Letter to the President of the Senate Urging Action on Reorganization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
My dear Mr. President:
I am writing to urge favorable Senate action on Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1952 relating to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The plan already has been overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives. It will become law on March 14 unless disapproved by the Senate by that date.
Reorganization Plan No. 1 provides the basis for a thorough reorganization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Its essential feature is abolition of the offices of the sixty-four Collectors of Internal Revenue and other statutory offices requiring Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. Under the plan, all positions below the Commissioner of Internal Revenue are filled through the civil service merit system.
This reorganization plan is an essential part of a program to assure honesty, integrity and efficiency in government. Unfortunately, those who find it to their advantage to preserve the present system, or to play politics with the integrity of the public service, have raised specious arguments against the plan that obscure the real issue.
The plain fact is that the plan must stand or fall on one issue--whether we want to take the necessary steps to assure efficient, honest and impartial administration of the internal revenue laws.
It has been called to my attention that a bill was offered to the Senate last week as a so-called "substitute" for my reorganization plan. Its language is almost the same as the language of Plan No. 1--with two differences. One difference purports to safeguard existing rights and remedies of taxpayers. Legal officers of the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department have assured me this provision is not necessary, since all existing rights and remedies of the taxpayers are preserved. The second difference is the fundamental one. It would require Senate confirmation of appointment to ninety-nine revenue offices--more political appointments than at present--while my plan would place all these positions under civil service. Since that is the only real difference, it is clear that those who support the "substitute" bill also support all of my reorganization plan except the part which eliminates political patronage in the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This presents squarely the one vital question-is the business of tax collection to be taken out of politics?
Those who have studied this question say that the answer is clear--that internal revenue officers must be divorced from political, obligations, and influences. The Hoover Commission on Reorganization of the Executive Branch of the Government has taken that position. In its report on the Treasury Department, the Commission said the political appointments of Collectors of Internal Revenue and certain other officials is one of the chief handicaps to effective organization of the Department. The Commission said these appointments are regarded by some as sinecures and that, in any event, they form a bar to orderly development of an experienced staff. Mr. Robert Ramspeck, the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, in answering the question, has said that a civil service employee's allegiance is to all the people, while a Collector of Internal Revenue must give first allegiance to the people who got him his political job. Because of the political patronage system, Mr. Ramspeck says, Collectors believe it is more important for them to play politics than to be efficient tax collectors.
Civil service status is certainly not an absolute guarantee of honesty and integrity. But the record shows a far smaller proportion of misconduct among employees with civil service status than among those selected on a patronage basis. In the past year, it has been necessary to separate from the service seven out of the forty-seven Internal Revenue Collectors not having civil service status. That is one out of seven--nearly fifteen per cent. In the case of civil service employees, on the other hand, the number accused of improper conduct connected with tax collections is only a small fraction of one per cent.
I have been interested to note that twenty-six Senators have sponsored bills to require civil service appointment of Collectors of Internal Revenue. Those bills are S. 2412 and S. 2484, both introduced this year. It is also interesting to note that seven of these twenty-six Senators are members and constitute a majority of the Committee which voted against my reorganization plan. It seems obvious that a vote against Reorganization Plan No. 1 is inconsistent with the sponsorship of these bills.
Approval of Plan No. 1 will be a major step toward good organization and better management in the government. Disapproval of the plan, on the other hand, would be a step in the opposite direction involving serious consequences. Disapproval of the plan would be a blow to our efforts to assure efficiency and prevent improper conduct in government. Its disapproval would mean continuance of a revenue system which is not adapted to present-day requirements for sound and efficient administration. Disapproval of the plan would be a defeat for civil service reform--and a victory for proponents of a political patronage system. We must not let these things happen.
The action of the Senate on Plan No. 1 will have a significance far beyond administrative improvement in the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Our citizens are entitled to a tax collecting agency of thorough efficiency and unquestioned integrity. They are entitled to a Revenue Service with an organization and management which justities their complete confidence. Plan No. provides a concrete test of our willingness and ability to take positive action to promote such a service.
Millions of American taxpayers will be watching the Senate action on the reorganization plan. They have been hearing a lot lately about corruption in government, and they are concerned about what is being done to strengthen the Federal service against it. These taxpayers will be greatly interested in seeing whether Senators are more interested in their political patronage than in good public service. They will be greatly interested in seeing whether some Senators are more interested in using corruption as a vehicle to attack the Administration than they are in actually taking steps to assure clean government.
I would hate to think that the Senate will consider this matter on a partisan basis. However, I have noticed that five of the six Republican Senators on the Committee voted against this reorganization plan to provide increased efficiency and integrity in the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Those five Senators--like many of their Republican colleagues--have made a great cry about cleaning up any graft and corruption in government. I think it is fair to ask whether they really want to do something to assure clean, efficient government or whether all their talk is pure politics.
The vote on Reorganization Plan No. will show who it is that is just talking about corruption and who it is that really wants to do something about it. I hope the Senate-Republicans as well as Democrats-will keep faith with our taxpayers by voting for this important reorganization plan.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
[Honorable Alben W. Barkley, President of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C.]
Note: See also Items 1, 11, 53.
Harry S. Truman, Letter to the President of the Senate Urging Action on Reorganization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231514