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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill Reducing Certain Appropriations and Contract Authorizations for Fiscal Year 1946.

December 23, 1945

[ Released December 23, 1945. Dated December 22, 1945 ]

I AM WITHHOLDING my approval of H.R. 4407, "Reducing certain appropriations and contract authorizations available for the fiscal year 1946, and for other purposes."

It is with sincere regret that I am unable to approve this legislation. In response to my communication of September 5, 1945, and in conformity with their own careful plans, the Appropriations Committees of the House and of the Senate held extended hearings and gave mature consideration to the readjustment of Executive programs and finances to the problems of the reconversion period. The Congress has acted expeditiously and considerately to develop the basis for the continuing peacetime operations of the Government. It has demonstrated a fine spirit of economy in reducing appropriations without complicating the delicate adjustment from wartime to peacetime functions, and without sacrificing the basic progress which has been made during the war years in the long-term development of Government activity.

So far as the basic purpose of this bill rescinding appropriations is concerned, I am in thorough agreement with the action of the Congress. Far from wishing to sacrifice the care and effort which have gone into its development, I shall by Executive action preserve the full values of these rescission provisions in the exact terms which the Congress itself has approved. If these provisions stood alone I should gladly approve the bill. I have asked the Director of the Bureau of the Budget to place these rescission amounts in a reserve, non-expendable status, and so to advise the departments and agencies concerned.

In addition to its effect on appropriations, however, the bill contains provisions which require our system of public employment offices-now unified in a single national system--to be broken up within 100 days, and transferred to operation as 51 separate State and territorial systems.

While I believe such a transfer should be made at the proper time, I am convinced that this bill requires that it be made at the wrong time, and in the wrong way. Such a dispersion and transfer at this time would immeasurably retard our reemployment program. And as the basis for Federal-State cooperation, in a fundamental program of national importance, the provisions of the bill dealing with the public employment offices are unsound and unwise from any point of view.

So far as the timing of the transfer is concerned, the period designated by this bill--the next 100 days--is the most disadvantageous that could have been chosen. It will result in a disrupted and inefficient employment service at the very time when efficient operation is most vitally needed by veterans, workers and employers.

Our local public employment offices are now, and will be during the next several months, in the midst of the peak work load in their history. This is because the offices are now engaged in counseling and placing millions of applicants who require individualized service. These applicants include able-bodied veterans seeking assistance in their readjustment to civilian life, handicapped veterans requiring even more time and guidance in finding the jobs most suitable for them, and unemployed war workers who are confronted by difficult readjustments because of substantial reductions in job opportunities at their wartime skills and wage rates.

At such a time, any change in management and direction is necessarily disruptive to the service. A change which would replace our present single and unified management by 51 separate managements would be very harmful. Even with every effort by the States to promote a smooth transition, the transfer of some 23,000 employees to new conditions of employment, and the adjustment of operations to the requirements of 51 different State agencies, will inevitably cause confusion and delay.

In my reconversion message of September 6 to the Congress, I pointed out our national responsibilities and problems in connection with employment during the reconversion period. During this period, displaced war workers, and the veterans who are returning to civilian life at the rate of more than a million per month, will need and have a fight to expect from their national government an effective job-counseling and placement service. These problems and responsibilities cannot, in a period when millions of veterans and other workers are moving across State lines, be met adequately through 51 separate and independent public employment service systems, linked only by the necessarily remote and indirect influence of a Federal agency financing the State systems through grants-in-aid.

For these reasons, I now repeat my recommendation that the transfer of our public employment offices to State operation be postponed until June 1947. The Administration is committed to returning the service to State operation, and that commitment will be carried through. But this is not the time.

Apart from the timing of the transfer, the provisions of H.R. 4407 which govern the basis for Federal-State cooperation in the maintenance of public employment offices do not assure that an adequate service will be available in all States.

The bill provides for the operation of public employment offices by the States under rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Labor to carry out the provisions of the Wagner-Peyser Act. Operating costs would be met entirely by the Federal Government. These provisions of the bill would remain in effect for only a few months--the balance of the current year.

The bill precludes the granting of funds to any State which is unable, or unwilling, to comply with the provisions of the bill or any requirement of the Secretary of Labor pursuant to the provisions of the bill.

A Federal-State cooperative program for a national system of public employment offices financed entirely by Federal funds must at least provide assurance as to two basic objectives: The Federal Government must be sure that the essential services are being provided through the States' employment offices, and it must know that the offices are being operated with reasonable efficiency. Under such a program, the Federal Government is not interested in prescribing minute or insignificant details concerning the State operation, but it does have a stake in the preservation of reasonable standards.

H.R. 4407 provides no effective protection for this national interest. If any State, for any reason, cannot or does not meet the minimum requirements, Federal grants cannot be made. But at the same time the Federal Government itself is precluded from continuing the operation of public employment office facilities in the State.

This means, in effect, that when there is a substantial failure to provide essential services or to meet minimum standards of efficiency, the Federal Government must choose between two alternatives which are both unsatisfactory. It must either acquiesce in the substandard operation--or, by withholding funds, it must deprive all of the State's employers, workers, and veterans of a service they need and to which they are entitled.

At a time of such acute emergency--when employment offices are needed to provide veterans with the services with which the Congress has required they be provided, and needed also to assist other unemployed workers in securing peacetime jobs--I cannot approve legislation which, under some conditions, may offer only a choice between a substantially substandard service or no service at all.

It seems clear to me that a matter of such grave importance as our public employment system deserves not only permanent legislation, but legislation carefully and separately considered. Issues of such a difficult and vital nature should not be dealt with as riders to appropriation bills.

The fact is that our present legislation governing the operation of our cooperative Federal-State employment service system, enacted in 1933, needs thorough revision in the light of changed conditions. Several bills now pending before both Houses of the Congress--H.R. 4437, S. 1456, and S. 1510--are designed to accomplish this. Enactment of such permanent legislation is essential before a transfer back to State operation can be achieved in an efficient and orderly manner.

Adequate and uniform standards of service must be maintained and proper security for the personnel of the organization itself must be provided in a permanent way, if it is to keep and attract the calibre of personnel able and eager to perform its important tasks.

Only in this way can we provide a sound and permanent basis for Federal-State cooperation in the maintenance of a postwar system of public employment offices which will meet the needs of veterans, employers, workers, and the nation as a whole.

While I object to the specific measure which this bill proposes to carry out with respect to our employment service, I object even more strongly to the legislative method employed for its enactment. To attach a legislative rider to an appropriation bill restricts the President's exercise of his functions and is contrary to good government.

In view of my past legislative experience, I realize the obligations of the President to the Congress as a coordinate branch of the Government. At the same time, I must be equally aware of the Constitutional responsibility of the President to the people, and of the obligation of the Congress to help him discharge that responsibility.

The Constitution has placed upon the President the duty of considering bills for approval or disapproval. It has always been possible for the Congress to hamper the President's exercise of this duty by combining so many subjects into a single bill that he can not disapprove an objectionable item without holding up necessary legislation.

Partly in order to prevent this practice, it has long been considered a fundamental principle that legislation on a major issue of policy ought not be combined with an appropriation measure. The present bill directly violates that principle. I am obliged to withhold my approval to some very excellent legislation because of the objectionable practice which has been followed by attaching this rider which I cannot possibly approve.


Harry S Truman, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill Reducing Certain Appropriations and Contract Authorizations for Fiscal Year 1946. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/229324

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