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About Robert B. Carleson (1931–2006)

Robert B. Carleson devoted his life to public service. While reforming the California welfare system in the early 1970’s under Governor Ronald Reagan, Mr. Carleson pioneered reform measures that saved that state from bankruptcy and that 25 years later would bring about the greatest change for good in America’s system of helping its neediest citizens since the 1930s.

Mr. Carleson, a native of Long Beach, California, in 1949 received naval scholarships to the University of Utah and the University of Southern California (USC). In 1953 he received his degree in public administration from USC and a commission in the U.S. Navy. From 1953-56 he served in the Far East and Korea, including two years with the First Marine Division in Korea, Camp Pendleton in California and a one year tour on the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Bremerton, which included combat in Korea. After his naval service, he did post graduate work in public administration at the University of Southern California and was an administrative intern for the Beverly Hills City Administrator's office.

He served as Administrative Assistant to the Director of Public Works for the City of Beverly Hills from 1956-57. After working as City Clerk and Assistant to the City Manager of Claremont, California from 1957-58, and as Senior Administrative Assistant to the City Manager of Torrance, California from 1959-60, he was City Manager of San Dimas, California from 1960-64, and City Manager of Pico Rivera, California from 1964-68.

Mr. Carleson joined the administration of Governor Ronald Reagan as Chief Deputy Director of the California State Department of Public Works (now the Department of Transportation) in 1968.

Mr. Carleson first received notice in welfare policy as the chief architect of Governor Reagan's successful welfare reform program, and its principal implementer as Director of the California State Department of Social Welfare in 1971-72. As a result of the success of California's reforms, he was brought to Washington, DC by Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Casper Weinberger to be U.S. Commissioner of Welfare from 1973-75 with instructions to carry California-style welfare reforms to governors and state legislators. During his tenure in Washington, the national welfare rolls dropped for the first time since World War II as they had done in California during his tenure there.

Bob Carleson Made Welfare Reform Reagan's Lasting Legacy

Gov. Reagan was definitely the father of genuine welfare reform in America — the "tough love" concept of ending cash subsidies except for the truly needy and creating incentives with which those on welfare could find work and thus be freed from dependency. […] And if Reagan was the father of these innovative reform concepts, then its midwife was Robert B. Carleson, his state director of social welfare. […] The welfare reform that he and Reagan sculpted in California has been copied and implemented in numerous states, notably New York under Reagan's old political nemesis, liberal Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who took the advice of then-U.S. Commissioner of Welfare Carleson. Many of the revolutionary innovations that were developed in California were applied on a federal level in the 1980s, when Reagan was President and Carleson his special assistant for policy development.

Click here to read the full article from Human Events. (PDF)

Robert Carleson — How One Man Altered the Path of History

Robert B. Carleson, a man who was as responsible as anyone for the presidency of Ronald Reagan, passed away late last month. Though his friends and fellow conservatives understood his key role in changing the course of history, he was little known to the general public. And yet, as his fellow "Reaganaut" Edwin Meese (former Attorney General) declared at a memorial in Carleson's honor April 26, if there had been no Bob Carleson, "there would have been no President Reagan."

Read the rest of Wes Vernon's tribute. (PDF)