Oral History Interviews with
Chief Examiner, US Bureau of the Budget, 1943-47; Deputy to the Assistant to the President of the United States, 1947-49; Administrative Assistant to the President of the Untied States, 1949-53; Labor arbitrator since 1953, including Organizational Disputes Arbitrator, Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO, 1955-70, and member, National Mediation Board, from 1970 until retirement in 1980.
There were four separate interviews done on separate dates that were combined in one continuous Oral History volume in the origiinal hard copy version. The List of Subjects Discussed accessed from any of these four Oral Histories provides access to the particular subject in ALL four of these Oral Histories. They are as follows:
There were two additional interviews done with David H. Stowe that stand alone with their own unique page numbers and List of Subjects Discussed. They are as follows:
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened July, 1991
Oral History Interview with
HESS: Mr. Stowe, how did you come to be associated with the National Security Resources Board?
STOWE: I think, Jerry, before I answer that question I have to go into a little history. And this, after all the years have gone by, may not be so accurate. The National Security Resources Board, I believe, came into being at the same time the Department of Defense Reorganization Bill passed the Congress and the Department of Defense was being established. The National Security Resources Board was to be, as its name indicates, a planning agency and not an operating agency. It was originally set up in the Department of Defense. During this time I wasn't familiar with the board or its operation at all. I do know, that after a year or year and a half's
operation many people, and I think this might well have been primarily in the Bureau of the Budget as opposed to the President himself, thought that the planning was not being done in the way that it had been contemplated and perhaps, even more importantly, the civilians who had been placed in charge of the agency, in the Department of Defense, were becoming sort of captives of the military.
The National Security Resources Board was transferred over to the Executive Office of the President and thus became, as was the Bureau of the Budget and the Council of Economic Advisors, a part and parcel of the Executive Office of the President. At that time, or shortly thereafter, Arthur Hill, who had been the head of the Board, resigned and the President was seeking someone to replace him. I believe that, at that time, the President asked John Steelman, who was then The Assistant to the President, to also assume sort of guidance of the NSRB on a temporary basis, while awaiting the appointment of a new director. And, as of that time, I was deputy to John Steelman. I had not been made an administrative assistant to the President and practically everything that John got involved in, I got involved in. We had been there only a short time when the President decided to nominate former
Governor, former Senator, Mon [Monrad C.] Wallgren. Once that was known, I had suggested to Mon Wallgren that he should send, in advance of his arrival at the Board, one or two people in whom he had great confidence who could spend that time while he was waiting for confirmation and arranging his affairs, to come to Washington to get a feel of the Board's operation, so that John Steelman and I, in effect, could pass the wand to them.
The two people that I recall who were sent were former secretary to the Governor, Jack Gorrie, and a former associate, and incidentally, a close personal friend of mine for years before that, by the name of Jack Davis. There was a third staff member from Wallgren's staff who was sent whose name I do not recall, and he did not stay very long. Actually, this becomes important only because later it became quite an issue in the question of confirmation of Mon Wallgren. Now, briefly, I never was quite sure what created the problem so far as the Senate was concerned, except perhaps this was part and parcel of some of the old cry of "administration by cronyism" because it was well known that Mon Wallgren was a very close personal friend of President Truman. However, the fact that these men had come in and were preparing to take over, added fuel to the fire that
this was sort of a prearranged, predetermined method of moving the whole thing into Mon's hands as a crony. Fortunately for the agency, Jack Gorrie remained and eventually became the Director of the program in his own right some years later.
However, during the time that the confirmation hearings were going on, Steelman and I continued to operate the agency with sort of our left hand, and continued our other work with our right hand. When the Senate refused to confirm Mon Wallgren, and the President was then faced with selecting another nominee for the position, I moved over practically full-time into the Board, with John coming in two or three hours a day. But I moved my office into the Board and took over, for all intents and purposes, the actual direction of the Board during that time. Subsequently, the President nominated the then Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, to be the Director. He was confirmed and became the Director and acted in that capacity for one or two years. I'm not quite sure of the length of time.
HESS: What were a few of the problems that arose at the time that you were connected with the Board?
STOWE: The first thing was to try to orient the agency back out of its military attitude into the civilian
planning to determine what functions of planning were needed. One which comes to mind, very quickly, was the fact that nothing had been done in the area of civil defense, and subsequently, under the Korean impact, this became extremely important. Not that we had to have a full-blown agency but we at least had to have some planning on it.
In the areas of shipping and the areas of the resources themselves, stockpiling, it all had been dominated by people who had been oriented into the military concept. Now, when I say military concept versus civilian I'm not quite sure what it means. But we did have to, first of all, change the personalities of a number of department heads there to the extent that once I was dubbed as President Truman's hatchet man.
HESS: You fired quite a few?
STOWE: And to assist in convincing some people that they would be happier elsewhere. So, I would think that in the early days--actually while we were waiting for Mon--we didn't try to do any changes. We just wanted to hold the agency together and keep it going. But when it became obvious that there would be a period of time, we then did start moving. One of the most important things was that as a planning agency the
NSRB had to use and rely upon staff of other government agencies in the areas that might be performing their planning--a thing that apparently had not been done at all in the Department of Defense. And there was considerable resistance on the part of the agencies, feeling either that their jurisdictional rights to do all this planning on their own were being threatened or feeling there shouldn't be any higher level of planning. That we had to overcome, and we had to get cooperation and participation. Now this was made, I think, easier on us in that John Steelman was wearing two hats: namely, The Assistant to the President, and the Director. There weren't many agency heads who were prepared to argue with him, particularly if it took on the aura of a jurisdictional dispute, with them trying to protect their so-called rights to do something.
Another area that was emerging, and did become a problem area, is that planning agencies, I think, historically have had to face the problem that planning in the abstract is not the most interesting thing in the world to do. And once you have something reasonably well planned, then comes the desire to operate it. And in each area where planning had gone on, the individuals involved were
now getting in to telling the agencies what they must do; in other words, becoming a super administrative device on top of agencies in the government. It was our philosophy that the job of the National Security Resources Board was to centralize, not to perform, but to centralize and c