Billion-Dollar Watchdog

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Anywhere but in a democracy, the Senate's irreverent Truman Committee would be fair game for liquidation. In a perfect state, free from butterfingers and human frailty, it would be unnecessary. In the U.S., democratic but far from perfect, the Truman Committee this week celebrated its second successful birthday as one of the most useful Government agencies of World War II.

Had they had time, its ten members might have toasted their accomplishments all night. They had served as watchdog, spotlight, conscience and spark plug to the economic war-behind-the-lines. They had prodded Commerce Secretary Jesse Jones into building synthetic-rubber plants, bludgeoned the President into killing off doddering old SPAB and setting up WPB.

They had called the turn on raw-materials shortages, had laid down the facts of the rubber famine four months before the famed Baruch report. One single investigation, of graft and waste in Army camp building, had saved the U.S. $250,000,000 (according to the Army's own Lieut. General Brehon B. Somervell). Their total savings ran into billions, partly because of what their agents had ferreted out in the sprawling war program, partly because their hooting curiosity was a great deterrent to waste.

The Truman Committee was too busy to celebrate. In its 16th month of war, the U.S. had still not digested some of war's first readers. The first annual Truman report, with its shocking evidence of all-around bungling (TIME, Jan. 26, 1942), had not spelled the end of bungling. This week the Committee worked on its second annual report, which would have to recite much the same story, chastise many of the same men, pose some of the same old problems. How big should the Army be? How could the manpower tangle be solved? Where would the nation get its food this year? What was wrong with WPB?

Over these basic questions, which the Truman Committee, on behalf of all American citizens, had hoped would be solved two years ago, the committee still sweated, glowed and tried to shed light.

Closest Thing Yet. The bigger the U.S. arsenal grew, the more important the Truman Committee became. As the arsenal turned into a modern-day Great Pyramid, most Washington officials still lugged just one stone, and many carried it in the wrong direction.

The closest thing yet to a domestic high command was the Truman Committee. Its members had no power to act or order. But, using Congress's old prerogative to look, criticize and recommend, they had focused the strength of public opinion on the men who had the power. They had a fund of only $200,000 (some still unspent) only twelve investigators, 18 clerks and stenographers. But it was an obscure war plant that had never been visited by the committee. Its members had heard hundreds of witnesses, taken 4,000,000 words of testimony. With battle-royal impartiality, they had given thick ears and red faces to Cabinet members, war agency heads, generals, admirals, big businessmen, little businessmen, labor leaders.

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