Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened January, 1970
Oral History Interview with
August 14, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Jones, for the record, would you give me a little of your background. A little information on your background, where were you born, where were you educated and what positions have you held?
JONES: Gladly, Mr. Hess. I was born in New Hartford, Connecticut on February 3rd, 1908. My education was in the public schools of Connecticut; Cornell University, from which I received an AB degree in 1928; a Master's degree from Columbia in 1931. I came into the Federal Government in 1933, first with the Central Statistical Board. I transferred
to the Bureau of the Budget in 1939, on July 1st when it became part of the newly organized Executive Office of the President. I was with the Bureau until I went into active duty in the Army in 1942. I returned to the Bureau in 1945, late in the year, after release from active duty, and was with the Bureau from then on until I was nominated to be Chairman of the Civil Service Commission by President Eisenhower in 1959. In 1961, with the change of administration, President Kennedy asked me to go to the Department of State as Deputy Under Secretary for Administration where I stayed until I came back to the Bureau in the late summer of 1962. In 1968, in the fall, I retired from full-time service but at the request of the Nixon administration, came back to full-time duty in March of this year, 1969.
HESS: And to begin the substance of our interview, about the days of Mr. Truman, what can you tell me about
the establishment of the institutional channels of communication with the committees of the 80th Congress and the subsequent developments in the Bureau of the Budget?
JONES: Let me begin by saying, Mr. Hess, that I consider President Harry Truman probably the greatest constitutionalist of the twentieth century in terms of his understanding of, his respect for, the office of the President of the United States. In all of Mr. Truman's administration, from the time he first took over until he turned over the reins of office to President Eisenhower, the one thing that stood out most in my mind was his respect for and his understanding of the office. And it is in this connection that I would like to answer your question.
You asked about institutional channels. This really began with the election of the Republican
80th Congress in 1946. It was Mr. Truman's belief that the constitutional duty of the President to provide the Congress with information on the State of the Union and to recommend measures to the Congress for their consideration, meant among other things, that the Congress was entitled to know the thinking of the executive branch, the positions of the President, and, in general, what his priorities for the accomplishments for those aims were. You will recall that in September of 1945 Mr. Truman sent to the Congress the first major message of his administration. The message on which really the whole concept of the Fair Deal was built. The election of the Republican Congress the next year posed a good many problems for the President in terms of advancing the progress of that program towards legislative enactment. It had been many years since the Republicans
had controlled the Congress and the President believed that there would be a good deal less embarrassment both from the administration's point of view and from the congressional point of view if a non-partisan, but not necessarily non-political, but I guess I would say, an institutional channel of communications were set up between his office and the Congress. The Budget Bureau, in its Office of Legislative Reference, was really picked to do this job. In fact, I think this marked the beginning of a new era of understanding between Mr. Truman and the Budget Bureau, to which I'll come back a little bit later on on a matter of great importance to the Bureau and me personally and I think to the office of the Presidency. Well, in any event, through one of those accidents of knowledge, I guess, that come about, Jim Webb, who was then the Director of the Bureau, felt that the way to
advance the President's purpose was to appoint one officer with primary responsibility for legislative liaison. Quite naturally he looked for someone who was known to be a Republican. Through sheer accident, I was known to be a Republican. He asked me if I would take on this responsibility. I was most happy to do so. It was one of these points of the postwar when you were sort of at a turning point in career and it was a new set of challenging duties in a field in which I was very much interested, and indeed he took me over to call on Mr. Truman very briefly so that Mr. Truman could see what I looked like. This was the start of what within a year or so became a rather substantially institutional type of channel. I say within a year or so, I say that advisedly because at the time the 80th Congress was elected, the very long term Assistant Director of the Bureau for legislative matters
was rapidly approaching the end of his career. This was Fred [Frederick J.] Bailey. And there was a strong desire not to make a drastic change in the way in which Mr. Bailey conducted his office. So, in effect, I did not work under Bailey, I worked under Webb but in close cooperation with Bailey and in even closer cooperation after Elmer Staats moved in as Bailey's deputy, and ultimately his successor. The President's view was quite simple, and in the barest terms it was this: That the Congress was entitled to know the views of the administration and that the committees were entitled to know the relationship to the President's program of all ideas that came from the executive branch for legislation and all ideas for legislation which grew out of the introduction of bills by members of Congress themselves. That's perhaps a long answer but I think it's an answer which deserves some detail.
HESS: Going back just a little bit, since you worked for the Bureau of the Budget for such a long time, I have several questions that I would like to ask about it. Just how has the role of the Bureau of the Budget changed since its establishment in 1921?
JONES: Well, here again I don't want to take up too much time with this but in perhaps too capsule form, a little oversimplification, there are really several eras in the Budget Bureau's history. The first from its establishment in 1921 until it was put into the Executive Office of the President in 1939, is one era of rather consistent pattern. This was an era in which the Budget Bureau's function was looked upon as being rather limited. It was the agency which was to put together the budget, in almost the ministerial sense. It was to be in the forefront of all drives for economy and efficiency,
even to very minor kinds of economies in which the Bureau itself took a very substantial lead. The Bureau's detractors have referred to this as the "green eyeshade" period of the Bureau. This is not entirely unfair because the concept of the job as laid down by General [Charles G.]] Dawes initially, and subsequently carried on pretty much without change by General [Herbert M.] Lord, who succeeded General Dawes after a short period of time, Colonel [J. Clawson] Roop who was Mr. Hoover's budget director, acting under White House guidance felt that their role was pretty much a ministerial role. It was to pull the budget together and to take a generally negative attitude towards expansions of the government program or expansions of government responsibilities on the ground that this cost more money than the Government should spend. However, there began to appear, even before the change of image -- I
would say this was about midway perhaps of Mr. Hoover's administration -- a realization that .the President had, in the Bureau of the Budget, an almost unique collection of information about the programs of the Federal Government. That no one else had quite as much information about it. And President Hoover did rely upon the Bureau very extensively after the full effects of the depression began to be felt to give him more searching analysis of what government programs were and how government resources could be marshaled and mobilized to combat the depression effects. The impetus that was given to this kind of work ground to a halt, however, in the election of 1932, as I understand the records, for two reasons. First: Mr. Roosevelt's first Budget Director Lew [Lewis W.] Douglas, was a great advocate of the Democratic platform plank for a reduction of 25 percent in government expenditure
and the old, more or less traditional, frugality ideas of the Budget staff came almost immediat