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Item 8166 - Harry S. Truman Catalog 603 (Feb 2021)

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ANS signed “H.S.T.,” one page, 4 x 6, November 1, 1946. Manuscript entitled "Memorandum on the Organization of Staff Assistance to the President," bearing Truman's handwritten corrections (comprising 17 words) in red pencil, and those of economist John R. Steelman in ink. In an initialed autograph note forwarding the manuscript, Truman writes: "Memo to Dr. Steelman: John, please go over this for me and see if any bugs are in it. H.S.T., If O.K. return & I'll sign." The first page of the memorandum was stamped "Secret," now struck through, with a stamp at lower right noting it was declassified in 1994.

The historic manuscript, which discusses in detail the president’s responsibilities and resulted in the creation of the position now known as 'White House Chief of Staff,' reads, in part:

"It is assumed that the ultimate object is the improvement of the existing organization of staff assistance to the President to enable the most effective fulfillment of the President’s job. This means that we must ultimately identify, work within, and develop practical adjustments of the limitations presented by existing statutes, organization, and personalities. To arrive at the practical solutions, however, we should work toward a goal or target—an ideal plan of organization for assisting the President. Such an ideal plan will give us the guides necessary to assure that our immediate proposals are constructive and are constantly directed toward a total plan which can effectively meet the President’s needs. The present discussion, then, will be focused upon the development of the ideal plan or alternative plans. To this end, it is desirable to discuss: (1) Certain basic assumptions respecting the role of the President and the role of the Cabinet in relation thereto. (2) Basic assumptions regarding the organization of staff assistance to the President. (3) Presidential activities requiring staff assistance. (4) Relationships and differences between the various staff activities.

I. The role of the President: 1. The President, as President, fulfills at least five major responsibilities: a. [He is] leader of a political party / b. ceremonial head of the Nation / c. chief of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government / d. Congressional leader / e. leader of the Nation. Leadership of a political party involves certain relationships and organization patterns somewhat separate and distinct from the President’s activities as President. It is a special line of communication with, and responsibility to the people; it is a special aspect of his [broader] role as leader of the Nation. [end]…2. All five of the President’s responsibilities have expanded considerably in recent years…The job of national leadership has so expanded since 1933 that the people of the United States now turn to the national Government for the solution of virtually all problems of national importance, big and small. The smooth functioning of our total economy, the improved economic status of particular classes or groups, the reorientation of our national existence into an international framework, the improved social, cultural and political well-being of the nation’s citizenry…are now problems of the national Government for which the President, as national leader must provide answers. [end]…3…In this country, the President, as an individual, is the Chief Executive. [End see p 7]…4…Cabinet members must contribute to the formulation of national policy and to its administrative direction, and they must do so in terms of…a national total-need basis by the Chief Executive…5…The Cabinet members and other agency heads can furnish invaluable advice on the basis of direct exposure to the attitudes and prejudices of the various groups with which their respective agencies deal. Nevertheless the President must develop the overall policy formulation and must lead, guide, and coordinate, his cabinet…6. From the President’s viewpoint…Cabinet members can deter, rather than facilitate the fulfillment of Presidential responsibilities. The President must look upon specific proposals stemming from them in terms of whether they are responsive to the broader national policy objectives he has formulated…7. In addition Cabinet members and agency heads have a substantial degree of autonomy and independent outlook. This is a further reason why they cannot function as staff assistants responsive to the requirements placed on the President for leadership in his respective capacities. 8…The President must continually protect the exercise of his role against the inroads of his Cabinet…the President must not allow himself to be forced into corners by crises in which national developments are on top of the President rather than the President being on top of them. The President must, therefor, have assistance…to exert positive leadership. 9…He must guard against legislation which attacks, piecemeal, various segments of the President’s responsibility…To curb such inroads on Presidential leadership, the adequate development of staff facilities to the president is needed…[Under our system you cannot set] up anything equivalent to an Assistant-President to share in the President’s responsibilities…The unity, the oneness of Presidential responsibilities make impossible any division thereof. Total perspective in the exercise of the Presidential role cannot otherwise be maintained. Less than total perspective would produce incomplete and imperfect judgments. (Steelman writes at the bottom: “We must not have this title but someone must take part of the load. Under our form of government he can take part of the load, but the President bears the responsibility…‘The Assistant to the President’ I think, carries the right meaning.)

II. Organization of Staff Assistant…Basic assumptions may be used as guides…in formulating…an ideal plan. 1. Staff assistance should implement the President in all of the various activities which he must carry on. He should be able to turn…for assistance on any type of matter which may confront him…2. Staff assistance should…provide an overall or Government-wide perspective….It can have validity only if it results from a Presidential-level perspective. 3. Staff assistance should…give the President judgments from several different points of view…4…he must not have his staff assistance broken down into so many organization units that a disproportionate part of his time is devoted to coordinating and reconciling and directing his staff. 5. Staff assistance…must be institutionalized…given basic assignments in a specific segment of the total staff responsibility…6. The organization of staff facilities around the President should be flexible…7. Staff assistance should be responsible only to the President…The decisions should always be the President’s decisions…8. The staff of the President must function as a team…9. The existence of a White House Office and an Executive Office…should be treated as parts of a single Executive Office, appropriately related and adjusted to…each other. 10. The President’s staff…must…furnish him with an adequate and continuing flow of intelligence…including significant political, administrative, economic, social, cultural and other major substantive trends and developments… Secondly, the President’s staff must furnish advice and information to him which will enable the President to make timely determinations on the need for Presidential action…11…It should be emphasized that the President’s staff itself must be particularly responsive to the President’s leadership and direction.

III. Presidential Activities Requiring Staff Assistance…Let us inventory specific activities on which the President needs help…The President has two broad areas of responsibility. First, he must formulate strategic policies and objectives…he must decide on the elimination of certain economic controls and the substitution of other policies. In general, he must identify certain broad objectives and then choose between and blend together a number of specific policies for the realization of such objectives…Once the President has determined his strategic policies and objectives, he must obtain their execution. This-call it administration-involves (a) program formulation and coordination; (b) the development of administrative machinery…(c) the coordination of the Executive Branch in the systematic gather of quantitative intelligence…and (d) the formulation of broad administrative policies and practices which will assure the highest caliber and performance of Federal career personnel…Looking at the President’s job in terms of how the President spends his time, we find that the President must: (1) See people. Somebody must help him arrange his daily appointments…(2)…appoint key executives and various political incumbents…(3) The President must assure the political soundness and promote political acceptance of his actions…(4) The President must deal with the press and the radio…(5)…send messages and make speeches…(6)…pass upon various official documents particularly legislation and Executive orders…(7)…read and sign papers…The President must have staff assistance in performing all of these activities.…

IV. Relationships and Differences between Staff Activities…In formulating policies and objectives, staff must always be closely attuned to the President…They must…be the personal choice of the President…Under the heading of administration, we find four types of staff activity already enumerated-program formulation and coordination, the development of administrative machinery, the coordinated gathering of systematic intelligence, and the stimulation of a high caliber career civil service…It would seem desirable…to group these activities under a common leadership…Previous observations regarding staffing for policy determination apply. The key positions should be supported by competent, career civil servants who will preserve the continuity and institutional patterns necessary for the smooth functioning of the Executive Office.”

In very good to fine condition, with staple holes and staining to the memorandum, and a light rusty paperclip impression to the Truman note.

During Franklin D. Roosevelt's twelve years in power, owing largely to his efforts to stem the tide of Depression and defeat forces of evil in World War II, the executive branch of the American government grew dramatically. FDR relied heavily on his famous 'Brain Trust'—a group of top advisors—and his longtime assistants to manage the day to day affairs of the presidential office. Truman, thrust into office after four months as vice president, lacked the same infrastructure, and in 1946 created the position of 'Assistant to the President of the United States' to help manage the numerous activities associated with the office. The predecessor to the modern 'White House Chief of Staff,' this position was first filled by John Steelman—the co-editor of this document. A remarkable and influential presidential document.

Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.


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