The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


CHANGES in the top positions in the Capital have increased the representation of the Western and Southern states. It was always a weakness of the Roosevelt administration that the East was favored. It is perhaps too early to assay the new personnel from the administrative standpoint. In general, however, one is justified in being hopeful, for Mr. Truman has two aims: to delegate responsibility, and to obtain efficiency. For both reasons he is seeking out the best men he can find, though, of course, he is not forgetting his obligations either to his party or to his friends.

The outstanding change is Mr. Byrnes for Mr. Stettinius as Secretary of State. Byrnes is able to grasp new ideas and new problems quickly. For instance, after President Roosevelt took him to Yalta, where, with his shorthand, he acted as rapporteur for the Big Three, he astonished the Senate with his knowledge. “I got quite a lift from Jimmy’s exposition,” commented one Senator. Byrnes has a talent for intimate exposition which tops off his ease in dealing with fresh problems. These two gifts will be of great value to the President in winning Congress to his foreign policy.

No man in Washington is better liked than “Jimmy.” Perhaps his new team will be able to wrest his department out of the control of the bureaucratic cliques and narrow-minded experts who have been too influential in the past. The department requires an overhaul from stem to stern, and Congress is in the mood to back any plan that Byrnes may submit.

The State Department is the department of peace, and peace will be uneasy for years to come. The United States has undertaken an obligation to maintain the general peace in accordance with its power. For all these reasons the State Department must be transformed for peace, as the War Department is transformed when war breaks out.

The need is for a staff broadened as to function and increased as to number, and paid at a rate that will make private means unnecessary. The State Department is still tied to a dead-and-gone world in which even the submission of its too small budget is regarded as slightly humiliating.

New Cabinet

The Cabinet appointment on which opinion is most divided is the change in the Attorney Generalship. Say what you will against Francis Biddle’s omissions, he proved to be a jealous guardian of our civil liberties during wartime. That his successor, the Texan Tom C. Clark, will show a similar zeal is doubtful. At any rate, the New Dealers do not think he will. They point to his activities on the Pacific Coast, where, as the right hand of the Army, he helped to clear that area of the Japanese-Americans, whose situation is perhaps the most damaging mark on our record of wartime civil liberties.

The other Cabinet changes have been praised highly. Claude R. Wickard at Agriculture was a wretched administrator and, like Frances Perkins, had been left with a truncated department. The newcomers, Clinton P. Anderson in Agriculture, and Lewis B. Schwellenbach in Labor, will head departments that will have the divorced functions eventually returned to them. This reorganization will make for improved administration in itself.

Fred M. Vinson for Henry Morgenthau, Jr., puts in the Treasury a man with a reputation on the Hill as high as that of Byrnes, though he is of much harder fiber than Byrnes.

Chester Bowles at OPA must now work in close cooperation with the Secretary of Agriculture. Anderson is empowered to keep a close check on OPA orders. His approval in writing will be required for regulations, orders, and price schedules applicable to any processed food product. Congress seems to feel that it is up to Anderson to provide more meat under a system of unrestricted local slaughtering. Anderson certainly has his hands full.

The veterans and the surplus

It was an inspiration to put General Omar Bradley in charge of the Veterans’ Administration. Equally meritorious is the appointment of Paul M. Herzog as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. Herzog, a model chairman of the New York State Labor Board, is highly respected by labor. In bringing him to Washington, the President has closed very neatly a schism in the National Labor Relations Board.

Perhaps the toughest assignment is that of W. Stuart Symington as chairman of the Surplus Property Board. A businessman from St. Louis, Symington came under Mr. Truman’s favorable notice in hearings before the Truman Committee. He has to dispose of surplus property worth many billions.

Few persons in Washington feel that the Surplus Property Act is workable without emendation. One hears the comment that surplus property will make or break at least two Presidents of the United States. The trouble is that we want to get our money back. Getting it all is an impossible job, and the object should be to rid ourselves of this surplus property in the minimum of time.

A high-placed general said, “If only the factory making a shell could be thought of as partly destroyed when the shell it has made ends its career, it would be better for all of us.”

Controls for peace

V-J Day will signal the removal of many wartime controls. This is the assurance contained in Fred M. Vinson’s first official report as Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion. If V-J Day should come within the next few months, it would find us in the initial stages of industrial reconversion, with shortages of civilian goods still acute. In that case, price controls would still be essential.

Vinson is a believer in the responsibility of government for the maintenance of full employment. He has already supported the Murray bill in principle. This revolutionary measure would estimate the requirements of full employment and eke out with public expenditures an expected shortage in private expenditures to meet this goal.

It is difficult, in the light of this policy, to see complete relaxation of controls after V-J Day. Mr. Vinson in his report, does not attempt to describe the controls necessary in supporting the new government aim. But he does say that the government must be prepared “to take positive action to bolster income and create jobs through public works.”

In reaffirming his support of the principle of the fullemployment bill, — a stand in which he has been joined by the President, — he notes with approval the establishment of “a mechanism” in the bill in the shape of government budgetary planning in a way which will help fulfill the necessary responsibility of government for full employment. The mechanism is the National Economy Budget.

It is difficult to imagine a budget of the national economy that could come anywhere near the facts. Budgeting even the receipts and expenses of government is notoriously wide of the mark. But if the National Economy Budget is to be subject to the hazards of industrial strife, the budget would be bound to go awry. This is one reason that the planners are interesting themselves in the new effort to frame comprehensive labor legislation which would provide an atmosphere for industrial peace.

What are fair labor relations?

The new Fair Industrial Relations Bill was the product of a movement outside Congress. The committee, at work for months under the chairmanship of Donald R. Richberg, brought into its deliberations three Senators, Ball, Burton, and Hatch, who have introduced the measure in the Senate. If adopted, the bill would be the most drastic labor legislation in our history. There are plenty of hurdles in its path. But this is only a starting point for discussion of methods for the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes.

The theory of the sponsors of FIRA that interested parties should not be included in their preliminary study has given the bill a black eye with organized labor. Labor leaders think that a labor peace program can be worked out only by them in collaboration with organized business. There are things in the new bill which are the object of particular denunciation as well.

Foremost among the objections is the mandatory arbitration which the bill imposes upon certain types of labor disputes — for instance, in public utilities. This of course threatens the right to strike. It is possible, according to labor leaders, to compel arbitration, but it is not possible, let alone right, to compel acceptance of the results of arbitration. Experience elsewhere is cited by way of proof. Certainly this provision will arouse much contention.

The proposed statute would revamp the Wagner Act, which employers contend is one-sided. It would, first, redefine interstate commerce; second, disregard labor controversies in small establishments — those with fewer than 20 employees; and, third, change the wording of the Wagner Act, which excludes farm labor. Not one of these objectives has found any supporter in the ranks of organized labor.

WASHINGTON (continued)

Sponsors of the proposed measure contend that the Wagner Act created an unmitigated evil in extending Federal authority over local business. In its interpretations of the Act, the Supreme Court has widened the definition of interstate commerce. The new bill abandons this term and refers instead to national and international commerce. Labor controversies could come within the scope of the new act, and therefore of Federal attention, only when the work of that labor enters into national and international commerce “in substantial quantities.”

Labor calls the withdrawal of Federal concern over establishments employing fewer than 20 persons — that is to say, those not in national and international commerce — discriminatory. More than 1,500,000 Americans work in some 285,000 establishments with fewer than 20 employees.

The objection to this proviso is met by the statement that it is just as wrong to demand Federal protection in these small labor disputes as it would be to demand Federal protection against local crimes or fraud or negligence. “Unless state governments are to be abolished by constitutional amendment,” says Mr. Richberg, “the principle must be maintained of confining Federal authority to the exercise of powers specifically granted in the Constitution and permitting the states to exercise all other powers of selfgovernment.”

The arguments will blow up into a national debate as the implications of the new bill come to be understood. Whatever happens, the feeling is strong throughout Congress that industrial peace must be the object of workable and comprehensive legislation, and that a Code of Fair Practices must be framed which will mitigate post-war labor disputes.


The mood of the Capital is still that of the honeymoon. Mr. Truman visits with Congress, and his door is always open to its members. The Senate was a bit put out when, in his message on a new succession law, he referred to the House as more closely attached to the people. But the slight was not resented too much. It will now be overlooked, in view of the President’s choice of Mr. Byrnes as Secretary of State, for Byrnes is a former Senator and his contacts with Congress are unequaled.

The Senate may pigeonhole the succession law, now that Byrnes is Secretary of State and, as such, heirapparent. Congress looks on all appointments from the legislative branch as reflective of Truman’s desire to act with Congress. Reciprocity is the rule so far.