New BSA President Gates: ‘Time for blunt talk’ in Scouting

Robert M. Gates, the former defense secretary, will prioritize transparency, marketing, retention and recruitment, and continued program innovation during his two-year term as the 35th president of the Boy Scouts of America.

In his first speech to Scouters and Scouts since the 2010 jamboree, the Distinguished Eagle Scout and past president of the National Eagle Scout Association also expressed his support for last year’s membership vote.

Furthermore, he said he’ll oppose any effort to reopen debate on the issue during his term.

During his 27-minute speech at the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., Gates outlined his vision for the movement. A movement, he said, that has improved dramatically in the eight years since Gates was last involved as a volunteer.

“My bluntness may disturb some of you, but it’s part of the package,” he said. “And maybe it’s time for blunt talk.”

Case in point: He said that during his time as president of NESA and member of the board until 2006, “I was harshly critical of the way this organization was run. … Everything seemed scripted, and the volunteer leaders seemed to me to be largely figureheads.”

But since he returned to Scouting in February of this year, Gates said he has noticed a dramatic change in how the organization is run.

“I believe the volunteer leadership has assumed its proper role as the guiding hand of this movement. There is still room for improvement, but as someone who has not been involved for the past eight years, the difference between then and now is like night and day.”

I encourage you to read the transcript and watch the video of Gates’ full speech at Scouting Newsroom.

I’ve also selected some quotes from Gates on some issues of interest to Scouters like you, including transparency, marketing, recruitment and the membership policy.

On improving transparency and cooperation in Scouting

“The BSA is not the CIA. We should have no secrets from each other or from our volunteer leaders across the nation.”

“I know that the dedicated professionals on the National Council staff agree with the emphasis on local council support. I look forward to working with Wayne Brock and his team to review National Council procedures, policies and regulations to continue the effort to make our national headquarters a more effective and responsive service center for councils.”

“For the first time, the national president will have a full time, independent representative at Scout headquarters to help me be more effective for Scouting.”

On improving marketing

“A second priority is to improve our marketing, which in turn is closely tied to recruitment and to our reputation. … I think our marketing needs to be focused on local media — whether traditional local television and newspapers or social media.”

“Every day, in every district and every council, there are countless good-news stories about Scouting.”

On improving recruitment

“We must first stop the decline and then begin to address how we grow again. I don’t have any easy answers to this challenge.”

“I do believe it starts with emphasis on recruiting Cub Scouts. Teaching leadership and skills are important reasons for joining Scouts for all of us, but I suspect that for most parents of boys of Cub Scout age, what they want most of all is a chance to spend time with their kids.”

On the membership issue

The membership issue has left the Scouting family “divided, distracted and defensive.”

“In all candor, I would have supported going further, as I did in opening the way for gays to serve in CIA and in the military. That said, I accept the vote of a year ago, and I strongly support it. And, in its implementation, Scouting must provide a welcoming and safe environment for gay youth, a place where they can benefit from Scouting and not face bullying or disrespect.”

“I believe strongly that to reopen the membership issue or try to take last year’s decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own. That is just a fact of life. And who would pay the price for destroying the Boy Scouts of America? Millions of Scouts today and Scouts yet unborn.”

“Thus, during my time as president, I will oppose any effort to reopen this issue.”

His view on Scouting

“We must move forward by focusing on what unites us: our belief that the Boy Scouts of America is the finest organization in the world for building character while teaching boys and young men to meet and overcome challenges, to cheerfully serve others, and to live lives based on the principles of the Scout Oath and Law.”

About Bryan Wendell 3271 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.