Treasury Secretary G. William Miller no longer denies -- as he has repeatedly in the past -- that Textron, Inc., the manufacturing conglomerate he headed, paid bribes to foreign officials while he was chairman. During his confirmation as Federal Reserve Board chairman two years ago and again last summer when he appeared before the Senate Banking Committee as President Carter's choice to head the Treasury, Mr. Miller emphatically rejected allegations that Textron's helicopter division made improper payments to government officials and others to get lucrative contracts. "My company didn't bribe anyone," he stressed.
Now, in the face of charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that Textron made $5.4 million in questionable overseas payments and hid them by altering its accounts, Mr. Miller says "it turns out" there were hidden transactions he did not know about. The SEC suit did not cite Mr. Miller by name but said Textron's "chairman" at the time gave shareholders "erroneous and misleading" information in assuring them the corporation did not make improper payments abroad. The SEC found a clear pattern of corporate bribery in Textron's dealings and implied its chairman shouldm have known what was going on. Senator Proxmire, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, had the same reaction.
Moreover, the SEC contends that Mr. Miller was well aware of $600,000 Textron allegedly spent on meals and entertainment for Defense Department officials between 1971 and 1978 while he was heading the corporation. Mr. Miller's response is that the SEC exaggerated the amount actually spent on what he termed "normal courtesy and hospitality" and he denies the company tried to hide the expenditures in company books and records. Textron, for its part, did not admit or deny any of the SEC's allegations but agreed to a settlement and a court order barring the company from future violations.
Mr. Miller says he did no wrong but relied on senior subordinates who did not keep him informed of Textron's payments abroad. President Carter has indicated he does not plan to ask Mr. Miller to resign, and Mr. Miller has made clear he does not consider the SEC charges serious. Nor does he plan to step down voluntarily. But the matter should not be dropped there. Unless further efforts are made in Congress to get at the facts and make them public, suspicions will linger about the reliability of Mr. Miller's word and his fitness for remaining in the high office he now holds.
Senator Proxmire says he will decide within a few days whether to hold public hearings. In fairness to the country and to Secretary Miller Congress should seek to resolve the doubts and questions raised but left unanswered by the SEC's settlement with Textron.