and Means. The unique fact about his testimony was that it was in opposition to staffing and budget reductions supported by SSA during the era of “downsizing.” This is the first time someone told me that the management association was “the unfiltered voice of field management” and I later found that is precisely what Mr. Behlke’s oral testimony reflected.
You can find this historic testimony near the bottom of page 239 of the hearing summary at:
He told me about how this did not go over very well with agency leaders at the time, and that he was seriously concerned he might suffer negative consequences due to his agreeing to accept the invitation to testify and for telling the truth. Without going into the details here, I remember thinking that I would not be that brave, to testify before Congress and to tell the whole truth on behalf of the membership amid warnings from above. From that first encounter, we struck up a friendship that would last until Mr. Behlke’s retirement in 1996, and we would always take time to talk while at regional management meetings and the ARMA annual meetings we attended.
I looked up to Mr. Behlke as a classy leader, admired him for his uncommon bravery, and respected his commitment to community-based service. He was one of the people who inspired me to become more involved in our management association. Years later, when I became ARMA President, I saw that Mr. Behlke’s actions and style exhibited the key concepts of our association, which are articulated in the NCSSMA Constitution. He was a role model for cooperating constructively with all responsible officials of the Social Security Administration, for giving real meaning and effectiveness to the concept of consultation with associations of managers and supervisors, for fostering the highest standards of professionalism, and for encouraging the establishment of policies that best serve the public interest in accomplishing the mission of our agency.
A few years ago, I was presented with a framed quote from an unnamed author about integrity, and that quote reminded me of Mr. Behlke. The wise words of that quote follow:
You are your reputation.
Do the right thing.
Do the kindest thing.
Do the most courageous thing.
Do all of these things even when…
And may seem to limit career progress.
He certainly was a person of integrity.
Although Mr. Behlke passed away in 2011, his contributions to NCSSMA and to all of us who manage and supervise on the frontline will endure. We owe him, and other past presidents of our association, a debt of gratitude for speaking up for all of us and being heard when we, as individuals, would not be heard.
By Bruce Fraley
District Manager in Richmond, KY
Past President, ARMA