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Veto of Bill Relating to Land Acquisition and Disposal Actions by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Federal Civil Defense Administration.

May 15, 1951

To the House of Representatives:

I return herewith, without my approval, H.R. 3096, a bill "Relating to the acquisition and disposition of land and interests in land by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Federal Civil Defense Administration."

This bill would impose certain restrictions on the real estate transactions of the military departments and of Federal Civil Defense Administration. In general, it would require those agencies to come into agreement with the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and House of Representatives with respect to the acquisition or disposal of real property, including leases involving an annual rental in excess of $10,000, and including transfers of real property between the military departments or to other Federal agencies, or to States, with certain minor exceptions. A recital of compliance with the Act in an instrument of conveyance, including a lease, or a recital that the conveyance or lease is not affected by the Act would be conclusive evidence of the fact so recited. The bill would also repeal Section 407 of Public Law 910, 81st Congress, which requires the authority of an Act of Congress enacted subsequent thereto in order for a military department generally to dispose of real property. It would also repeal a proviso contained in the Act of April 4, 1944 requiring the Secretary of the Navy to come into agreement with Congressional Committees 'prior to the acquisition or disposition by the Department of the Navy of any land acquired for naval use.

On January 15, 1951, I sent a message to the Congress urging that it repeal Section 407 at its earliest opportunity. In that message I stated that that Section, if permitted to stand, may seriously impede our mobilization effort by causing unnecessary and unwarranted delays in the transfer for other governmental uses of property excess to the needs of the military departments.

While H.R. 3096 would effect the repeal of Section 407 of Public Law 910, it would subject to the decision of Congressional Committees, not only those transactions that are covered by Section 407 of Public Law 910, but also transactions involving all phases of the real estate transactions of the Department of Defense and of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, with exceptions applicable for the most part to minor and relatively unimportant transactions.

While the Congress or its members have a special interest in a number of real estate transactions by the Executive Branch of the Government, full information with respect to those transactions has in the past and will in the future be made readily available to the interested Committees of the Congress. However, a legal requirement for the submission of countless real estate transactions to the scrutiny of the Congressional Committees in an effort to furnish them with information on the relatively few transactions as to which those Committees have a special interest, would result in the imposition of a severe and unnecessary administrative burden on the Department of Defense. It would not only result in the diversion of personnel from other vital tasks to the preparation of the innumerable reports that would be required but would also result in continuing delays that might well prove to be a serious impediment to the defense procurement program. The delays that would be effected are not only the delays involved in the physical preparation of the reports required, their presentation to the Congressional Committees, and the review of those reports by the Committees or their staff, but much greater and more serious delays resulting from the inability of the Department of Defense to plan its operations in the future until the Congressional Committees have acted. The transactions that would be required to be submitted to the Committees are not isolated transactions unrelated to other transactions in the future but have a definite relationship to future as well as other current transactions and affect the whole planning program. The uncertainties and delays inherent in the securing of Congressional approval can only operate to the detriment of such a planning program.

One of the effects of the bill would be to force to a substantial degree the centralization in Washington of real estate operations that could otherwise be more efficiently handled in the field. A very substantial portion of the transactions by the Department of Defense originate in the field since the real estate operations of the Department of the Army, the most active department in this field, are on a highly decentralized basis. The requirement that would be contained in H.R. 3096 would have the effect of destroying that decentralization and cancelling the savings in time and money that have resulted in the past. Moreover, it would destroy the flexibility that now exists with respect to those operations that permits rapid changes and revisions of plans. Under the procedure contemplated by H.R. 3096, changes and variations in plans would have to run the whole gamut from field office to Congressional Committee and back again. Thus the delay will be significantly greater than would be apparent on the surface. The acquisition of general purpose space in many cities throughout the United States is handled by the General Services Administration rather than by the military departments. In those cases the military departments submit their needs to the General Services Administration which acquires or leases space on behalf of the military department concerned. In those cases no report can be made to the Congressional Committees until it has been determined from the General Services Administration the form in which it proposes to make the space available. A delay thereafter might have the unfortunate effect of causing the Government to lose the opportunity to acquire the space sought.

It may well be expected that the delays that would be encountered under the present bill would be greater than that experienced by the Department of the Navy under the Act of April 4, 1944. That is true because the number of significant transactions would be much greater under this bill than under the 1944 Act. The requirement of review by Congressional Committees in the matter of acquisition and disposal of real property would to a large degree duplicate existing machinery in the agencies directly involved, as well as those in the General Services Administration. It would hinder the orderly management of Federal property as contemplated by the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 which was recently enacted by the Congress. Moreover, the requirement of a review of the transfer of property between the military departments of the Department of Defense is, in effect, a contradiction of the principle of increased interservice utilization of property by the military departments, which is an essential feature of unification.

Moreover, the enactment of this legislation would seem to be particularly inopportune at this time in view of the current international situation and the increasing demands for expeditious action in connection with the defense procurement program. I cannot help but feel that the Congress would not knowingly place unnecessary obstacles, such as that inherent in H.R. 3096, to the expeditious consummation of that defense procurement program.

Finally, I am concerned by what appears to me to be a gradual trend on the part of the legislative branch to participate to an even greater extent in the actual execution and administration of the laws. Under our system of Government it is contemplated that the Congress will enact the laws and will leave their administration and execution to the executive branch. The delays discussed above, which would inhere in the enactment of H.R. 3096, testify to the wisdom of that constitutional policy. It would seem particularly inappropriate to depart from that policy in the field of military procurement during a period of national emergency when expeditious action may be vital to the survival of our nation.

For these reasons, I am returning this bill without my approval but with the assurance that the agencies covered by the bill will cooperate with the appropriate Congressional Committees in furnishing the information they desire in a manner that will not interfere with the orderly operation of their real estate transactions.

I again recommend that Section 407 of Public Law 910, 81st Congress, be repealed for the reasons set forth in my Message of January 15, 1951.


Harry S Truman, Veto of Bill Relating to Land Acquisition and Disposal Actions by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Federal Civil Defense Administration. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231056

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