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Frank Pace Jr. Oral History Interview, January 22, 1972

Oral History Interview with
Frank Pace Jr.

Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, Taxation Division, 1946; Executive Assistant to the U.S. Postmaster General, 1946-48; Assistant Director, Bureau of the Budget, 1948-49; Director, Bureau of the Budget, 1949-50; and Secretary of the Army, 1950-53.

Washington D. C.
January 22, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Pace Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened June, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Frank Pace Jr.

Washington D. C.
January 22, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Pace, at the conclusion of our meeting on Monday afternoon we were discussing, the reduction that took place in the armed services between World War II and the Korean conflict. How significant in that matter of reducing the budget and reducing the armed forces was Mr. Truman' s desire to balance the budget?

PACE: Well, Mr. Truman was socially a liberal, but fiscally a conservative. He was a real joy for a Budget Director to work with because he honestly treated the budget in a very commonsensical way, the way the ordinary fellows treated his own personal requirements.

I believe that Mr. Truman felt that sustaining a balanced budget in this society of ours was important. Now he also felt that meeting the social requirements of this country in peace took precedence over the requirements of the military in peace, and it was for this reason that the military, as it always is in peacetime, was significantly reduced during this period. And as I said earlier, no nation is ever ready for a war, unless they precipitate it.

HESS: Unless they set out to build a war machine and have at it.


PACE: And have it on a planned basis.

HESS: Well, what do you recall of Mr. Truman' s views on the importance of a balanced budget?

PACE: Well, as I said earlier, he was a very strong believer in a balanced budget.

HESS: Do you think that he would have liked to have balanced the budget before the 1948 election for political reasons?

PACE: No, I honestly don't think he felt that this decision was really a political one. I think he made it on the basis of his own strong feeling about the way the nation should be run.

In the whole period, in the Budget, I never had any sense that Mr. Truman used it as a political vehicle. In fact, he almost had a sense of astringency about political interference in the budgetary process. I do not recall Mr. Truman asking me, as Director of the Budget, to ever make a budgetary decision on a political basis.

HESS: The reason why I asked that is it appears in several histories that with the '48 election coming up, things not looking too good, many people thinking Mr. Truman did not have a chance, that he wanted to balance the budget to present the country with a balanced budget and say, "Look what I've



PACE: I don't believe this. I've heard that myself, but I'm quite sure that this was not Mr. Truman' s idea of politics.

HESS: All right, and that pretty well winds up that line of thought.

Now, the next question I have is in reference to the Legislative Reference Service, and checking through the Enrolled Bill file, at the Truman Library, I found that Mr. Truman often placed great weight on the advice of the Legislative Reference Service of the Bureau of the Budget, quite often in opposition to the advice as provided from all other sources. If you also found that to be the case, why do you believe that he placed such reliance on their advice?

PACE: When I first was selected by Mr. Truman as Director of the Budget, I called on various former Directors with the Budget. When I became Director of the Budget, I visited all of the living directors and among them was Charles Dawes who was the first Director of the Budget (later Vice President), and who had indicated that the position of Director of the Budget had more influence on the nation than the Vice Presidency. Mr. Dawes gave me his views on the budget.


HESS: What were they? What did he say?

PACE: Well, I was going to really relate it to your question by saying that when we concluded Mr. Dawes said to me, he said, "Young man, you should always keep in mind that these Cabinet officers are the executive vice presidents in charge of spending and as such the natural enemies of the President. Good day, young man."

Now, I've given you a very clear evidence of Mr. Dawes' attitude, and to a certain extent I think Mr. Truman had a similar feeling. I believe he felt that the budget should be unaffected by special requirements or interests, except for honest special requirements or interests, because each Department had honest special requirements. But when you look for a new assessment of the national interest, he felt that the budget was the place he could turn to and get it, unaffected by politics or special interests. He relied very heavily not only in the legislative areas but frankly in the fiscal and management area on the Budget Bureau.

HESS: And you think that's why he placed such reliance on the recommendations of the Legislative Reference Service?

PACE: I'm quite clear on that. We were very strong in that field in my period, leadership was excellent and the quality


of men in it was very good. But I think it was its capacity for institutional contribution that interested Mr. Truman.

HESS: Do you recall when the Legislative Reference Service was set up?

PACE: No, I don't, it was before my time and I would assume it was fairly early in the budget process because it was a very critical part of it. Without it, you see, the budgetary process could be made meaningless.

HESS: At the time that you went out to talk to the former directors of the Bureau of the Budget, who else did you speak to? Did you speak to the two that had been there before Mr. Truman: Harold Smith and James Webb?

PACE: Of course, I had worked for Webb.

HESS: That's right.

PACE: And really...

HESS: You were his deputy.

PACE: I was his deputy, so I knew his views.

Smith I unfortunately did not talk to. I can't remember why. I did talk to Law Douglas who had also been an earlier Director of the Budget. I'm sure I intended to talk to


Mr. Smith, but I can't remember whether he was unavailable or ill but there was some reason why I did not have a chance to talk to him.

HESS: What do you recall about the press conferences that the President used to hold exclusively about the budget, the annual press conference on the budget?

PACE: Well, first I recall how superbly he prepared himself for them. He really was interested in the budget, this wasn't something that somebody else did. All the key decisions in the budget he'd made, and I believe he labored as hard over his budget message as he did over his State of the Union message, and he was very good at it. Mr. Truman' s great strength, of course, was his ability to make the complicated simple, and the way he talked about very complicated things was the way the ordinary guy understood them, and that was really his great strength.

HESS: To what would you attribute his interest in budgetary matters? He had been county judge of course, which was an administrative position in Missouri and not judicial, and he had prepared many budgets for Jackson County.

PACE: I think that's partially it, my own instinct however is


that his section of the nation was really basically fiscally conservative. I came out of Arkansas, money was important to us, we didn't have a lot of it.

HESS: Money was tight, as an old saying goes.

PACE: That's right, money was very tight as he was growing up and later as I was coming on. The fact was that there just wasn't a lot of money. Money was something that you paid attention to, and your parents in that part of the world rather drummed into you the importance of not getting into debt.

You know in the East I think and probably in the Far West, there was a much greater feel for the leverage of money. I think basically those of us who came from the southwest had a critical sense of meeting things day to day, solving your problems within your capacity, doing without that extra pair of shoes.

HESS: And if you wanted to buy something you saved up the money ahead of time and then you'd pay for it.

PACE: To pay for it. That's right, borrowing was not regarded in our part of the world as a way of life. You lived within your means.


HESS: How would you evaluate Mr. Truman' s grasp of budgetary matters as compared with some of the other Presidents that you've known?

PACE: Well, of course, I dealt much more intimately with him than I did with other Presidents. I've observed them largely from the outside. I'm certain Mr. Truman was far more interested in the budget than Mr. Eisenhower was. I don't mean by that that Mr. Eisenhower was not interested, he was. But Mr. Truman really took the budget quite personally and felt himself to be the protector of it against the demands of the Departments.

Strangely enough, I'm sure Mr. Truman would never agree with this, but in fiscal philosophy what Charles Dawes had to say really fitted the way Mr. Truman thought. And I think he had a sense of intimacy with the budget and I know he worked at it.

HESS: Back to those press conferences just a minute. As I understand it, Mr. Truman, yo