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Letter to the Director, Bureau of the Budget, on the Establishment of a Federal History Program.

January 31, 1951

[Released January 31, 1951. Dated January 29, 1951]

My dear Mr. Lawton:

During this period of national emergency, the Federal Government has found that the historical records maintained during the previous periods of emergency have been of great value. The histories of a number of the temporary agencies of World War II have been especially helpful in current mobilization planning.

I believe that we should analyze the development of our present activities while the problems are fresh in the minds of the participants. Such analyses will help us to solve the problems we shall face in the future.

For these reasons, I should like you to establish a Federal history program for all the agencies engaged in emergency activities. The active direction of the program should be undertaken by the Bureau of the Budget, although the preparation of the studies themselves should be carried out by the individual agencies.

In order to be of greatest value, these studies should not give a detailed review of accomplishments, but should concentrate upon the objective analysis of the problems confronted, how they were met, and the reasons underlying policy and administrative decisions. Failures as well as successes should, of course, be included. Historians should have full access to source materials and they should draw upon both written and unwritten sources of information. Agency heads should see that the historians have ready contact with key officials and are enabled to follow decisions on policy and administration as they are made.

I am confident that this program will be useful in improving operations. The studies that result can help orient new officials and give all officials a broader understanding of agency problems and policies. These studies will also assist in the preparation of reports to the Congress. Agency historians, however, should not be diverted into current operations.

It is important to start this program quickly, in order to profit from the lessons we are already learning. I hope that you will report to me from time to time on the progress of the agencies in carrying forward the historical program.

Very sincerely yours,


[The Honorable Frederick J. Lawton, Director, Bureau of the Budget, Washington, D.C.]

Harry S Truman, Letter to the Director, Bureau of the Budget, on the Establishment of a Federal History Program. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231062

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