Oral History Interview with
Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration, 1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice President and Director, Defense Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator, 1945; Director, Office of Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46. Secretary Snyders longtime close friendship with Harry S. Truman began with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.
John W. Snyder
March 15, 1980
This interview was conducted by Richard Shick for the Oral History Committee of the Treasury Historical Association and donated to the Harry S. Truman Library for its oral history transcript collection.
See also: John W. Snyder Oral History, by Jerry N. Hess of the Harry S. Truman Library done in 1987-1969.
See also: John W. Snyder Oral History, by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley of the William Jewell Oral History Project dated March 18, 1976.
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) 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. Requests to publish or for further information should be directed to the Treasury Historical Association, Washington, D.C. 20220.
Opened November, 1982
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
March 15, 1980
by Richard Shick, Treasury Historical Association
SHICK: This is Richard Shick and we’re talking with Mr. John W. Snyder, former Secretary of the Treasury.
Mr. Snyder, let’s talk about personal impressions first. Do you recall your first reactions on being nominated to the Secretary of the Treasury?
SNYDER: Well, it’s going to be a little surprising to you, about the time that I had to reflect. President Truman announced at a press conference that he was appointing Fred Vinson as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The reporters started to rush out but stopped to ask, “Wait a minute, who’s going to take his place at the Treasury?”
He said, pointing at me, “That fellow sitting right there.” So you can see how much time I had to reflect upon the appointment.
SHICK: Did you have any inkling?
SNYDER: No, frankly I had been hoping very much to be able to go back to St. Louis to the First National Bank. I had given up the Presidency to come to help Mr. Truman when he first became President, and continued to hope to find a way back. I was his first appointment - he named me Federal Loan Administrator, as that job was open at the time and there was no question about replacing someone. As I had considerable experience in the RFC and in the Federal Loan Administration, I was immediately confirmed. I was in the Federal Loan Administrator job about three months and did quite a number of things there in consolidating war-time subsidiaries, and planning for the financing for the reconversion period. I worked
out a plan between the banks and the RFC to share loans to small business and to larger business for the transfer from war to peace. I had consolidated all the various subsidiaries such as Defense Plant Corporation, Rubber Reserve Corporation, Defense Supply and others back into the mother corporation, the RFC. And about that time, Henry Morgenthau resigned as Secretary of the Treasury. President Truman and I had talked about that before. He and I discussed a successor quite a bit. We knew well that he would not retain Morgenthau in that office.
It was my opinion that Fred Vinson would be of great value to him up on the Hill because with the war over we would run into all sorts of legislative problems, particularly taxes and reorganization of the government and things of that character. Because of Vinson’s long experience in Congress in the House Ways and Means Committee, we thought that he would be a very good man for the President’s
Cabinet in the tax side of it and so I was fully expecting that appointment. When he was appointed, I was unexpectedly moved over to his job, the OWMR (Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion). Of course, that was not a spot that I would have chosen for myself. It was more or less a workable operation, so far as mechanics were concerned in wartime as things were somewhat controlled by our being in an emergency war situation. But once the war was over, getting the cooperation back, getting the departments back in their old functions again was a pretty delicate political operation and I had never been in politics at all. The only time I got in politics was when Mr. Truman was running for office and that was to help in the background in raising funds. So, I was, in my own mind, not suited for that highly political position. It was not a happy appointment as far as I was concerned, but the President was in Potsdam and
the ox was in the ditch, so without any question I went along and was sworn in and operated that department for about nine months. We think we did a tremendously good job in spite of what the papers, the liberals and the opposition felt about it. We had, within less than nine months after the war, the peacetime economy running to a capacity that was in excess of what it was before the war. So, the move out of OWMR for me was very pleasant. It was good to get into business and banking which I knew something about.
So, that was the immediate reaction. However, it was not so much as to what my reaction was, but the suddenness of it. I had to get quickly to the Undersecretary of the Treasury and assure him that I knew nothing about this, or I would have talked with him if I had known it and that I definitely wanted him to stay on. That was Governor O. Max Gardner, from North Carolina, who was helping Fred Vinson out over there and I certainly didn’t
want to lose him. After I got through talking with him I told him (I went over to his house - this was late in the afternoon - he had gone to the Mayflower to his apartment) so the minute I got out of the Press conference I made a beeline down to their apartment and caught Mrs. Gardner and O. Max there and told them what had happened, and the circumstances. It’s up to you now, Governor, what we do about this. If you will not stay with me, I’ll go right back and tell Mr. Truman that I won’t take it. Oh, he said, you can find plenty of people. I said no, you’re the one I want and I want to urge you to take it and I hope that you’ll see your way. Well, he and his wife talked about it and while they did, I said I’ll tell you this, if anything ever comes up that you want, after helping me get settled over there, if anything ever comes up that you want, after helping me get settled over there, if Mr. Truman can get it for you, I’ll certainly do my best to get him to do it. Oh, he says, I think you’re pretty sincere
about this, therefore, I’ll promise you I’ll help you get started. He did not make a long time commitment.
SHICK: Nowadays there’s a lot of pre-clearance and pre-investigation.
SNYDER: Well, that’s the proper thing to do, of course, but Mr. Truman was suddenly catapulted into that job and quite a number of FDR’s Cabinet members wanted to get out. But most of them - about half of them I’d say - promised to stay on for a few months so that he could look around and get people he wanted. Miss Perkins was one, Stimson was one, and there were several. The Postmaster General Walker was not well and he had been trying to get out for some time. They acted very kindly about it. By July, all but Wallace, Forrestal, Ickes and Stimson had resigned.
SHICK: Did you have any preconceived view of the Department and were these substantiated or
changed as a result of your six year tenure?
SNYDER: Well, I guess I had quite a number of preconceived notions about certain segments of it, as I had been in banking all my life and had been before the Treasury on bank matters before and then when the crash came in ‘29 I was asked by the Comptroller of the Currency, Robert Neil of St. Louis, Missouri District, to help with some of the closed banks and it ended up that at one time I had eight that I worked with, trying to either get them reorganized, reopened or to liquidate them. I was very fortunate in that because of the eight, one of them reopened, four liquidated up in the top eighties or ninety percent. One liquidated in full and two unfortunate ones had their presidents commit suicide when they closed. So you can imagine what you’d find in such a bank. They experienced bad liquidations because somehow the bank’s liquid assets had been taken out before the suicides.
Then, of course, I had been in the Defense Plant Corporation, running it for Mr. Jesse Jones. I went down to Washington in 1940 and with several of the RFC people, Emil Schram, Hans Klagsbrunn, Cliff Durr, and Claud Hamilton, Chief Counsel for the RFC, we organized the Defense Plant Corporation, whose function was to furnish money to build plants to build things for the war. So we set up rather a unique system which I could take three or four days to tell you all about, but it will suffice to say that during the course of our operations over three or four years, we advanced over 11 billion dollars in building plants for the war. We built up the aircraft operations - we built 15 or 20 plants for that. We built all the synthetic rubber plants, we built all of the magnesium plants and we built aluminum plants. We actually financed everything you could think of from plants to build tanks, to build trucks, and even to industrial diamonds. That was about the smallest one we built.
Well, Defense Plant was given carte blanche in drawing on the Treasury for the money that we needed. So I got very well acquainted with the Treasury during those three or four years. And, of course, having been in banking I was back and forth from the bank with the comptroller very regularly and, of course, when it came to the management part of the Mint and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the Customs - those were all things that I had to get in and get acquainted with.
SHICK: Did you ever think during this period, before you had any inkling that you would become Secretary, what you might do if you were Secretary?
SNYDER: I never gave any serious consideration to becoming Secretary of the Treasury before I got the appointment.
SHICK: Did you enjoy the job?
SNYDER: In the Treasury, yes. Very much so, but even then, it had its unpleasant sides. Our problem in the Internal Revenue was anything but pleasant at times. We had men that for political reasons or for greed or for something, as collectors went haywire. After we had studied I.R.S. under O. Max Gardner, and later Lee Wiggins, who I brought in to succeed O. Max Gardner, their studies began to unfold that there was something askew in the Revenue Service. By the time Lee quit, I had moved in myself to see if we couldn’t get it straightened up. Then we found that the further we dug, more sketchy problems came up and in due time, the head of the department got in trouble and went to jail for some of his missteps. We then brought in a company to make a thorough study and recommend a reorganization. The principal recommendation they brought out was to take the Service out of politics and stop the patronage appointments of the collectors.
This we did and fortunately I just got under the wire as we just installed the last collectors of internal revenue a few months before we went out of office in January 1953. So we did get that job finished. Generally speaking the Treasury. I have found, just required a thorough reorganization. The Customs Department had practically become dormant during the war. There was not a lot of imports and exports you know, and many of the good people had gone somewhere else. It meant going in and completely reestablishing new rules and new planning and new field work programs, and that sort of thing, so I again brought an outside company in to help accomplish that.
The Coast Guard was organized initially way back in the early day of the Treasury to assist in the collection of customs because of the imports and exports brought in by ships. The Coast Guard watched and helped hold down smuggling and that sort of thing. But in time
of war, the Coast Guard, because of its waterborne attitude, was transferred to the Navy and then when the war was over, it was put back into the Treasury. Well, it came back to me shortly after I arrived in the Treasury. It had been in the Navy for four years during WWII and I had a situation to meet in which I had 385,000 enlisted men in an organization that during peacetime would require 75 or 80 thousand. And I had all the seagoing vessels, the airplanes and equipment of that sort that had to undergo a housekeeping job to get the organization down to a workable peacetime operation. That required skill and reorganization and management which we think we did very excellently.
SHICK: Could I ask, getting back to the IRS, you said that prior to your tenure, the Revenue Collectors, the Tax Collectors, were not under the Competitive Civil Service System.
SNYDER: Well, no, they were appointees or the congressmen. The congressman appointed them and the President normally checked them. They were given a checkup by the FBI or the Secret Service and the President appointed them. They were purely patronage jobs.
SHICK: Were these at the supervisory level?
SNYDER: Yes, they were at the supervisory level, the rest of the employees were all under Civil Service. For instance, the St. Louis office would have a collector and he was a pretty important man to the Senator and to the Congressman of Missouri because there were always tax problems. They wanted a man who was sympathetic and sometimes he got over-sympathetic.
SHICK: Did you find any evidence that Presidents had used the IRS Tax Collection and Tax Investigation functions for political purposes as recent Presidents have been accused of doing?
SNYDER: No, I’m pretty sure that FDR didn’t. I know Truman did not. No, it got to be largely... if anyone was misusing it, it was the Commissioner or the Collector of Internal Revenue. Hannegan was the first one to hold the position under President Truman.
FDR made Hannegan the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and kept him there while he ran for office in the 1944 election. Morgenthau had appointed him Commissioner of Internal Revenue. He was in that job when Truman took office.
The Postmaster General had for years been the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and it was largely a political job because the postmasters were all appointed as patronage appointments. When Mr. Truman became President Postmaster General Walker was sick and early resigned his office. Mr. Truman made Hannegan Postmaster General and he continued as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee until he
SHICK: Was being secretary of a large and important cabinet job different in kind or degree from your other high-level jobs, especially as Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion?
SNYDER: Well, War Mobilization and Reconversion was a completely different type of operation. It had a very small staff and was housed in the east end of the White House, in the annex over there. The Treasury, when I went in there had 110,000 uniformed employees and stretched in every crack and cranny of the nation, and it had all sorts of different bureaus in it, and so there’s just no comparison with OWMR. That was a close-knit policy group. It would not compare even in a modest way to RFC, because the RFC was much larger with offices all over the country.
I will tell you of an incident that might help you understand this problem: When I went
to my uncle’s little country bank down in Forrest City, Arkansas, it was a small bank, and I’d just gotten back from WW I, where I’d been in Europe with the 32nd Division as Captain of Field Artillery, and serving as operation officer of the 57th Field Artillery Brigade. But when I got back and went into a little country bank belonging to my uncle, Judge E.A. Rolfe, I didn’t know a thing about banking, so what I did … I learned everything from sweeping out to going out to collect overdrafts and dozens of other things. I learned the adding machine, to post books, to make loans, to foreclose all loans, and I learned to draw up mortgages, so as I went on up the ladder, I found that as I got to the bigger banks, instead of one person it was usually a department. There was a bookkeeping department, there was a loan department, there was a department where you had a department head who was actually the one fellow
in my first bank. And then when I got up to Washington to the RFC, I just found that it was the same way, only they were spread out all over the country. But it; was the same operation knit together. The Treasury, that part, was a gradual buildup of adjusting to conditions.
SHICK: As a manager and in terms of personal relationships was government service very different from private industry?
SNYDER: Oh yes, it was tremendously different for many reasons. . .in certain principles no, but when you considered certain principles that are required and necessary in dealing with people and studying character, and making judgments, whether you can trust this person with this responsibility, all of those things were somewhat the same. But where the difference comes in is on the political side. The RFC had a great deal of politics connected with it in that Congressmen and Senators and
others would want a plant build in a certain place and we had to juggle around, and you learned how to get along on that. But in a bank, your board of directors is about as far as you have to go, except that you have to comply with the laws that are put together controlling certain policies and actions of the bank that you have to comply with, have so much reserves on your deposits in cash, that you can make loans up to a certain degree, and all those sorts of regulations. Largely though, you and your Board of Directors, and the bigger the bank gets, you and the executive committee run the business.
SHICK: Whereas in the government . . .
SNYDER: In the government you have to go to Congress, you have to go to the President, the public demands and you’ve got to do this, that or the other one. Yes, it’s a whole lot different. Well, for instance, I’ve just created as a memorial
to President Truman a scholarship program. Senator Symington came to me and said, “John.” But you see all these things go way back and I have to give you some background information. I introduced Symington to Senator Truman years ago. Stuart Symington was head of the Emerson Electric in St. Louis and was a very fine fellow and a friend of mine. I introduced him to Mr. Truman and they became good friends too, so when he got into his race in 1940 for reelection for Senator, Symington pitched in and helped. When Truman was running for Vice President with Roosevelt, Symington was right in there as he also was in 1948. He gave up his company and came to Washington to work for President Truman in 1945. The last year that we were in office, Symington ran for, and was elected to, the Senate and had remained there until a couple of years ago. So about two or three weeks after the President died, Symington came to me and asked what the Congress
could do to enact an appropriate memorial to our great President, that he would have liked. Can you help us? I said I’d be delighted. He asked, do you have anything in mind. Yes, I have, but I will tell you to start with that President Truman would never want a pile of bricks and stone to commemorate the past. He would want something that would build for the future. He said that’s it, but I said wait a minute, I will have to talk to Mrs. Truman and Margaret about it, they may want something different. So I went out to see them and they were delighted with the idea. I came back and told Symington and he said wonderful, let’s have it.
I went to work putting a plan together. . . I borrowed people from Georgetown University, George Washington University, Harvard and Vanderbilt to help me put together a program that would give a four-year scholarship to people to be leaders in government. They could come in and give
leadership, inspiration, and guidance to government operation, because I had seen along the line a need for it. A way back in the Defense Plant Corporation, under the pressure of war, we would get good people, and we got bad ones, you would get mediocre ones, sometimes geniuses, but you didn’t always get a positive able crowd. So there was a good opening for trading in the background. Then later when you needed government-trained people on every hand, it would be awfully fine if you had a source of competent, able, and well-prepared people. So I set up the plan originally on the angle that at first, my idea was to catch the students as fresh as possible before they got wild ideas, liberal views, or one view or another. But the more I talked about it to heads or schools and college presidents, they said no, you’re going to find that when the freshman comes in... he’s so busy throwing off the shackles of home, and enjoying his new freedom that he’s not thinking about what he’s
going to do later. He’s just passing his grades, getting into school politics, going out with girls… his mind is not nearly ready for this. Well, what about sophomore? No, he’s just so glad to throw away that green cap and begin to get some dignity and recognition around the campus and have a little authority over the freshmen, it won’t do. Well, what about the juniors? That’s different. When a student wakes up one morning and finds out that “I’m a junior and have only got two more years to prepare myself for what I’m going to”... he begins to think. So, we set it up so that the scholarship program would start with the junior grade of an accredited college. .he’d get a bachelor’s degree and then go on to get a master’s degree. By that time, we know that with our plan, we can have him trained. But, we immediately ran into the problem that you had to be extremely cautious in outlining the study program, because
colleges did not want the government fooling around with their curriculum. We decided that the type of course would depend upon the student. But how are these students going to know about the electives? Just by happenstance? So, we thought of this one: “Nominees for Truman Scholar-ship must include in their nomination materials a statement of interest in a career in government that specifies in some detail how their academic program and their overall educational plans will prepare them for their chosen career goal. Courses in history, political science, public administration, economics and finance, and international relations are among the types of studies considered by many educators to be appropriate for such a career. Because no list of areas of study can be comprehensive or exhaustive, nominees should feel free to offer other relevant and appropriate fields of study that they believe will help prepare them
for a career in government.”
Then we thought of a new idea, that between the bachelor’s degree and the master’s degree, give them a year’s leave of absence and get them a real job in government. We tried it out on the governors, on the mayors, and on the Federal departments. All of them approved of the idea as it would reveal to the student the electives that should be chosen in the last two master’s years. The plan made it voluntary on the part of the students ... we’re not going to force them to do this, because some might want to go on and get through and get married, or if he’s already married and wants to get a job, so we made it selective whether he would do it or not. Well, it just turned out magnificently, nearly half of them have taken that option. Most of those who chose law want to go on without interruption. But it’s just been splendid . . .the government is happy over it, the governors are happy over it,
and the mayors are happy over it.
One more thing, and I’m going to drop that subject, we are now selecting the fourth class... it took us three years to put that through Congress. I made up my mind that we should not be running up to Congress every year to get appropriations, so I got the Treasurer of Georgetown University and the Treasurer of Harvard University to make up a projection of a budget of what it will take to educate these students annually, when you get your full 212. It came to about $1,500,000.00 per year. We went to Congress and included in the legislation $30 million dollars cash, which now is invested in government securities. The operation cost of the Foundation is paid out of the income from the corpus. So, it’s now a perpetual program fully financed.
Now this gets back to something you asked me a while ago. We were set up by Congress,
signed by the President, as an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the United States Government. We are so independent that we only have to consult or see or check with 12 other departments ...Civil Service ... Treasury ... The Bureau of Printing and Engraving. The GAO... do you know that if we design a special type of stationery, we have to go up to Congress because we want to put Truman’s picture on the letterhead. If we’d just taken a piece of paper and printed the agency’s name on it, okay, but if you wanted any special design ... well, anyway you asked a while ago and I’m answering it in a simple way.
SHICK: So, as a decision maker in government you have a lot more strings on you than in the private sector?
Do you remember any particularly funny anecdotes?
SNYDER: Well, yes, I’ve always enjoyed this one. A bank got into trouble so the Comptroller came up to me and said we’ve got a bank out in Missouri … it’s a good bank, a three-generation bank but these last two scions of the family went to Yale and they just got so important that they can’t go out and get the farmer to plant his crops right and they can’t bring pressure when they get behind on payments … and have taken in a lot of real estate in payment of loans, and they’ve got a lot of delinquent accounts. Can you do something about it or make a suggestion? I said yes, I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine down in Fayettesville, Arkansas, and I said, Mr. Covey, I want to borrow your son. He said what do you mean, borrow your son? I want him to go and clean up a bank and get it on its feet again. No, John, you can’t have him, because he is going to take my place... I’m not going to ... I interrupted, you can
have him back ... yes, he said, I know, look at you, you were coming back in three weeks when you went to Washington and never did get back. I said, wait a minute, I promise to get him back. He finally said, alright you can have him. I told the Comptroller to send for the bankers. They came in and brought their last two examination reports. After glancing over the reports, I said, now what’s the trouble? Well, we just can’t get payments on some of our frozen assets ... our father told us to come and see you and that you were an old friend of his and that you’d help us out. Well, I said, all right, I’ll help you out. I’ve just looked over these reports and can see what the trouble is that you’re in right now. I’m willing to help you, if I get you a man and send him down there, will you let him take care of all past due paper and all bank-owned real estate? Oh, we’ll resign... no, I said, three generations of your family have run that bank. Your name means a great deal around
that part of the country. Well, we didn’t think of that. All I want you to do is to make him vice president in charge of collections. He won’t have anything to do with making loans, he won’t have anything to do with cashing checks or anything else; that’s all he’s going to do. You give him a list of the delinquent loans and the other real estate. Yes, sir, we’ll do that. So I got back with young Covey and told him he could do this job. Now, I said I don’t want to hear from you unless you get in trouble. But now, if you get in trouble, call the Comptroller and he’ll come in and tell me about it. But otherwise, why you just get out there and get these loans paid. Just send me your trial balance once a week. I said that’s all I want, just the trial balance.
Well, the Comptroller brought up the trial balance and I took a look at it, and after about three or four months, I noticed that the delinquent loans were slipping out. Then I saw two or three
pieces of real estate missing. In about 10 months, it was amazing what had happened. So, on the anniversary of his being there I sent for Covey. I’ll give you a trip to Washington. Come on up here, I want to see you. He came in and I said, Matt, you’ve done a darn good job, now tell me how in the world did you do that when those boys told me that it couldn’t be done? He said, Mister Secretary, I did most of it before I found out I couldn’t.
I always loved that story. Just think about it. Maybe that’s the way most of us get things done. We pitch in, we don’t look at the resistance, we just plow in.
Now, when a story comes out, I’ll drop it in for you. I want you to get the things you’re most interested in.
SHICK: Did Treasury change a great deal over your tenure?
SNYDER: Oh, yes quite a bit. All that required reorganization. We changed many of the agencies... Customs just became entirely new ... the Coast Guard, the Narcotics Agency . . .
SHICK: Okay, you were talking about the changes in the Treasury over the years of your tenure…
SNYDER: Oh, yes, the Internal Revenue was completely revamped and reset up and the collectors were taken out of the patronage and were put in under Civil Service, and .
SHICK: How about atmospheric changes as opposed to policy changes?
SNYDER: Well, the general attitude towards the public, I think was changed a great deal...oh, I know what I wanted to tell you.
When I first went into the Treasury, I found out that my predecessor had hardly in the nine months he had been there had not become acquainted
with the various department procedures. He got into the work of World Bank creation and a number of different post-war political problems. So the first thing I did after getting settled into the office was to invite individually, every agency head to come in and have a talk. To tell me how he or she was getting along, what were the problems, if any. What would they like to do in their organization? How could he improve his department? What relations was he having with Congress, and how did he get along in meeting those problems, and things of that sort. I made an agreement with them. If they would look over their situations carefully and would come back to see me about their units, and, particularly, if we needed to get into reorganization, that we would let them have an important part in that.
It had an electric effect on them because I gave them open sesame to my office any time
they had a problem, you see. So we developed a very close relationship all the way through the Treasury. I actually went down to their agency and would meet with a great number of their employees all the way down to the messengers. And it had a great deal to do with building up morale. I’ll tell you one of the incidents ... because during the war the people had been drafted, they had gone into bigger jobs in the large companies that had been built up and as a result, the type of employee had a different quality than that required by efficient employees, particularly in Internal Revenue. It had sunk considerably. So, what could we do now that is new and not too involved and too dramatic to look as if we’re tearing up everything. What can we do to improve this? I hit upon a great scheme.
A young chap I had happened to run into out in the middle west, the manager of a hotel, and I never had such excellent service, and I asked
him how do you get this instant attention to a guest, I said your wants are almost anticipated and the courtesy is great. Well, he told me how he did it. So, I said can I borrow you, he was with a chain hotel. As a result I call Mr. Statler, “Can I borrow one of your managers?” He said, “What do you want? Do you want to start a hotel down there?” I said, “No, I just want to learn something of his management.” He said, “You can have him.”
Well, he came down and we talked. Then we went for a meeting with the first group. We had tried out our plan in the Internal Revenue. There were some three or four hundred in the meeting. I said the Commissioner has given me permission to talk with you here and I’ve got a man here who knows your job better than anybody. You just saw the bristle there ... you saw this handsome chap there and I said, now I’m going to have him ... I’m going to talk with him about your job ... your personal job, and we’ll see if
we can be of some help in getting it to running smoother and iron out some of the problems. Oh, they were just ready to get up and walk out. Then I said now that person is you. I then said this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to give you a sheet of paper that’s got three lines on it: (1) necessary, (2) partially necessary, and (3) unnecessary. Every time that you make any unusual motion, mark it down. For instance, if you get up and walk down to the water cooler for a drink, were you really thirsty or did you just want to see who that pretty blonde was sitting there close by. Well, they began to laugh. Now, I said that’s what I’m going to do and that’s what I want you to put down. Was necessary, partially necessary, or unnecessary. And for a week, I’ll let you do that. Then the next week we’re going to let you swap with your friends next door to you and check and see if you agree with what he has written.
Now, what that’s going to do is improve... you’d be surprised how that is going to improve the quality of the work that is done in this department. And I think we’re going to be able to save a lot of time and money.
Do you know that within about eight months we reduced that 110 down to 92 thousand people. We called it, Work Simplification Program ... and it worked.
Well, it’s those kinds of things that you’ve got to get cooperation from. I think that helped your question you asked there.
SHICK: What would you say are your most important accomplishments as Secretary of the Treasury?
SNYDER: Well, there were so many. . . The Treasury Department had not been in international banking finance to any extent before the Marshall Plan, except in the early settlements.
The United States made an awful mess after
WWI in trying to help reconstruct war-torn Europe, by loaning money to the participants, expecting it to be paid back. There is a table right in the Treasury that has engraved plates on it that describes the loans to every country that was made and, do you know, that Finland is the only country that ever paid their loan. Getting over the war, the devastation, the loss of young people and everything, the loans were never paid.
So I insisted that when we started to talk of helping after WW II ... let’s either make grants or make workable loans if there is a way to pay them back. Let’s just make them the grant. That lead into the Marshall Plan. The Treasury had not. . .we had not had anything the volume of income taxes before WW II because the taxes when we first went into the war were relatively small and only touched a limited number of people. By the time I got in the Treasury, it was after the war, taxes had gone up, they touched everything and so that had to be reorganized and recast because
our tax collection had been a largely voluntary matter and if we ever let that get out of hand, we’re going to have one terrible time. So you can see from just that, there is a big difference in the Treasury when I went there. So were there differences at a lot of places. Those reorganization jobs were a new facet because some of the departments had never been changed from the time they had been created right up to the present.
Then I found that FDR had transferred over to the Treasury all sorts of jobs because he could keep his hand on them, and Mr. Morgenthau was very attentive to whatever FDR wanted. And so he moved purchasing of airplanes and purchasing of many things over into the Treasury. He moved the procurement of strategic and critical materials over there. There’s a whole list of things. They didn’t belong in the Treasury. He just about disseminated the Commerce Department and put that nice old gentleman, Secretary Daniel C. Roper, over
there who was content to sit there. Well, I began to move those back to where they belonged. To where they had expertise in that operation, or where they could build up expertise. So that was of tremendous importance.
Well, I’ve spent the morning talking about the various things that were all important and trying to say what was THE important one. I think that my biggest was the one that I gave you yesterday. I typed that and gave it to you. My greatest objective was to return the wartime economy to a peacetime economy for the growth of the country.
SHICK: But didn’t you almost not immediately ... subsequently you had to gear up again for another year?
SNYDER: Well, yes, not until 1950. We had five years to get a lot of things done.
But referring to the Korean War: President
Truman and I were out in Missouri when he got a call from Acheson that North Korea had invaded South Korea. The President said, all right, I’ll come right back . . .that was on Saturday afternoon. Acheson said, no, wait until tomorrow and then I’ll call you and give a closer report and then I’ll tell you whether you should come back sooner. So about noon I got a message in St. Louis to be at the airport at 2:00, the President would pick me up and we’d return to Washington.
When I got aboard the plane, the first thing he did was call the newspaper men into his cabin, after we were off the ground and they had no way of leaking what they heard, as they could not use our radio, because the pilots wouldn’t let them do it. He had them hooked, so he called them in and told them and me at the same time what had happened. He said, now I don’t pledge you to secrets because by the time we get there it will be all out anyway. And then he dismissed them and they went back to
their seats. He said, now, John, what will you do if this is as bad as it sounds or worse? What will the Treasury do?
Well, I said, Mr. President, the very first thing I would do would be to ask you to call the Congressional Chairmen that have to do