Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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Harry S. Truman
1945-1953


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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  182. Veto of Bill To Amend the Hatch Act  
June 30, 1950

To the House of Representatives:

I return herewith, without my approval, H.R. 1243, a bill "To amend the Hatch Act."

This bill would make two major revisions in the Act which imposes restrictions on the political activities of Federal employees. First, the bill gives the Civil Service Commission a limited amount of discretion to provide a lesser penalty than removal from office for those employees found to violate the political activities restrictions of the Hatch Act. Second, the bill requires that, in those political subdivisions where Federal employees are allowed to take part in nonpartisan election activities restricted to a local or community level, they shall also be allowed to take part in such activities on a partisan basis.

The bill makes other changes in the Hatch Act. One of these would require that every year the Civil Service Commission shall send to the President for transmittal to the Congress a report listing all persons against whom action has been taken by the Commission, along with a statement of the facts of each case and the penalty imposed. Another change would confer a statutory right upon committees of the Congress to obtain records containing testimony or other evidence relevant to charges and allegations of violation of the political activity restrictions of the Hatch Act. A final change would impose a criminal penalty for the failure to disclose parties sponsoring political literature transported in interstate commerce.

I have no objection to three provisions of this bill: that giving a limited discretion to the Civil Service Commission in the imposition of penalties for violations of the Hatch Act; that requiring annual reports to the Congress of cases involving violations by Federal personnel of the political restrictions of the Hatch Act; and that with respect to distribution of political literature. Particularly, I am wholeheartedly in accord with the desirability of vesting in the Civil Service Commission the authority to impose lesser penalties than removal from the Federal service for violations of the political activities provisions of the Hatch Act. Under present law, this stern penalty must be imposed even in cases involving a minor or inadvertent violation. Clearly there is a need to temper this drastic provision in order to assure full and effective enforcement of the law. I feel that the new section 9(b) provided in section 1 of this bill would adequately meet this need.

Unfortunately, there are two other provisions of the bill to which I cannot subscribe.

One of these provisions extends additional privileges to Federal workers in certain areas by enabling their participation in partisan political activity restricted to a local or community level. If, as the measure intends, the political privileges of the Federal employees are now to be extended to the field of local partisan politics, there is no valid reason to confine the extension to geographic locations or to areas where the number of Government employees is predominant. If Federal employees are to be allowed to participate completely and actively in the selection of local officials, a move which I endorse, their participation should be permitted on a nation-wide basis.

I feel the obligation to point out that this particular provision, as now worded, might not accomplish what it purports to do. In certain states or localities having so-called party plans, the provision would not represent any extension of rights now held. Where a party plan is in force, a Federal worker could not seek local office on a partisan ticket without supporting all other party candidates, whether for local, state, or national office. If he did support them actively, he would automatically be in violation of the Hatch Act. If he failed to give active support, he could be penalized by removal from the ballot. Thus, it would appear that in such a case the Federal worker gets nothing more than the rights which he already has. To protect the Federal worker in such circumstances against undue pressures to indulge in partisan activities, the Civil Service Commission should be authorized to deny the right to participate in local partisan politics wherever the party plan exists.

The other objectionable provision in this bill relates to the statutory right given Congressional committees to obtain records containing testimony or other evidence relevant to charges and allegations of violations of the Hatch Act. This provision represents an encroachment upon the long recognized prerogative of the Chief Executive to maintain in confidence those papers and documents which, in the public interest, he feels should be so maintained. It has been the position of every President that it is for the Executive to determine what documents and papers in the Executive Branch should be held confidential. This is entirely consistent with the separation of powers provided by our Constitution. I cannot accept or give my approval to any act of the Congress which would threaten or diminish so preeminently necessary a right of the Chief Executive.

In view of the foregoing considerations, I have felt obliged to withhold my approval of this enactment in its present form. I shall be quite willing to approve a bill which does not contain these two objectionable features, and I urge that the Congress take such action before the close of the present session.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.