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Veto of Bill Relating to Claims of Certain Employees of the Bureau of Prisons.

February 22, 1954

To the House of Representatives:

I return herewith without my approval H.R. 395, "To confer jurisdiction upon the United States Court of Claims with respect to claims against the United States of certain employees of the Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice."

This measure would confer jurisdiction upon the United States Court of Claims to adjudicate the claims of employees and former employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, notwithstanding the lapse of time or any provisions of law to the contrary.

The claimants seek compensation for overtime performed on Saturdays during the period beginning in March 1931, and ending in May 1943. They allege that they were not granted compensatory time off on some other work day as required by the so-called Saturday half-holiday law of March 4, 1931. Even for the most recent of the claims the six-year statute of limitations expired several years ago.

The claims in these cases relate to work performed at different times over a period of more than twenty years. The official time and attendance records which would be required to prove or disprove the issues of fact have been disposed of periodically in the regular manner. Without doubt, necessary witnesses have died or are otherwise beyond reach. This is the very kind of situation which proves the wisdom of a statute of limitation. Without it in such cases it is doubtful whether we can have efficient and orderly administration of the affairs of government.

If I were to approve this enactment, I could not in good conscience refuse to approve other bills setting aside the statute of limitations on old claims for overtime or other compensation for either individuals or groups of Federal personnel who delayed in presenting their claims.

Leaving aside these very important issues of principle and going to the legislative record of this bill, it would appear that the measure has been under consideration in one form or another since the first session of the 80th Congress. Each successive review by the Department of Justice has indicated that within the then existing statutory framework, Bureau of Prisons employees were granted appropriate time off.

In this connection, it must be remembered that the matter of authorizing payment of overtime compensation to Federal employees has been of gradual development. For almost fifty years, between 1893 and 1942, except where there was express authorization to the contrary, the statutes prohibited the payment of additional compensation for extra hours of service, and there was no law of general applicability establishing weekly hours of duty of Federal per annum employees.

The outbreak of World War II brought a close to the haphazard approaches to this problem. Under war-time laws and those enacted since, definite statutory limits were established to govern the work week, overtime compensation, and holiday pay. Without doubt, by present standards, the working conditions of the Bureau of Prisons employees for a great part of the period in question would be considered onerous. But they were no more onerous than those applicable to many other groups of Federal employees. I believe it would be a mistake to single out the group covered by H.R. 395 for the purpose of dealing retroactively with an hours-of-work situation which existed during a long-past period that began almost twenty-three years ago.

Furthermore, I do not see how this bill could work full justice. Turnover in employment in the classes of employees covered by it was very high, and I have the gravest doubts that the intended benefits would reach more than the relatively few who would become aware of the existence of this act if I were to approve it.

I am in favor of providing Federal employees with the fullest opportunity to adjust grievances. I believe, however, that it is fair to confine them generally to the limitations of law and other reasonable conditions. This case, in my opinion, is especially an instance where the law and the principles of orderly administration should be permitted to prevail.

For these reasons I return the bill without my approval.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Veto of Bill Relating to Claims of Certain Employees of the Bureau of Prisons. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233530

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