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 coordinate long-range planning as opposed to short-range planning, and that in such a perception there's no room for becoming an operating agency. So, John Steelman and I developed a term which subsequently, I think, Stuart Symington accepted, which was "spin off the operating." Once we had planning fairly well in hand, and if there became a need to move into the operation as there did in Civil Defense, to "spin it off" from the Board and set it up as an independent agency, an operating agency. Naturally it would continue to carry the burden, the burden of planning, but its planning would be more immediate planning for immediate actions as opposed to long-run planning. And secondly it would be free to operate the agency as an operator, and in that way not interfere with continued planning.
HESS: On the subject of Civil Defense, I believe you took a trip to England. Is that right?
HESS: What do you recall about that trip and your findings?
STOWE: Somehow or other I'm trying to figure out just where Mr. [Millard Fillmore] Caldwell came in now as the head of the agency. Oh, he was at Civil Defense--after we set up Civil Defense as an independent agency. And one of the reasons that the President selected him, I believe, was that as a former Congressman and as a former Governor, he would command respect. One facet of the problem was reflected in the opinion that the people had during World War II when civil defense was often referred to as "fan dancing." So we needed a head of the agency who could command respect of Congress, and our feeling was that a former Congressman might fit well in relation to his former colleagues. Furthermore, in a Federal-State arrangement, the cooperation of the states was extremely important. And having a man who had been both a Congressman and a man who had been a Governor, we felt provided the impetus to good relationships in these two areas of need, namely the Congress and the states.
Shortly after he came in as the head, it was suggested that since the British had had such dramatic experience during World War II, that in order that our planning and thinking would get the
benefit of the practical needs of civil defense as opposed to some of the guesswork that we had been considering, it would be well if the head of the agency went to England and spent two or three weeks. Prior to that time I had been fortunate enough to meet the head of Britain's civil defense program during World War II. He had offered that at any time that we came over, he would be delighted to give us the entire background history and methodologies that they had used during the time of the bombings of Britain. He had also pointed out, in prior conversations with me, that if it hadn't been for what he called the "year of the phony war," when they were getting ready but no one was fighting, that they would have been in very bad shape because they made progress only during that year. So, when the bombing actually started they were in much better position. So we felt that it would be advisable for the head of the new agency to go over and spend some time. It would be a practical, laboratory-type relationship.
He asked me to go with him. I did go with him, and spent two weeks with him reviewing all the planning and activities that went on during World War II, and what they were continuing to do. It was as a result of this that subsequently the Governor asked, and Sir John Hodsel who was head of the Civil Defe