Harry S. Truman photo

Remarks to Heads of Agencies and Personnel Directors on Reconversion of the Civil Service

February 09, 1946

This is a privilege for me. I think it is going to make the day more pleasant for me to get a chance to see the people who actually make the Government run.

I have called you together to direct your attention to the recent Executive order placing the civil service back on a peacetime basis. There are several forward-looking moves in that Executive order that I particularly want to call your attention to. It is a decentralization of personnel management. This decentralization, I think, will be exceedingly helpful in creating efficiency--a true merit system in the Government. It gives the personnel people in the departments a chance to have some say in the selection of the people who are to do the work.

Now personnel is what makes the clock tick. You can take a very poor law, with an administrator who knows where he is going, and he will make it work. You can take the finest arrangement on paper that you can put together, and put it in the hands of a poor administrator, and you might just as well back up and not try to start.

I am anxious to see an effective merit system in force. I would like to see the people in the places where they can do the most good. There are all sorts of people in this world. One may do an excellent job in the Veterans Bureau and be a total failure in the Department of Agriculture. One may do an excellent job in the Department of Commerce and be completely out of place in the State Department.

You can't take a farmer and put him in immediately as the president of the biggest bank in the world and expect it to operate; neither can you take the president of any big bank and put him behind a plough and expect him to raise a crop.

The point I am trying to make is that I want the personnel people, and the heads of departments, to cooperate in establishing a merit system in the Government that will work. And we want to put it closer to you, so that you will have a hand in the fixing of the standards for the selection of the people who are going to work for you. If we can do that, I think we will have gone a long way toward efficiency in Government.

The head of a Government department must know his department, must be the boss of his department, and must make it work; and in order to do that he must have the cooperation of the people under him. And to get that cooperation, he must know his people. That is another one of the ideas we have in this new Executive order which has just been issued.

I will certainly appreciate it more than I can tell you if you will take that order and study it, and then help me to implement that order so that it will work practically on the ground.

I think it is a good order, but it is not worth the paper it's written on if you people don't put it into effect.

It has been a privilege to me to see all of you. I wish I could speak to you, shake hands with each one of you, and find out just exactly what your ideas are. Some of these days, when the reconversion program is completed, maybe I will have an opportunity to do that.

I have been thinking every week, that perhaps the next week will not be quite so hectic as the week just passed, but the coming week is always just a little more hectic. This is one place where you never lack for action, and where there is always a crisis just around the corner and I have to do something about it. But the next day that crisis is passed, and it's just like yesterday's newspapers. That's the way we must face those things.

Now I am counting on you and your cooperation to make this peacetime Government of ours just as efficient as the wartime Government was, for the purpose for which it was set up.

You can do it.

And I want to say to you that I will give you all the cooperation that the Office of the President of the United States is capable of giving to you.

Note: The President spoke in the Motion Picture Room at the White House. He referred to Executive Order 9691 "Directing the Civil Service Commission To Resume Operations Under the Civil Service Rules and Authorizing the Adoption of Special Regulations During the Transitional Period" (Feb. 4, 1946; 3 CFR, 1943-1948 Comp., p. 501).

Harry S Truman, Remarks to Heads of Agencies and Personnel Directors on Reconversion of the Civil Service Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232441

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