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Letter to the Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, on the Commission on Internal Security and Individual Rights.

May 12, 1951

Dear Senator McCarran:

I am writing to request that the Senate Committee on the Judiciary give further consideration to H.R. 2829, to exempt the members and certain employees of the Commission on Internal Security and Individual Rights from the operation of certain conflict-of-interest statutes.

It has become apparent that this Commission, as it is presently constituted, cannot effectively perform its functions unless such legislation as this is passed. Enclosed are copies of two letters I have received from the Commission which indicate why this is the case.

As one of these letters indicates, the members of the Commission are submitting their resignations to me. I have decided to hold my action upon these resignations in abeyance while I make this request for action by your Committee.

There are many precedents for legislation exempting individuals from the operations of these conflict-of-interest statutes, particularly where outstanding citizens are called upon to render part-time service to the Government. In recent years, it has been made clear that exemptions of this character in some cases are indispensable to the successful operation of the Government. In a time of national emergency like the present, it becomes more essential than ever to allow the Government to avail itself of the services and advice of patriotic and public spirited citizens who might be technically barred from service because of these statutes.

For example, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to operate the Selective Service System, and our entire Defense Mobilization effort, if an exemption from these statutes were not made for many of the men who serve in carrying out these programs.

It would be little short of disastrous to adopt a general policy under which no exemptions from these statutes would be allowed. I would agree, of course, that the exemptions should be made carefully, and only when they serve an important public purpose and where there is likely to be no real conflict of interest.

In my judgment, the Commission on Internal Security and Individual Rights is one of the cases where an exemption is clearly justified. I have sought by this means to obtain the best possible advice concerning some of the basic questions affecting the survival of our democracy. I sought to obtain this advice from a group of distinguished citizens--representative of the best elements of our national life. I believe that the character of this Commission is above reproach, and that there can be no reasonable ground for any fear that its members would use their offices to further any personal interest, even if it were possible for them to do so.

The purpose of this Commission is to make recommendations concerning the problems involved in providing for the internal security of the United States and at the same time protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals. Surely there can be no quarrel with these purposes. Surely there can be no denying their importance.

One of the problems which the Commission was established to study is the operation of the Government's Employee Loyalty Program. I am convinced that the present program is basically sound, and I am certain that with rare exceptions the employees of the Federal Government are completely loyal to the United States. I believe that they constitute one of the finest and most loyal groups among our citizenry.

Nevertheless, it has been widely charged that there are disloyal employees in the Government service. Therefore, a study such as would be made by this Commission is of the utmost importance both as a protection to the national security and as a protection to the good names of the thousands upon thousands of loyal employees in the Government service.

It seems to me that the Congress would be as anxious as I am to make sure that there are no communists or other subversives in the Government employ. While this was not the only purpose for which this Commission was created, surely it is one of the most important.

I earnestly hope that the Congress will pass this legislation to make it possible for the Commission to go ahead speedily with its work which means so much to the Nation's safety and welfare.

Sincerely yours,

HARRY S. TRUMAN

[Honorable Pat McCarran, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Washington, D.C.]

Note: H.R. 2829, exempting the Commission from the conflict of interest laws, was passed by the House of Representatives on March 19, 1951. On April 30 the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 against a motion to report the bill favorably. Senator McCarran stated that no personal issue was involved and that the Committee had unqualified confidence in the members of the Commission. The only issue, he said, was whether the laws should be complied with in full.

Two letters to the President from Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Chairman of the Commission, were also made public on May 12. The first, dated April 4, 1951, pointed out the difficulty of obtaining qualified legal personnel who would not be affected by the conflict of interest laws. It stated that the Commission had deferred formal action on matters coming within the scope of its authority, pending action by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The second letter from Admiral Nimitz, dated May 8, 1951, reviewed the precedents for holding that an exemption for the Commission was justified, including the exemption which had been accorded to the Hoover Commission in 1947. Resignations of all members of the Commission were attached to the letter.
See also Items 20, 22[2], 35, 278.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to the Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, on the Commission on Internal Security and Individual Rights. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231051

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